Movie Review: Ra.One (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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After heavily promoting the most expensive movie in Indian cinematic history, the makers of Ra.One created high expectations for their film. Even if it’s not the instant classic it aspired to be, Ra.One is exactly what it should be: a fun action flick with some great special effects.

The film stars Shahrukh Khan as a nerdy programmer named Shekhar. He lives in London with his wife, Sonia (Kareena Kapoor), and their son, Prateek (Armaan Verma), a preteen fascinated by the dark side. In order to improve his image in his son’s eyes, goody-two-shoes Shekhar creates a video game in which the villain is all but indestructible.

The virtual villain, Ra.One — whose name is a play on Raavan, the demon in the Ramayana — is programmed with an artificial intelligence that takes umbrage at being beaten by young Prateek, who plays under the gamer handle “Lucifer.” Ra.One accesses a prototype technology created by Shekhar’s company that imbues holograms with physical substance, allowing Ra.One to materialize in the real world and hunt Lucifer.

When Prateek figures out what has happened, he realizes his only hope is to make the game’s hero, G.One (a play on the Hindi word for “life”), corporeal as well. G.One looks exactly like Shekhar, only buffer and cooler. Will G.One be able to protect Prateek from the world’s ultimate villain?

$40 million — a monstrous budget for a Hindi movie — pales next to the hundreds of millions spent on Hollywood action films. But director Anubhav Sinha uses his resources wisely and gets great results. A chase through the streets of London is heart-stopping, as is a thrilling showdown between Ra.One and G.One in a junkyard.

It’s only when Sinha relies too much on computer-generated images do the limits of the budget show. G.One fights a gang of thugs with a CGI soccer ball that looks phony and insubstantial.

3-D is deployed in a satisfying way throughout, adding depth to scenes rather than projecting images out into the audience. It enhances the movie’s pleasing aesthetic. An early dream sequence and the final battle are stunning, with a high-contrast style reminiscent of director Tarsem Singh.

The film’s dance numbers are well-executed and full of energy. Khan and Kapoor genuinely look like they enjoy dancing together; they have a nice rapport off the dance floor as well. Shahana Goswami and Tom Wu round out the likeable cast of heroes as Shekhar’s coworkers, Jenny and Akashi.

At times, the movie’s ultimate message — that one should always, as my mom says, “do good and avoid evil” — gets muddled. Prateek isn’t just a moody preteen; he’s also somewhat of a bully, making jokes at the expense of an overweight classmate. I’m not sure he’d be so quick join the good guys if his life weren’t in danger, and Verma’s bland performance didn’t convince me otherwise.

Prateek’s not the only one with a nasty streak. Jokes that depict gays as uncontrollable sex addicts and make fun of Akashi for being Chinese (everyone calls him “Jackie Chan”) are, if not mean-spirited, then ill-considered.

Based on the number of prints distributed internationally and the inclusion of American rapper Akon on the soundtrack, the makers of Ra.One clearly hoped to expand the reach of the film beyond India. By that metric, were they successfully in creating a globally appealing action film?

Almost. Ra.One is undoubtedly entertaining, visually appealing and easy to understand for viewers who must rely on subtitles. But, at 155 minutes, it’s just too long. It’s hard to sustain an appropriate level of tension for that much time, and Ra.One falters during a dull 25-minute-long section in the middle in which nothing much happens besides the newly corporeal G.One clumsily navigating his surroundings.

Eliminate that 25-minute interlude and some of the insider Indian movie references, and Ra.One becomes a taut, 2-hour thriller with universal appeal. In that format, there’s no reason why it — or future Indian event films — can’t compete with East Asian martial arts flicks for fans of action films made outside of Hollywood.

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15 thoughts on “Movie Review: Ra.One (2011)

  1. tanay

    hi kathy,
    thanks for the nice review. I think u enjoyed ra.one very much. I enjoyed it too. It was entertaining. The
    car chase sequence across
    London was thrilling and the
    crumbling of Victoria
    Terminus station in Mumbai
    was amazing. Special effects are great. There is a cameo by rajnikanth and people were clapping. I saw an interview where shahrukh said that he wanted to show that sci fi movies can be made without spending much. The movie is doing great business. And shahrukh should be appreciated for producing this movie by taking such a huge risk.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      I agree, tanay. Funny how the best looking stunts in Ra.One involved real cars and actors on wires, and not just computers. It’s the same reason why I prefer the original three Star Wars films to the most recent three. There’s still something about physical props that feels more real than stuff that’s strictly computer generated.

      Reply
  2. tanay

    hi kathy,
    many indian movie critics are giving bad ratings to this movie. I dont know why. May those critics love only art movies. So Kathy do u like the songs of this movie. Specially akon’s chammak challo and criminal..

