'RA.One', Superhero Shah Rukh Khan's Diwali Dazzle
By MovieTalkies.com, 26 October 2011
(Ratings: Poor * Average ** Good *** Very Good**** Excellent *****)
As a kid, the Nintendo classic, Super Mario Bros., was this reviewer's favourite video game. The side-scroller, with its famed plumber hero who jumped onto assorted villains to flatten them, made for hours of mindless fun in his quest to get to the next level. I never got very far by the levels, but it wasn't for the lack of trying. It was only years later, when I had grown up, that I learnt of Mario's true quest, which was to rescue the Princess Peach from the villain, Bowser, who had kidnapped her. At that point, it all seemed quite pointless to me. After all, what could Bowser, a dragon, want with the princess? Revenge? Greed? It didn't really make any sense. And a villain without a motive, somehow, made it all a bit dull for me.
That is also the case with Shah Rukh Khan's magnum opus, 'RA.One'. Though it takes its name from its deadly villain, the cruelest treatment of the film's narrative is also reserved for the titular RA.One. Having emerged from a cutting edge video game into the real world in pursuit of his nemesis G.One and a kid named Lucifer, RA.One is a villain without an aim. He doesn't crave world domination, he hasn't been wronged by G.One or Lucifer, or anyone else for that matter. In fact, the only reason he seems to be chasing the duo half way across the world is because his A.I. has been programmed to do so.
Admittedly, where the film does light up is in the confrontation between G.One and RA.One, where it truly dazzles. However, these confrontations, these action-packed fights, are few and far in between. Instead, director Anubhav Sinha's story spends too much time setting up the events of the film, delving too long on the antics of Shekhar Subramaniam, the video-game designing protagonist of the film, as well as those of his virtual counterpart, G.One, both played in differently-coiffed avatars by Shah Rukh Khan.
The film follows from an ill-fated attempt of a conglomerate called Barron industries to develop a new video game, under the supervision of the clumsy Shekhar Subramaniam, whose chief activities are spitting out quotable quotes, knocking things over, romancing his foul-mouthed, but loving wife Sonia, and doting on his bratty, techno whiz of a son, Pratik, who goes by the name Lucifer in all the games he plays and thinks nothing of his dad. When Pratik off-handedly comments that the villain is the most important aspect of a game, Shekhar sets out to create a virtual reality game with the deadliest, most powerful villain ever. Things go awry though, when the villain's A.I., called RA.One, takes control of the systems and uses the Barron industries technology to come to life in the real world, and comes after Lucifer, who was the first player to breach his second level. Now, obviously, the only one who can save them, is the game's hero, G.One, aka The Good One, who comes alive to battle the evil of RA.One.
The chief plaint against the film is the dullness of its narrative, where things simply take too long to develop and progress. For a superhero film such as this, such monotony is the death knell. One aches here, to simply see the face off between RA.One and G.One, between good and evil. Why the film's makers resist is beyond one's understanding though.
However, what it lacks in substance, 'RA.One' makes up for in spirit. In fact, the film is saved by the style and special effects it is clothed in. It is truly amazing what Shah Rukh Khan and the team at his Red Chillies VFX have achieved visuals-wise in 'RA.One'. Though it may not match up to the bleeding edge VFX that Hollywood churns out these days, given the relative budget of the film, 'RA.One' does achieve brilliance in its visuals. Taken as a standard, 'RA.One' is a clear game-changer as far as Bollywood is concerned, and if cine-goers throng the film as is expected, one can be sure that the B'town fan won't settle anymore for the run-of-the-mill effects that have been the staple on our shores. In fact, the mesmerising quality of the film's effects is apparent by the fact that the most interesting scenes of the film come in during the credits, when the team shows off how some of the most jaw-dropping sequences of the film were achieved.
Anubhav Sinha's direction works in halves. While his vision of the film's narrative seems to be skewed, the director shows off great skill in handling the film's action sequences, which are bumped up the superb VFX. The director also extracts watchable performances from his stars, Shah Rukh and Kareena Kapoor. While Shah Rukh's initial, bumbling act as Shekhar is a bit jarring, especially with the overdose of 'aiyyos' and 'inge-waas', his turn as the robotic 'G.One' reels one in. 'RA.One' is a personal dream for the King Khan, and it is obvious here that he has poured his heart and soul into the film. Kareena Kapoor as Sonia and Arjun Rampal as the final RA.One, have shorter roles, relatively, but both make the most of it. Kareena plays up the pep factor as the Southie engineer Shekhar's Punjabi wife, and looks positively ravishing in every scene she's in. Arjun Rampal may have earned brickbats earlier for his uni-dimensional acting skills, but here, 'RA.One' calls exactly for that sort of singular focus. Menacing with his looks and body, Rampal plays the villain here to great effect. However, the find of the film is definitely the young Armaan Verma, who plays the bratty Prateek with a flourish, his floppy haircut notwithstanding.
The film also has a few cameos of note, with 'desi girl' Priyanka Chopra and 'khalnayak' Sanjay Dutt wrapping theirs early on. The film's most notable guest appearance, though, comes from the Superstar Rajinikanth, whose much touted entry sees him play his iconic character, Chitti, from 'Robot'. This one is a clincher of a scene, where you can't help but hoot, and it's thrilling to see even the characters on screen react the same way to Rajinisir's mere presence.
The film's other big draw, apart from the VFX, is its soundtrack and score, from Vishal Shekhar, with international star Akon as its centerpiece. 'chammak challo' and 'criminal' are already international hits, and watching Shah Rukh and Kareena scorch to them on screen is just an added attraction. However, it is the non-Akon tracks, chiefly 'dildaara' and 'bhare naina', which truly find centre stage with the film.
Before its release, the star of the film, Shah Rukh Khan, went to town with marketing line for 'RA.One', saying that his aim was to create a film that challenges even the heights of Hollywood with its stellar production values, and to tell a story unlike one ever told in Bollywood. If that was truly his aim, then he certainly has succeeded, with the dazzling visuals of the film setting a new standard for our industry. However, if one looks at the story of the film, perhaps 'RA.One' isn't a complete success. The blame there lies with director Anubhav Sinha, one supposes, as he also takes home the story credit on the film, as also with the film's three other script doctors, Kanika Dhillon, Mushtaq Sheikh and David Benullo. A more focused effort could have landed them a true classic, possibly; an effort that they unfortunately seem to have wasted.
Still, all is not lost, as the film's premise seems to have everything set up for the necessary sequel, where Anubhav Sinha might find his scope for improvement. Until then, 'RA.One' still manages to stand tall on the shoulders of its path-breaking production values and visuals, along with music to last, and is certainly a blast worth the festival of Diwali that it's released on.