That statement is less impressive than it sounds, because I am counting a song and a “song” that comes right next to it. But I’m going to try to move even further past that as well, we’ll see how I do. (part 1 here)
In the first section, we got to see Shahrukh grow up, become the right hand man for top bootlegger in his area Atul Kulkarni, and then go to Bombay with his best friend Saqib to try to sell goats to use as a stake to raise funds to start his own bootlegging operation. But in Bombay, they get into a fight because they are outsiders in the butcher’s district. Finally the fight is stopped when “Musa”, the don of the area shows up and pulls a gun on Shahrukh. Shahrukh takes it away, but then slowly passes out while shooting it in the area.
Okay, second section! We pick up on a group of men performing Namaz in a Masjid (this movie is so Muslim! It’s so refreshing!). And then cut to Shahrukh and Saqib washing the blood off themselves at the ablution/wudu stations outside the prayer room. Saqib is complaining that they got into a fight, and pointing out that he got beaten up too. Shahrukh kind of ignores this.
(Doesn’t actually look that different than the bathroom at my church! The faucets are at a different place, but same tile that can stand up to wear and tear and kind of dingy grout because it gets so much use)
They go out into the main prayer area where Musa talks to them, asking why they are dealing in goats, and Shahrukh proposes his theory, that his mother told him, that no business is small and there is no greater faith than business. Musa is amused. While they are talking, he blesses packets of biryani to be distributed to the people and indicates that he took Shahrukh’s goats to use for the biryani he is distributing. At the end of the conversation, Shahrukh asks if they might have his blessings and one packet of biryani to split between the two of them, because they are hungry.
On the train on the way home, Shahrukh and Saqib are sharing the biryani while running through all their problems, no goats, no money, and the deadline is tomorrow for them to give the money to Atul Kulkarni if they want to buy liquor from him. A man sitting in the corner of their train car with long hair and a pockmarked face seems to be listening and smiling a little at their conversation.
Back in their home, Saqib has pulled together the pitiful amount of money they were able to raise and asks if they should use it to pay back Wasim for the car they stole, or try to buy a few bottles from Atul. Shahrukh meanwhile is walking around in the background, breaking up a block of ice to put on his busted face. He casually pulls off the watch Atul loaned him and throws it on the pile.
Such an interesting silent moment. First, the way Saqib is talking and wondering what to do next, while Shahrukh is doing and moving already, even if it is just to put together ice for his wounds. Second, the way he tosses the watch on the money basket. It’s not that he hates the watch or that it pains him to lose it, it’s that he is completely indifferent. The watch represents potential money, so he puts it with the money. He has removed the emotions, good or bad, related to how he received it. Oh, and 3rd, I got a little distracted because Shahrukh is in an undershirt. Not distracted because “ooo, sexy!”, but because his arms look really soft and skinny and young. I wonder if it was just careful camera angles, or if they smoothed them down with CGI, like they did for Fan?
Anyway, while they are talking, there is a knock on the door, and the same longhaired and pockmarked guy from the train comes in. Both of them brace themselves immediately, and Saqib asks “Hey! Did you follow us from the train?” It’s a nice touch, not needing to underline that they noticed him on the train and recognize him now, but just taking it as a given that they would see him and know who he is later, because both Shahrukh and Saqib are that street smart and prepared.
He comes in and says that he has a proposal for them. Saqib seems alarmed, but Shahrukh kind of gestures for him to be calm, while he himself continues sitting in his chair icing his wounds. Again, a nice non-verbal moment, Shahrukh is already thinking his way through this, and Saqib is instinctively following his lead. The pockmarked man pulls out a suitcase and opens it, revealing a case full of cash. He says it comes from “Haji”, he saw how close they got with Musa, he wants to pay them to take him out.
Okay, is this like “Haji” Haji? I know it’s a very common name/honorific, but if we are talking Bombay gangsters in the 70s-80s, it kind of feels like they mean the “real” Haji. But on the other hand, the name comes up again much later, when it would be the late 80s and the “real” Haji was in jail. So maybe this is a made up “Haji”?
Oh, and Shahrukh calmly responds by saying no, they have no quarrel with Musa. And besides, if he wanted to take orders, he wouldn’t be setting up his own business. Saqib leaps in to add “And we don’t kill people!” And Shahrukh gives a sort of unclear head wobble/hand gesture in acknowledgement of that, which neither goes against what his friend has just said, or necessarily agrees with it.
The pockmarked man nods and then says he is from Musa. They both look surprised. The subtitles say here that he introduces himself as Musa’s “servant”, but one of my commentators (Fida?) indicated he might actually be saying he is Musa’s “Saqib”. Which is cute, and again an acknowledgement that without clearly ever stating it, Saqib is Shahrukh’s follower, not his equal.