    Reply
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  6. Prashant Dixit

    Kathy, by replying to one of your movie reviews, I want you to believe that I have always looked up at Access Bollywood everytime I needed a second opinion on any newly-released Bollywood film. And while I have been reading your reviews for close to a year now, I only chose to reply with Ra.One is becasue I felt your uptake on Bollywood films is drifting closer to those who feely comfortable in the vicinity of mindless cinema and absurd dialogue and character sketch. Ra.One, if nothing, is a mindless action extravaganza, where action scenes, which are being hailed as ‘technically superior’ and ‘in line with thsoe Hollywood doles out every Friday’ are, laughable and childish (and it has nothing to do with the fact that Ra.One is a kid’s film). The dialogues are ordinary, forgettable, and embarrasing. Note the scene where the father-son duo had a little fight out on the streets. It’s not just few scenes that turned effectively bad, but name anything from the movie (inlcuidng the father-son chemistry which has been lauded by almost every critic) and they stand out as a perfect example of cheesiness and ones that could make any person who enjoys cinema to squirm and cringe and wince in derogation. Anyway, I still respect your views and reviews on all other Bollywood films and will keep coming back for my second opinion (and in most cases first).

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Prashant. There’s surely room in the wide spectrum of movies for mindless action flicks, and I appreciate that Ra.One shows that the genre needn’t be dominated by Hollywood. I recently watched Transformers 3, and Ra.One is Citizen Kane by comparison.

      You bring up an interesting point about Ra.One’s dialogue. Can I assume that you understand Hindi? None of the dialogue stood out to me as particularly good or bad, but I was relying entirely on the English subtitles. I always wonder (and I have no way of knowing) how different the experience is for audiences who get to hear movies in their original language. By necessity, my reviews are always slanted a bit toward non-Hindi speakers.

      As for the father-son chemistry, I’m with you. What chemistry?

      Reply
  7. Prashant Dixit

    Kathy, Hindi is my first language. Anyway, now that I read it, I realize that you see things through subtitles which gives ‘such’ moviemakers a slight advantage of improving things out (here, dialogues). Yes, I do agree now that you take things from perspective where things are presented after being polished, but how can they escape the obvious cringiness (on viewers’ part) where Hindi is understood well…unless they do something that films like Dil Chahta Hai, Mission Kashmir, 3 Idiots and others do – write good and refined dialogues.

    Among other things, Kareena was poor; the sexual innuendos were pathetic (they shouldn’t be there in a kid’s film in the first place); the action scenes are repetitive (recall Ra.One and G.One throwing burinng balls at each other..haha). Well, Ra.One apart, I am glad that I started this ‘writing comments’ act; and sincere apologies if I went a littlle far with expressing my discontent over Ra.One and mentioned you in the same sentence. Thank you for your positive reply. And take care.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      No worries, Prashant. Thanks for providing examples of why you disagreed with me about Ra.One. That always makes for a more interesting discussion. All the best.

      Reply
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  9. Stian Håklev (@houshuang)

    Hi,
    first, it’s really fun to come across this blog. I’m a Norwegian living in Toronto, and regularly watch Bollywood movies – always try to drag my flatmates and friends along, and sometimes they really enjoy it, but often they are quite skeptical :) I really believe that we should take Bollywood seriously by insisting that there are really good movies and really bad ones, and lot’s of middle of the tree ones, just like “Hollywood” or any other film industry. (And in fact, some of the absolute best Hindi movies rival any movie in the world!)

    I know this blog is focused on Hindi movies, but did you get a chance to watch Enthiran (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enthiran)? A Tamil science fiction movie that came out a year earlier (and whose robot actually makes a brief cameo in Ra One)? I brought a bunch of friends with me to see it, and we universally loved it – it has great humor, amazing CGI scenes at the end, wacky dance, catchy tunes, and some real philosophy and insight… To me it’s far better than Ra One.

    It’s also inspiring because it is one of the very few Tamil movies to be released with English subtitles. I am always frustrated at the local cinema when I see Tamil, Telugu, Bengali etc movies with no subtitles – I would love to pay to watch these! And really, subtitling a movie is not that expensive. (In fact, many of my Hindi friends would like to see these movies as well, and are not able to).

    If you ever get a chance, have a look at some movies in other Indian languages. For example Arabikatha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabikkatha), if you can find it, is a real treat! It feels completely different from Hindi movies – a different landscape, different culture, different political background, etc.

    Will be following your reviews in the future.

    (PS: I know others have mentioned learning Hindi, but I think one of the reasons I find Bollywood movies more enjoyable than my friends is that I kind of understand Hindi, I took a year of it in university. I’m not fluent, but I can kind of follow a Bollywood movie without subtitles (dialogues are usually pretty simple), and when I’m watching an “OK” movie like yesterday night watching Jodi Breakers, I am able to keep my mind occupied with trying to catch what they are saying without looking at the subtitles etc :))

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Hi, Stian! I’m glad you like the blog. I absolutely agree with you that part of what makes Bollywood so fun is that it produces such a wide range of movies, from art films to mass market entertainers to some really low-brow stuff. I don’t think that Americans (and Canadians, I assume) have such a window into the popular culture of another country as we do to India, apart from England.

      Because Bollywood produces so many movies every year, I’ve limited this site to primarily reviews of Hindi movies in order to keep my workload manageable. And, as you said, they’re the movies that people in North America have the most easy access to. Sadly, Arabikkatha isn’t available on Netflix, so I’ll have to see if I can find it elsewhere. I did see Enthiran, which I enjoyed (though I had some serious problems with it). Here’s a link to my review:
      http://accessbollywood.wordpress.com/2010/10/02/movie-review-enthiran-2010/

      Reply
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