Thursday, November 10, 2011

What's wrong with Ra.One?

Contrary to what the title of this post implies, there are many things right with Ra.One. It is an ambitious film, in terms of scale and budget. It is India's most expensive film to date. It introduces the superhero genre to the Indian audiences. For some, it even has moments of breathtaking special effects. And no matter what the naysayers say, the film has already recouped its cost (over Rs 125 crores, according to actor and producer Shahrukh Khan) from the trade.

Lead actor Shahrukh Khan and director Anubhav Sinha wanted to make a superhero film for (their) kids. Both wanted to pay a tribute to the dads of the world that they are cool too. The boxoffice says they have succeeded in their effort. Good. I am happy for these two brave dads.

A dad's reaction

I took my daughter to the theatre to watch Ra.One last week. She liked it. She had already got hooked on to the Chamak Challo song. For a six year old, the story and the effects would have been overwhelming.

Personally, I wanted to like the film. I had loved Shahrukh's My Name is Khan, though many of my friends didn't like it--I have a weakness for films or literature with ideas and social messages: a sure sign of mediocrity, and I know Nabokov would not approve of it: A work of art has no importance whatever to society; it is important only to the individual, he has said. But I know what you are thinking already. Are Bollywood films even works of art? Can Nabokov's standards be applied to Bollywood or even Hollywood films? It is not even debatable, I know, I know (with some exceptions again).

Apart from its timeliness and social relevance, I had liked My Name is Khan because it was smoothly written and Shahrukh's acting was consistent in the film (excepting one or two scenes, if I remember correctly). The credit also must go to the film's director Karan Johar and writer, Shibani Bhatija. That film, and many of Shahrukh's earlier films, had led me to believe that Shahrukh had a great script sense and no matter who he worked with, he would bring up the film to a level that would make it appear grounded and polished. His Don with Farhan Akhtar is another recent example.

With Ra.One unfortunately I did not feel so. Despite the special effects (and many would say "I have seen better" effects), the film has many blurs and blotches. The characters are not grounded enough and everything has a plastic feel to it. The film is too episodic in nature and the seams in the story are visible. The trick is to hide them.

My problem, in regard to Ra.One, is clearly with the story and the writing. I will not discuss Shahrukh's acting here: the performance has been more or less consistent except for the scene towards the end of the film where G.One tells Prateek (Armaan Verma) that he has to 'go'. There, he slips into the My Name is Khan mode of acting.

Now, look at the writing credits of Ra.One (source: IMDB):

David Benullo
Kanika Dhillon dialogue
Kanika Dhillon screenplay
Niranjan Iyengar dialogue
Shah Rukh Khan screenplay
Mushtaq Sheikh screenplay
Anubhav Sinha story

When many writers work on a project, the resulting product could go in any direction. Example: Scorsese's Gangs of New York. Even though the film was based on a book and four writers worked on it, the film failed to appeal to many Scorsese fans. I am afraid the same has happened in Ra.One's case.

Superhero films needn't be for children alone (Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight is an example). And even for a children's film, I found some dialogues in Ra.One distasteful. At the film's beginning, in the fantasy sequence, the Bruce Lee and his three sisters-- Iski Lee, Uski Lee and Sabki Lee-- joke was not only trite but subpar (It belongs to, maybe, an Anurag Kashyap film dealing with characters who are Mumbai's scum). That too from a kid like Prateek (he is dreaming out this sequence) who is studying in England? Will his jokes be like this? I doubt that. Also, the kid is perhaps a genius geek, even though all he does is play video games, argue with his father and listen to loud music by Michael Jackson. In the first half of the film, he is writing an essay on his father in his classroom (makes him a primary school kid?); in the second half of the film, he successfully assembles G.One at his home. What a leap for kid like him!

The other distasteful jokes were the kondom, kondom joke and the power yoga joke. These could have been weeded out at the script level.

Shahrukh's V.Shantaram-loving Shekhar Subramaniam character is also a hodgepodge, just like his plate of noodles and curd. Back in India, all we see about Shekhar is an empty house and two neighbours. What is his backstory, guys?

I know all these points do not matter, now that the film is a success. Like Hollywood's, Bollywood's biggies too know the box office game too well. As has been noted in a book on summer blockbusters (read Diwali or Eid here), these big budget films will work no matter what kind of writing they employ. My only request to the Shahrukh Khans of Bollywood is that, please, encourage good writing. It is sad that it does not matter but it should.

I am sure Shahrukh will make a sequel of Ra.One (called G.One?) and it too will become a huge hit at the boxoffice. When it comes to the cinemas, I know that I will bring my daughter to the theatre to see it. I know that she will like it too--she is just a child. But can Shahrukh make his writers work harder this time, so that a dad like me can enjoy the film with his daughter, without having to squirm in his seat. That is my only request to Shahrukh Khan and his team.



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