So, this past weekend, I let my siblings drag me out to a theater and we saw Shah Rukh Khan’s latest money-making machine, Ra.One.
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t read the Ramayana, I haven’t seen any of the hilariously bad Zee TV daytime programs that showcase it, and I surely didn’t grow up hearing about it. I grew up in a fairly conservative Muslim family in Chicago, and I went to a private Muslim school for the majority of my life, so, instead, I was inundated with my particular religious mythology. So if you’re here to talk about any sort of allegorical links between the epic and this movie, I can’t help you.
I can say with complete authority, however, that Shah Rukh Khan looks damn good sashaying about in tux. (More on that later.)
The Plot (Or, Look at All The Sparkly Lights and Don’t Think Too Hard About It)
If the glitzy, glamorous, computer-generated machinery of Ra.One has a weak link, it’s the plot. The story goes that you’ve got Shekhar Subramanium (real world SRK) who is bumbling, accident prone, and cheerfully oblivious to just how bumbling and accident prone he is. He’s got a hot wife, Sonia (Kareena Kapoor); a bratty kid, Prateek (Armaan Verma), who really needs an attitude adjustment and a haircut;
and a job as a video game developer. SRK — seriously, does anyone even care what his characters’ names are anymore? I don’t. — decides to create a game with a villain who is much more powerful and more versatile than the good guy as per his son’s pretentious obsession with 90’s anti-hero types. Using new AI technology, the design team creates Ra.One, a villain so dastardly that it begins to get smarter on its own and projects itself into our reality. Realizing just how much of an ‘oh, crap’ moment this is, the team brings forth G.One, the good guy from the game who is also played by SRK because of course he is. (G.One is also really adorable. I know. It’s weird.)
From then on, you’d expect there to be action, wire-work and macho posturing between G.One and Ra.One as they battle to prove which one is the most badass super-hero robot. (There’s also the matter of the kid’s life or something.) There is that, but there are also goofy domestic hijinks, inappropriate pelvic thrusting, and truly pointless songs that do nothing to advance the plot but are great anyway. The plot doesn’t speed to its climax as mush as it sort of drunkenly careens towards it, but it gets there, and there is an appropriately Bollywoodesque moral about having heart and loving everything or something, and bam, the end.
Okay, so the plot is fairly lackluster and kind of blah. It’s not an entirely new idea. I’ve got to admit, though, the movie looks spectacular. The effects aren’t cheesy at all: I don’t believe that Shah Rukh Khan can really leap buildings in a single bound or flip cars over with a look, but damn, he sure looks good doing it. The effects are great, people. More that that, though, the movie is quality. Every frame is gorgeous and moody; the panoramas of the locales are generous and picturesque. You can practically smell all the money that went into creating this behemoth.
(Also, Tom Wu? You make me so happy.)
There are a few glitches. (That pun was entirely intended and I’m not sorry.) There’s a terrible scene in which Prateek finagles his way around a WLAN connection at school and manages to simultaneously humiliate a larger classmate and the teacher by projecting a video of the teacher dancing about in her underwear. I don’t know why that was a necessary scene; sure, it proves that Prateek is good with computers, but it also serves to shame the kid (for being dumb and fat) and the teacher (by showing her to her students in a highly offensive manner, and also because the joke is, “She’s fat and smacking her own booty in her underwear! Have you ever seen anything so high-lariuous?”). Not cool, movie.
And then there’s Kareena’s character, who serves no purpose beyond a love interest, a mother, and a convenient distraction. She is shown working on an article (on a typewriter, no less, while SRK works on his video game on an entire wall filled with state-of-the-art machinery) on Hindi curses. She is challenging the fact that those curses always call the woman’s honor into question, and while this can be an intelligent way to open up a dialogue about sociolinguistics and the role of women in the Indian cultural consciousness, no, her work and her passion for it are treated as a joke.
Sonia goes on to have a really freaking weird romance-like interlude with G.One — who, might I add, is a freaking robot/video game character/looks exactly like her husband — and serves handily as a distraction on a runaway train. I understand that there’s not much room for laypeople in a movie about superheroes, but a little substance would not have been remiss here. They make up for this a bit with Shahana Goswami’s character, who is adorably kickass and gratifyingly competent at her job in a male-dominated field.
A word about the titular villain. Ra.One is undoubtedly cool: he can shapeshift, he’s constantly learning, he can fire magic balls of energy, he’s virtually indestructible, and he looks like Arjun Rampal.
Despite all that, though, he’s not very interesting. His motivations are never explained: why does he want out? Why does he want to destroy Lucifer? If that was his goal all along, why not just off the kid the moment Prateek came into his clutches? Why wait for G.One to storm in after the train debacle? What was the point of setting Sonia up as a distraction if he wasn’t going to use the ensuing time to kill Prateek? Ra.One is definitely a visually arresting villain, but he’s not very interesting and he doesn’t make much sense.
The music, though, is great. I really, really love the background score. It simultaneously evokes an old-school Bollywood feel along with high-octane action with soaring orchestral compositions and ominous chanting. Have a listen.
This theme, called “Comes the Light”, serves as a microcosm of all the ear candy.
The songs, though, are something else all together. They’re really standard Bollywood fare: the songs are lyrically empty and they really do nothing to further the plot. But! There’s Akon! I’ve just developed a new-found respect for him, it seems. I mean, I didn’t think there could be anything that could ever redeem him after that whole “Sexy Bitch” thing but then he goes as makes an effort to sing in Hindi and I can’t, I just, I can’t. Listen (and watch, because SRK inhabits his outfit like no other). Akon’s pronunciation isn’t perfect (what, he says “akhiyon” as though he’s saying “yakhni”) but the effort he obviously put into getting it right warms the cockles of my heart. (Warms it enough, honestly, to almost forgive all the booty-poppin’ in “Criminal”. Almost, but not quite. Please don’t reduce women to gyrating asses, Bollywood. I thought you were better than that.) Anyway, have “Chammak Challo”, which is the better song anyway, even if it is condescending and hetero-normative. It’s still delightful.
And while it’s not in that video, “Teri picture ka mein hero!” is such a great line. Yes, SRK, you are the hero of every picture in which you show up, regardless of the duration of your stay.
Ra.One does have its faults. The humor is crass. The action sequences go on a bit too long. The villain is one-dimensional. The major female character is disappointingly inactive (though I suppose I will give the movie points for giving her the choice between running and taking a stand against Ra.One). The kid desperately needs a haircut.
Despite all that, I’d still say see it. See it and wallow in it and laugh at it and glory in it. The movie is slick and gorgeous and so bad, it’s marvelous.