Film Review


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Ra.One

Shah Rukh Khan in a scene from Anubhav Sinha’s Ra.One. [Photo: Eros International]

Ra.One

Like the makers of many contemporary Bollywood productions, the creators of Ra.One are mindlessly proud of their film's family-friendly message, but they never consider the implications of preaching the importance of recognizing right from wrong while also making off-the-cuff sexist, racist, and homophobic jokes. After all, Shekhar (Shah Rukh Khan), a gentle-hearted patriarch and the film's main protagonist, creates video-game characters that miraculously come alive and fight in the film's "real world" in order to give his son a hero worth worshipping. Ra.One does not, however, have the one element Shekhar maintains is what makes a real champion: heart. The film champions an incoherently hackneyed kind of morality where filial piety matters more than treating your fellow man well. Virtually every character in the film, save for Shekhar and his character's nuclear family, are made fun of, and even they aren't safe from ludicrously loaded assumptions of how both children and adults should behave. Ra.One is consequently a flashy, gratingly broad action-comedy hybrid whose family values are meaningless.

Shekhar is a well-meaning but painfully unhip father (Khan sports a ridiculous perm wig for the role) who creates his own virtual superhero in order to make his young son, Prateek (Armaan Verma), want to stop worshipping super villains. G.One (also Khan), whose name is a pun on the Hindi word for "Life," was created with the sole purpose of defeating Ra.One (Arjun Rampal), a nigh-unbeatable super villain named after "Ravana," a Hindi demon with 10 heads. Prateek is immediately enamored with Ra.One, whose personality is said to be an amalgamation of 10 of history's worst villains, including Adolf Hitler.

G.One's heroism is not, however, earned by anything he does save for his willingness to serve as Prateek's mentor and as the surrogate husband to Sonia (Kareena Kapoor), Shekhar's wife, once tragic events befall Shekhar's family. This is bluntly spelled out during an especially tedious song where a remixed version of "Stand By Me" is used to show how faithful Ra.One is to Shekhar's family. He dances, he plays with Prateek, and he even cools the family down by spreading his arms and spinning around like a household ceiling fan. He's a Hindi version of the Terminator except Khan is nowhere near as charismatic as Arnold Schwarzenegger on his worst day.

But all the charm in the world wouldn't make Ra.One's sanctimoniousness seem any more genuine. We know why Ra.One is evil, as he's a murderer. But what does G.One stand for? Apart from the fact that he does whatever it takes to defeat Ra.One, G.One mostly serves as the attractive standard by which everyone else in the film is found to be wanting. In this case, "everyone else" includes virtually every supporting character, including Iyer (Satish Shah), Prateek's fat uncle, who jumps up and down on a trampoline just to impress us with how overweight he is; an unnamed, comically lascivious gay flight attendant (Kiyani Aziz) that gets seriously turned on by G.One; Akaashi (Tom Wu), a Chinese computer programmer who's constantly flailing his arms and telling people, "I'm not Jackie Chan"; and Sonia, whose theories of empowering Indian women with curse words is considered laughable, even by Shekhar's standards. Contrasted with all these supporting characters, the stoic G.One looks nominally heroic. He represents the ultimate valorization of chauvinism in Bollywood cinema. Or as Shekhar tries and fails to put it to Prateek, he's a real hero because "he's good," whatever that means.

The casual way in which Ra.One's committee of three screenwriters casually dismiss Sonia is probably the most insulting thing about the film. She's strong enough to survive personal tragedy but is ultimately brainwashed with a wave of Ra.One's electronic hands. Just seeing Sonia reduced to a slack-jawed puppet that nearly steers a speeding train into a local station is a real insult to the film's audience. Ra.One's indifferently demeaning scenario proves just how meaningless its creators' supposedly good intentions really are.

Director(s): Anubhav Sinha Screenwriter(s): Kanika Dhillon, Shah Rukh Khan, Mushtaq Sheikh Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Arman Verma, Arjun Rampal, Satish Shah, Tom Wu Distributor: Eros International Runtime: 156 min Rating: NR Year: 2011

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