The man goes on to say that his offer was a test. Musa liked his philosophy about business, and they can keep the money, for their goats. He leaves the case behind and goes to the door and Saqib asks “What if we had said yes?” And Musa pulls out a gun he had been hiding and says “My left hand never misses.” I would be terrible in a gunfight standoff situation, because it took me until the second watch to realize that he had his right hand on the case on the table all along, and so Shahrukh and Saqib felt safe. Not knowing that he was actually left handed and hiding his gun under the table. But see, I would have felt safe anyway, because it never would have occurred to me to try to track his hands.
Just as Musa leaves, there is a shout from outside. Shahrukh goes to sit in the window with his suitcase of cash propped up next to him and looks down at the guy standing below who is calling that Atul wants to see them, the deadline is up. And Shahrukh calls back that Atul can wait, he doesn’t work for him any more. And he gives a little triumphal pat to the suitcase of cash.
Backing up a second, that line that “if I wanted to take orders, I wouldn’t be starting my own business” is really interesting. In the last section I talked about the class/religion stuff. Atul is distinctly “classier” than Shahrukh and his community. Shahrukh and his friends are valued workers, but are not supposed to be independent, to have their own views and agendas. This is going to come up again and again, how the politicians and police and other gangs expect them to roll over and obey orders. And how Shahrukh just will not do it.
And, song! This song is so clever. If I am remembering the opening credits correctly, the choreographers were Bosco-Ceaser. They’ve done a lot of stuff, but the first one that springs to mind for me is “Yeh Tara Woh Tara”. Because I read this interview with them several years back where they talked about how they would NEVER AGAIN work with children! Cute, yes. Able to stay on the beat and remember the simplest steps, NO!!! And now every time I watch that song, I start cracking up at how terrible the child chorus is and picturing the choreographers slowly having rage heart attacks over it.
Anyway, Bosco-Ceasar are really good at coming up with simple choreography, and filming it in an interesting way. In this case, for “Dhingad”, it’s just a simple shoulder move. But we see Shahrukh start it, and then pull back to see everyone in the courtyard following along, from young women to old men. It’s a great way of showing how the liquor business runs through everybody and sets them all to moving.
There’s a bit of voice-over here, almost a blink-and-you-miss-it thing, but it’s important and thematic to the song. Shahrukh explains that they aren’t going to use a middleman. They are going to bring the liquor in, and also distribute it straight to the people. Again, this is what makes him different from Atul and the others. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty from both sides, running the risks involved in getting across the borders, but also going out into the world and delivering to the common man. And that’s why the whole neighborhood is dancing to his tune, because he isn’t keeping the profits all for himself, he’s hiring and spreading the wealthy among his people.
There are a few neat visuals here. There’s a bit where they are playing with tomatoes as they pack boxes, which makes Shahrukh start to think, and then they are using syringes to put the alcohol into tomatoes and selling those. There’s another moment when he takes a bunch of crates to the local school, and the schoolteacher (the same one who slapped his hand when he was little) comes out to glare at him. But then he opens up the crates, to reveal not alcohol, but books! And all the kids come out and cheer. Those are both nice moments, and they underline the over all thesis, that this illegal business is bringing innovation and wealth and progress to their community, with Shahrukh as a conduit for it all.
And then the most alarming and sudden cut of the film! We pull back from this joyous celebration as a ticker on the side of the screen starts counting off 20-50-158 kilometers away. And suddenly we are in the middle of this crazy fun fancy party.
I just don’t know what to think about this cut. They must have known it was shocking, and so they put in the ticker and the screen in between to help us with it. And I guess it could also be an artistic choice? To go from this small poor community that was thriving thanks to the money brought in by the liquor trade, to this very wealthy party which is where all the money is coming from?
(Also, I think this might be the song that is playing, but I am not sure. There’s one other place in the film where they might have put it)
But mostly, it feels like they didn’t have a good way to transition. As I said in my mini-SPOILER review, it feels choppy. They wanted to introduce Nawazuddin and they had the perfect scene to do it. But it really doesn’t connect with the “rise from the gutter” story they are telling with Shahrukh. It’s too light and superficial and almost comic to fit with the tone of the rest of the film. It’s also a brilliant scene, but maybe they fell so in love with the brilliance that they couldn’t acknowledge it doesn’t fit and should be changed?
