The way the state of Bollywood is right now, superstar vehicles, provided they are marketed and distributed right, are assured of making money. The number of people who will sing hosannas even if Shahrukh Khan (or Salman Khan for that matter) stands in front of a blank screen and recycles through all his fixed facial expressions (which is what most of SRK’s recent movies have been) is so insanely large, that his producers (in this case himself) know that anything with his presence in every scene and aggressively marketed by him, is guaranteed to be a mega-hit, if not break records at the box-office.
The pre-release circus confirmed my worst fears of what “Ra.One” would be—for the fan-boys and for no one else. There were the promos with Shahrukh Khan, standing like Spiderman on the top of a building, with an expression that was supposed to be “intense” but looked suspiciously similar to his stock “My Name is Khan” Asperger’s facial freeze. And then of course the heavy-handed publicity blitz in which Shahrukh Khan became the Viagra mass-mail stepped out from the digital world into the real, spamming the inboxes of our brains with relentless ferocity that was, to put it mildly, severely piss-offing. Combined this with the slew of negative reviews (Rediff had three or was it four trashing “Ra.One”), and an overdose of that irritating kid who, for some reason reminds me of Sarika when she used to play little boys, I had kind of made up my mind as to what “Ra.One” as a film would be—–Love Story “2050” with Shahrukh Khan in place of that Hrithik Roshan-clone “Her-man” and minus the endearing tubelights that passed off for lightsabers there.
Having seen “Ra.One” now, I can say it confirmed some of my presuppositions. I was not holding my breath waiting for originality. And there was none. Starting off like “Sin City”, with a dash of Austin Powers, some “Tron”, a lot of “Terminator” and sequences from Spiderman and X-Men, it is a collage of concepts stolen from other places with even Dalip Tahil, of Madan Chopraaaaa fame, being given a J. Jonah Jameson look and feel.
I knew it would be a great commercial product. I was not disappointed. “Ra One”‘s primary target audience is eight to fifteen year olds. And it packs in plenty of “gaming stuff”, very well executed special effects and “condom” tee-hees and other juvenile “adult” gags that eight to fifteen year olds find insanely funny (I did when I was that age). In this, it does perfectly what it set out to do.
The other target audience is of course SRK fan-zombies. Here was the first moderate surprise. Though Shahrukh Khan is present in glorious rapture in almost every frame, sometimes with the new Ravindra Jadeja haircut and sometimes as a body-suited G.One, he does take one pretty big risk. By becoming a digital entity controlled by the kid, he lets the child become the driver. This of course is a device that helps him connect with the primary audience, the 8 to 15 year olds, who appreciate no doubt the importance given to one of their kind. But this also had the potential to alienate those who expect Him (intentional capitalization) to be the sole mover of the narrative, second to none. That Shahrukh and his crew resolved this design tradeoff well is evidenced by “Ra.One”‘s box-office collections and the more or less consistent fangasms on Internet bulletin boards and on Twitter.
And then came the big surprise.
I was entertained by “Ra.One”. And this despite not being in the target demographic.
The primary reason for that is “Ra.One” is fun in the same way that the old Manmohan Desai blockbusters were— implausible, crazy but somehow very dynamic. In “Naseeb” I remember the three heroes using their three rings to punch the bad-men such that the symbols of three religions would be implanted on their cheeks and then using these same rings to slide on a rope from one building to another. “Ra.One” has some of that kind of endearing “HART”-y goofiness which, at least, for me never made it as mind-numblingly boring as “Tees Mar Khan” and most other big-ticket Bollywood movies now-a-days are. Fortunately “Ra One” never takes itself too seriously , reveling in its own low-brow-ness with none of the pretentiousness that characterizes much of the work of that other Khan. Nowhere is this better than the climatic scene when Shahrukh Khan grips Arjun Rampal’s electronic blue-balls at which the latter’s naturally blank expression together with his “Yeh kay kar rahe ho G.One?” creates the kind of celluloid purity that brings tears to the eyes.
Product it is, as much as a “Ready” or “Bodyguard”, but the very least one can say that a lot more thought and effort has gone into making it work as a film, with pace and generous dollops of self-mockery, in sharp contrast to the auto-pilot monstrosities that Salman Khan assails us with every holiday season post-Dabangg.
And for just this, I appreciate “Ra.One”. Not enough for me to go to sleep with a G.one doll but at least enough for me to say that watching “Ra.One” was time quite decently spent.