Movie Review: Raees (2017)

raees2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Raees (“Wealthy“) stars one of Bollywood’s most charismatic actors, a fact that the screenplay takes for granted. The story of a gangster’s rise to power lacks emotional depth, relying on the audience’s familiarity with Shah Rukh Khan’s dashing heroes of the past to fill in the blanks.

Raees (Khan) spent his childhood running liquor for Jairaj (Atul Kulkarni), a dangerous job given that Gujarat is officially an alcohol-free state. As a young man, Raees wants to branch out into his own boozy enterprise with his best friend, Sadiq (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), much to Jairaj’s resentment. A Mumbai don named Musa (Narendra Jha) helps Raees start his business after witnessing the Gujarati beat up a warehouse full of men while using a severed goat’s head as a weapon, all because someone dared to call the bespectacled Raees “four-eyes.”

As Raees’s illegal empire expands, he draws the attention of a straitlaced cop, Inspector Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who makes it his mission to put Raees out of business. This sets up a cat-and-mouse game that is never quite as clever as one hopes.

The nature of the criminal operations in Gujarat and Mumbai makes it difficult for Raees to keep his promise to his mother that no one should ever be harmed for the sake of business. Granted, most of the people Raees kills tried to kill him first, but he willingly puts his employees in danger during one fiery political protest. There’s some retroactive rephrasing to imply that what Mom really meant was that no innocents should be harmed, but that’s not what she said (at least according to the English subtitles).

This distinction is important, because Raees goes from emphatically rejecting violence to shooting up a room full of crooks without batting an eye. Raees himself doesn’t seem bothered by the morality of his actions, and no one holds him to task. It’s as though writer-director Rahul Dholakia expects Khan’s ardent fans to see him in the role of Raees and thus assume that his character’s actions are justified, no matter what they are.

In many gangster dramas, the role of the protagonist’s conscience often goes to his love interest, but Raees’s wife Aasiya (Mahira Khan) is a willing bootlegger. Mahira Khan is something special, teasing Raees with an irresistible smirk. She’s one of the film’s highlights, and she does a fine job in her musical numbers.

The movie’s showpiece song sequence to the tune of “Laila Main Laila” is eye-catching, juxtaposing Raees’s brutality against Sunny Leone’s shimmying. The best dancing in Raees, however, is Siddiqui’s Michael Jackson impersonation, a scene that is far, far too brief.

Khan, Siddiqui, and Ayyub are all good in Raees, but they could have been even better with a script that did more to develop their characters.


24 thoughts on “Movie Review: Raees (2017)

  1. moviemavengal

    I about died when Nawaz did that Michael Jackson number. You’re right. It was WAY too brief! He had some moves there!

    I was a bit more generous than you, SRK fan that I am, but I agree that it is a flawed film. Still a fun watch for the most part, especially Mahira Khan.

  2. Toni Bishop

    Kathy, I’ve not written in before but I am a big fan of your site and read your reviews frequently. I’ve been a Bollywood fan for about 10 years, and a voracious watcher since 2013 (i.e. about the time of I could stream and watch at theaters.) I teach quite a few Indian and Pakistani high school students (most of whose parents are doctors) and both tend to like Bollywood (or their parents do) and we like to keep tabs on new releases. Anyway, I think you are spot on with Raees. I’ve seen all but two or three of SRK’s movies, and I do love him, but the movie does indeed trade on his charisma. The relationships are underdeveloped, which is frustrating in a movie with this kind of running time. (Raees had grown up in this neighborhood, and yet seems to have almost no family, nor does his wife? Odd.) As my husband (not a big fan, but who periodically goes with me to Hindi films) noted, Bollywood movies are usually not very tight, but the pay off is generally in more scenes that build relationships. Not so here. Also, the character of Majmudar doesn’t ultimately make sense. So he’s lost his moral compass as well? We did see him watch some torture scenes, but the character’s decisions at the end don’t really add up to what we’ve seen to that point. On some level it’s a cynical movie. About politics, crime, relationships …

    1. Kathy

      Thanks for writing, Toni! “Cynical” is a great way to describe the movie. Each character operates according to his own agenda, redefining morality as whatever expedites the execution of that agenda. There is no “good guy.” I’m not sure who the filmmaker intends for us to root for, other than Raees just because he’s played by SRK. I found the film a bit unsatisfying, ultimately.

      I also have to point out something funny that my friend Shah from observed: Raees’s son doesn’t age! From the point that the “One Year Later” subtitle appears on screen through the end of the film, the kid is still a baby. So, does all of the action take place in a matter of weeks? It’s confusing and kind of silly.

  3. Niket

    If any other actor would have done this film. It would not have survived first week in India. It’s a shame given the position SRK has in bollywood, he’s still limited in his creativity. People love him so much and he can take advantage of it by breaking the shackles, usher in new dimensions, explore different genres like Amir Khan is doing and successfully mind you. I’m rather disappointed seeing Raees. This is SRK’s third attempt to revive 70’s action masala movies and it should be clear to him by now that it’s not going to work.

    1. Kathy

      Raees and Kaabil are interesting, Niket, because I’m not sure if either one of them would have been made without their respective stars. I’m sure filmmakers take shortcuts in their stories when they are creating projects for specific stars, as opposed to writing a movie for its own sake. I wish that screenwriters got more respect in Bollywood, rather than the industry building every project around making stars look cool.

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  18. Vijay Dhawan

    “It’s as though writer-director Rahul Dholakia expects Khan’s ardent fans to see him in the role of Raees and thus assume that his character’s actions are justified, no matter what they are.”

    I think director Rahul Dholakia caught himself in a trap of his own making. He couldn’t decide if he was making a biography or a Bollywood fantasy.

    Raees is based on real life bootlegger Abdul Latif. The movie borrows heavily from his life, but Dholakia claims there is no connection. He wants to milk that angle without paying for it. This leaves Raees’s moral stature in limbo.

    In real life, Latif smuggled the explosives responsible for the 1993 Mumbai blasts. This was a 9/11 level event for India, and you simply don’t make heroes of the perps. The public won’t accept it. Even SRK doesn’t have enough star power to make a hero out of Latif, who was gunned down by police without benefit of trial. Nobody blinked an eye.

    In the movie, Dholakia excuses it by saying Raees didn’t realize what he was smuggling, and he killed the people who had fooled him once he found out. This goes far enough that Raees remains a somewhat sympathetic character, and I guess we can still feel sorry for his wife and kid if not for him. But once the connection to Mumbai is made, he’s a dead man, there’s no other way the movie could have ended.

    It would have been a better movie if Dholakia had the courage to make a biopic on Latif as he obviously wanted to. By trying to have his cake and eat it too, he’s put himself in a bad spot, and he’s forced to make half-hearted excuses for his protagonist. And given SRK the job of making the equivalent of the 9/11 hijackers likeable.

    Or if this was too heavy, he could have made Raees a purely fictional character, cut the Mumbai connection. Given him a couple cheerful dance numbers, made everyone happy.

    1. Kathy

      Vijay, thanks so much for another thorough explanation! This does clear up a lot of the inconsistencies within the film. Thanks for providing context!

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