What we see is a party scene with music playing in the background. It’s a costume party, so the crowd is a mish-mash of every famous movie and character for the past 50 years. Including our host, who is dressed as Akbar. He notices someone dancing, and dances over to them to ask who invited them. They silently point across the room, he dances over in the other direction to ask the next person, and so on. Besides the glorious array of extras in costume, there is also quite a bit of complexity to how this is shot, with the camera following him around the room and waving in and out between the extras, really giving you a sense of this whole glorious tapestry. Finally, he ends up by 3 Michael Jackson dancers, the center of whom is the last person he was pointed to as the one who invited them. And the center Michael Jackson declares that he was invited by name-I-don’t-remember. The Akbar host says that he is name-I-don’t-remember! Nawazuddin (yes, it is he! And he does a pretty decent Michael Jackson, I have to say) then confirms that this is his party? And he is serving country liquor? Akbar host corrects that he is serving Scotch! Nawazuddin is kind of dancing along with him, with his arm around his shoulder, smiling and charming the whole time. And then they finally reach the stage and Nawazuddin leaps up and grabs the mike, and says just like you would announce a new activity at a party “Ladies and gentleman, buses have been arranged, if you can all line up please, we will be taking you to jail, have a nice night.”
Like I said, this is a great scene! Fun, complicated, really neat camera movements. And a great intro for Nawazuddin’s character, showing how he is a little bit smarter than everyone else and how he enjoys kind of playing with the lessor people around him. And also how he likes coordinating and using others, not just in how he arrested the partygoers, but in how he used his officers by scattering them around the party.
I guess it does kind of set Nawazuddin up as the anti-Shahrukh. Shahrukh is all about setting everyone dancing to his rhythm, spreading the joy as it were, where as Nawazuddin is all about finding an angle to get in on someone else’s rhythm and then breaking it. But it’s still not a scene that should have been left in the film. We never see Nawazuddin this light and happy again. We never see these kinds of rich revelers again. And it makes Nawazuddin look less threatening than he turns out, to introduce him in this kind of party scene. Bringing him in through a clever interrogation scene, something a little darker that still shows his smarts, that might work better and feel more in tune with the rest of the film.
The scene that follows does definitely work for Nawazuddin. He is going into a big fancy looking house passing various guards and so on, there might even be a sign or a chyron identifying it as the Chief Ministers house. Whether there is or not, it is still pretty obvious that this is the house of a bigwig. Nawazuddin is in uniform and goes up to a table where two men not in uniform are eating. Well, not in a real uniform. One of them is in the unofficial political uniform of Khadi cloth and vest, so we know he is the Chief Minister. The other one, I think, must be the police commissioner from how he is interacting with Nawazuddin.
The Chief Minister asks Nawazuddin when he took so long getting here. Nawazuddin explains that he was having breakfast with “Bobby”, who was quite flirty. The Chief Minister looks surprised, and Nawazuddin explains that Bobby is his dog. The Chief Minister jumps to a new topic and declares “You have to let them out”. Nawazuddin pretends not to understand and asks “Bobby?” The other man at the table, possibly police commissioner, explains that he means the partygoers from last night. They are all politically connected. Nawazuddin looks at the table and asks if he can have the pad of paper sitting there. The Police Commissioner passes it to him, looking confused, and Nawazuddin tears off a piece and hands it back with a pen, telling him to give the order in writing, and he will follow it.
(I have no information on whether or not it is a Parker Pen)
Again, I don’t know if Nawazuddin is playing this scene right or not? Or maybe it is a script problem? Because he comes off like a hero here, the same kind of hero as Shahrukh who won’t take orders from anyone either. But then in later parts of the film, he isn’t supposed to be a hero. But then, these guys he is facing are supposed to be “worse” than him. So, should we be seeing him as kind of a jerk here, or should we be seeing him as a hero who speaks truth to power?
Certainly the Chief Minister and Police Commissioner (?) think he is a jerk, not a hero. They kind of roll their eyes at each other after he leaves. And either right before he leaves or right after, they confirm that he will be getting re-assignment orders, “in writing.”
And then, back to Shahrukh! So abrupt! Again, it’s an editing and flow problem with this film, more than anything else. Shahrukh is playing Cricket with his friends, in a little courtyard in their neighborhood. There are kids running around them and it feels so much more gritty and real and connected than the fancy empty mansion we just saw, or the rich folks party with elaborate costumes. Or even Nawazuddin’s formal attitude of “the law above all”.
By the way, it just struck me that this is why the film is titled “Raees”. I was disappointed that this was just his name, not his title, that it wasn’t a build up to him “earning” the title. But in fact, it is meant to be ironic. Or sarcastic or something. “Raees” meaning noble wealthy powerful aristocrat, and it’s being used for this local boy who scrounges in the dirt and wears glasses and whose mother sells junk for a living. Only, in the end, we see that he really is a “Raees”, an old school nobleman who cares about the people around him, more than all the wealthy and powerful folks who were brought up clean and live by the rules.
