Ra.One seems predominantly aimed at older kids, so I fall well outside the target demographic. But it was interesting to contemplate Shah Rukh, the father, as I watched him play a nerdy dad who wanted to do something his son would find really cool. And I think perhaps, Ra One is the thing he made for his own kids. As with almost all things parents do to try and impress their kids, it doesn’t entirely succeed and despite being well intended, can be cheesy and embarrassing. There are daft antics, crotch kicking jokes, bad hair and the occasional detour into gross humour or sleaze that – I know this will shock you – didn’t always entertain me. But a few things were just delightful and hit the spot.
I avoided most of the pre-film promotion as I thought low expectations would be the key to enjoying it. Those expectations were raised almost immediately by the opening sequence – a very amusing filmi pastiche set inside a computer game. Priyanka Chopra (as Desi Girl) and Sanjay Dutt (as Khalnayak) were excellent at what I hope was intentionally bad acting, and SRK was very funny as a kind of Goth styled sword wielding Fabio. It was tongue-in-cheek, with lots of action and stunts, plus silly puns and recycled film dialogue. Sadly my hopes were dashed almost as quickly when the comedy began.
Shekhar Subramanium (SRK) is a Mr Bean type fool in a dodgy wig who creates havoc everywhere he goes. His son Prateek (Armaan Verma) – a child in desperate need of a decent haircut and a swift boot up the backside – is embarrassed by his loser dad. Shekhar is a successful (based on real estate as the family home is lovely) game designer and tries to make a game that his son will like. This section draaaaaaaaags on. It is clear that the son is a brat and the dad is sweet but misses the point. Kareena Kapoor as wife Sonia tries to keep the peace but the first half is more about the father son dynamic.
Prateek tells his dad to make a game where the villain can never lose, because villains are cooler than heroes. And so we come to the action at last. The science behind how the villain Ra One can escape his game is explained by a bit of hand waving and muttering of ‘digital rays’. That didn’t bother me as I think had there been a more rigorous scientific basis for the story it would have been even longer and even more plot holes would have emerged. Once Ra One emerges in the real world, the film becomes an action superhero flick and I was much happier.
Ra One is an evil entity and determined to finish off his first opponent from the game – Prateek – for good. Shekhar sacrifices himself to save his son, but he doesn’t exactly disappear from the film. Every villain needs a hero in opposition and G One represents the life force in the game. Shekhar programmed G One with his own values and equipped him with some favourite proverbs, part of his gift to Prateek. G One bears a physical resemblance to his creator but has much sleeker hair, blue contact lenses and a flash rubbery suit.
Ra One eventually settles into the form of a bare chested Arjun Rampal and the final showdown is inevitable. Arjun Rampal just has to posture and flex, which he does well, and he was certainly menacing. Ra One’s arrival in India was brilliant and loaded with symbolism, but that wasn’t carried through.
Evil versus good, death or life, emptiness versus selflessness. As with the science, Anubhav Sinha shies away from delving into those concepts. I’m not sure that would have made this a much better film, but I do think there was room to expand on some of the ideas and give a heightened sense of consequence when Ra One faced G One.
G One’s relationship with Sonia and Prateek is mostly played for laughs but there are some moments of ‘what if’ as the grieving family look for Shekhar in his creation. The film effectively navigated the relationship between the boy and his father/hero and wasn’t too syrupy. Shekhar’s death was discussed in plain terms, and while G One was comfortingly familiar (and kind of cool) he wasn’t just a vessel for the return of Shekhar.
Kareena was most effective in he second half, especially in her scenes with Shah Rukh and seemed more real when relating to him rather than the child. It says something that a scene involving nasal contents and ending with SRK saying ‘Like it? Keep it!’ could also have some underlying sexual tension. And be funny. The role was a mix of filmi Ma and minx that let her look glam and show some dramatic range. This was a solid performance that showed her off to good advantage.
Shah Rukh is more effective as the slightly robotic G One than as the exuberant Shekhar but that may just be my prejudice against the comedy wig talking. His acting was sometimes surprisingly restrained for a broad action entertainment like this. The scene where Shekhar sacrifices himself was quite moving, and all due to the change of expression in Shah Rukh’s eyes. He covers the gamut from slapstick to deadpan comedy and gave G One a slightly off tempo rhythm to his speech and movements. SRK seems to delight in uncle dancing or cheesy retro dance moves, and there are some excellent bad dance moments, including a Michael Jackson tribute. The pleather pants in that scene made me wish that he would get back on the carbs – he’s looking very thin, maybe as a result of wearing the rubber G One suit for months.
The Vishal-Shekhar music is pretty forgettable, although the picturisations looked OK. The choreography tended towards the inappropriate but I guess if you’re a 13 year old boy it would be just dandy. And I appreciated the shiny underpants on the girls in Chammak Challo as attention to detail is always a good thing, especially when there is so little fabric to go round.
While I found the choreography for ‘Criminal’ skanky (although par for the MTV course), there was something endearing about SRK trying to pop his non-existent booty. I was a bit distracted by the triangular slit cut into Kareena’s miniscule skirt that made me hope she had also been allocated appropriate underwear.
Tom Wu was a stand out in the supporting cast. I am not sure why a Chinese character had a Japanese name (Akashi) but whatever. Just don’t call him Jackie Chan! I loved his flubbed lip synch in ‘Criminal’, and he got to show off a bit more than just being a sidekick. Satish Shah was his usual ebullient comedy uncle type. The special appearance that got the biggest cheer was of course Rajnikanth! He did look a little frail and I hope he is resting up and getting ready for his next film.
The VFX are good and are well integrated into the action. The gaming style is maintained in the way the characters move, their fights and the fast edits. It’s certainly a quality film in terms of production values. The fight scenes are excellent, my favourite being the South style showdown with machete wielding rowdies. The script could have used some work, and the first half could easily lose 30 minutes. The wardrobe department were clearly in control of a reasonable budget, but sometimes had no idea how to use it other than by throwing more stuff into the mix. This will give you a sample of the visual delights that await.
Expect a mass entertainment aimed at adolescent boys and you’ll be in the right frame of mind to enjoy this for what it is. Yes it takes the shallow option on many questions, but it’s a superhero genre film. Would I really take life advice from men in rubber suits? 3 stars!