Here's a fact: I removed SRK from that pantheon inside my mind a few years back. Since he cannot stop doing that grand-romantic-gesture of his, hands stretched out, upper body bent at the waist with that stupid cocky dimpled grin on his face never wiped off. They kept saying he should learn to play his age and take a leaf out of Aamir Khan's book, maybe play a 'real' character instead of the same old superstar version of himself in every romantic movie. Even Salman Khan has learnt to take a beating ('Sultan') and toned himself down, not playing the Bhai, even trying to emote a bit.
So maybe this one's a start; for the legions of disappointed SRK 'fans' to get back to cheering. I truly sat up and was pleasantly surprised at this 'transformed' SRK; Shah Rukh gets his teeth right into the meat of this titular character of Raees, a small-time bootlegger in Gujarat where liquor is of course prohibited, in his latest movie, directed by Rahul Dholakia produced by, among others Farhan Akhtar who had given Shah Rukh some of his biggest movies, like Don.
I don't know if Raees is going to reverse his fortunes but I truly believe that maybe, it's a start. We wrote off 'Fan' when SRK tried playing the double-role, an obsessive fan turning on his god-like idol but the story wasn't anything new. Too little, tool late. But even here, with this movie Raees, I don't think it's the story that matters. The rise of the small-time goon into the dreaded gangster who rules an empire, isn't new. But in fact, what is novel is the treatment of an SRK movie; at least in the first half where the narrative is real taut and the mood is grim and somber, befitting a rags-to-riches story. The movie is like a tribute to the Salim-Javed movies of the 70's-80's where every other dialogue leads to a wolf-whistle and the action keeps you on tenterhooks, replete with the Helen-item song ( this time, it's of course Sunny Leone grooving to sounds of Laila main Laila)
Shah Rukh, with his retro-glasses and the kohl-lined eyes and the flowing pathani kurta exudes a ferocious leonine charm in the initial half - where his zeal to business, his shrewdness and daring wins him money and respect not just from his Fatehpur district but the movie audience who lionize his every fiery dialog and gritty and bloody action scenes. But the religious imagery worn on his sleeve, comes off a bit too strong by the second half where his manly charm and ferocity is overshadowed by his robin-hood act and this wish to 'do-good', making sure that he doesn't do the 'business of religion'. So it's a bit of the stretch of imagination, even for the die-hard but intelligent audience when he travels all the way to Mumbai one evening, to finish off the Muslim gangster and his sharp-shooter henchmen for having brought in RDX to set off bombs in his country.
The second half drags but the one bright spot about the entire movie, is Nawazuddin Siddque. This powerhouse of a talent, proves that he can stand his own to the superstar charm of even Mr. SRK. His charming one-liners, witty repartees and the honest cop act who doesn't hesitate to bring down the mightiest of the criminals, is an absolute treat. I would say, if not to watch Shah Rukh try and redeem himself (at least in some parts of the movie) you should go watch Raees for Siddique’s brilliance. The scene crackles with energy, wit and anticipation whenever he steps up and his run-ins with SRK's bootlegger character is definitely paisa-vasool. We only wish there were more. The chutzpah and the unerring confidence is his style-signature that wins hearts and more. Oh and yeah, there is a heroine in the movie. I think her name ends in a Khan as well. But I clearly don't remember what her role was. Other than be in the songs (Uddi, Uddi and Zaalima are eminently hummable. Laila of course was a riot!)
Atul Kulkarni, Jaideep Ahlawat and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub play their own meaningful roles besides the main two guys but I think, what Raees does very well, is to bring alive the small-town setting of Gujarat. Yes, it's an unabashed out and out commercial potboiler of a movie and doesn't do enough justice to the serious issues it plays footsie with - Hindu-muslim divide, the resultant riots and prohibition curfew etc. It probably shoots itself in the foot, trying to be a star-vehicle in the second half, Shah Rukh's initial swagger giving away to the angry, incessant hamming about 'Dhanda is Dharam' and we do feel a bit weary at the end, happy to see the predictable end of a gangster who lives violently.
But all said and done, I personally felt this was a high for Shah Rukh Khan and pray that the movie does well enough for him to pick and choose, more 'character' roles of a similar fashion and not fall prey to his own larger-than-life stature.