Right, this scene! I was talking in I think my full SPOILER review about how this scene is a little confusing and we have to kind of figure out what is happening as it plays out. I wasn’t sure if that was a mistake, if there was something else before this that would have explained it and they had to cut it (or put it in the script but never filmed it), or if it was an artistic decision to drop us in like this.
It is what we have now, for whatever reason, so I might as well talk about it as an artistic decision at this point, how it effects the narrative. We know something is happening that is different right away. Shahrukh hits a sixer and his friends kind of laugh at him about it, which is odd, instead of congratulating him. Saqib offers to knock on the door of the house and go get the ball, but with kind of a smile like of course Shahrukh won’t want that, which is also odd. And then Shahrukh goes up to the door, and adjusts his shirt and pats back his hair and, most of all, takes off his glasses! Which is very odd. This is not a character who ever cares about how he looks, and never takes off his glasses.
All of this kind of tells us the importance of Mahira before we see her. And we start to get clues that Mahira (or someone in this house) is the reason for all the fuss when an older woman opens the door, and Shahrukh steps inside, but kind of glances around like he is looking for someone else. The older woman looks surprised, like he shouldn’t need to find his way around, and points to the stairs, so he can go on the roof to get the ball. Shahrukh sort of smiles, thanks her by name, and runs up the stairs.
Pausing here for a moment. Also in my SPOILER review, I talked about how maybe we didn’t get a “first meeting” scene, because there wouldn’t have been a real first meeting. Shahrukh is from the neighborhood, so is she. They would have known each other all their lives. He clearly knows her family and they know him, he has been in and out of her house plenty of times before. This isn’t a big romance of eyes meeting and magic happening. This is a boy and a girl who sort of grew up around each other, shifting into a different kind of a relationship almost imperceptibly with no big moment around it.
That familiarity continues with our first glimpse of Mahira. It’s a great shot, she is spinning around in her room, lip-synching and twirling her scarf along with the radio playing the “I Love You” song from Mr. India. It’s a good introduction for Mahira the actress, memorable and beautiful and makes the reveal of her face among all the swirling fabric extra potent.
But it’s also a good introduction for her character. This isn’t a character who goes out to nightclubs or fancy parties. But this also isn’t a character who sits at home and sews. She listens to pop songs on the radio and dances in her room. And when she is caught by her cute boyfriend, she isn’t embarrassed, she smiles and teases him and sings at him.
Again, it’s very sort of “girl next door”. As in, “girl who grew up with you next door so when you started dating she never felt like she had to hide who she really was because you knew all along.” Shahrukh is the one who has to hide himself. Or reveal a slightly different part of himself. He takes off his glasses, he gives her the intense eyes and tries to flirt (which doesn’t come naturally to him, he is much more of a straight-forward talker). He is letting her take the lead, he is being “soft” with her in a way that he isn’t with anyone else. And that is the appeal of this relationship for him, as we will see consistently through out the film, that she is the one person since his mother with whom he can show weakness instead of strength.
Actually, scratch that, we see the same kind of weakness with a few characters. His teacher, the old Parsi doctor, they see it too. This feels very true to a kind of macho leader type of personality. That he can’t let himself be weak to anyone else, but he will be weak with these certain people, and that’s what makes them extra special to him.
As for the actual content of the scene, Mahira is moving around in slow motion, and Shahrukh ducks through a door into her room in a very familiar way, like he does this a lot. He comes up behind her and surprises her when she turns, but she isn’t shy or thrown, she just drifts away while he tries to grab her scarf, and finally the song ends with them face to face. Shahrukh says something like “Beautiful”. Mahira says “Me?”. And Shahrukh says “No, Sridevi ji”.
Then he says something about how someday when he builds “our world”, he will take her away from here. And she says something about when will that happen. He doesn’t know, but he tells her that her love will rule when it does. At least, I think that’s what he says. I’m bad on the dialogue in this scene. Because it’s frankly pretty bad dialogue. Mahira and Shahrukh are selling it like all get out, but it’s kind of stilted and awkward flirting. Maybe it’s slightly better in Hindi, especially with the blurring between singular and plural possessives making the “our world” repetition more significant. But mostly it feels like this scriptwriter did not have a good ear for romance talk. But the director has a great eye for love scenes, and of course Shahrukh has 25 years experience in making us believe he is in love on screen, so it works.
And that’s 4 thousand words! And a good place to stop. I’ll be back tomorrow (hopefully) for the next bit, getting us through Shahrukh and Nawazuddin’s first round of gamesmanship, and another song.