Ra.One (Anubhav Sinha, 2011)
I have so many minor problems with Ra.One, but ultimately they boil down to one major one: it's not a film, it's a three hour long special effects reel. For a narrative (and believe me, I use that word loosely here) that makes a big deal about heart – the whole virtual reality computer game the thing is based around involves both hero and villain having to have a vital piece – their “H.A.R.T” before the game can be completed – plus, you know, stuff like this:
- heart is what Ra.One is crucially devoid of.
The story – what little exists – is basically a flimsy plot constructed (seemingly as hastily as possible) of situations that will link together excuses for awesome special effects scenarios. Shah Rukh Khan plays Shekhar, a dorky, South Indian (for no apparent reason) video-game designer who struggles to connect with his son, Prateek, who thinks (quite correctly) that his dad is the ultimate in uncool. When Shekhar's design team get tasked with a new project, in a new attempt to bond, Shekhar asks Prateek for suggestions on what he would like in a videogame, and designs one accordingly. This bites everyone in the ass when the videogame's villain comes to life and tries to kill Prateek.
Here are some of the aforementioned minor problems I had early on in the film – evidence perhaps of only vague attention being paid to to script/story while money and time was being poured into the kickass special effects:
- The first sighting of Shah Rukh in the film is weird and confusing and turns out to be a dream sequence – basically it's obviously a big excuse for some kickass special effects early on, plus a couple of cameos. 10 minutes into the film, woot, blockbuster, am I right? EXCEPT THAT THE DREAM SEQUENCE TURNS OUT TO BE PRATEEK (Shekar's SON who basically HATES HIS LAME DAD, remember) DREAMING IT. Did you get that? Prateek fantasises himself as a hot version of his lame dad he hates. Already this film MAKES NO SENSE.OEDIPUS CALLING.
- Prateek's advice to his videogame designer dad re: designing a kickass videogame is: heroes are lame, villains are totally awesome, so make a game with an UNBEATABLE VILLAIN.Preferably one who assumes the form of Arjun Rampal....REALLY? Does that sound like a game you would pay good money for? A game you can NEVER WIN? Unless it's a game where you play AS the villain, in which case, AWESOME, but we all know that's not what Mr “Goodie two-shoes” Shekhar has in mind.
- The awesome video game Shekhar designs a) is virtual reality and requires a special suit to play, which I'm guessing would make it prohibitively expensive and b) has only got 3 levels. WHAT KIND OF A VIDEO GAME DESIGNER WORTH HIS SALT DESIGNS A GAME WITH ONLY 3 LEVELS?
- It gets more illogical (which is bad for a film which ends up with clinical, computer game characters as its main characters – not flesh and blood humans, but pixels and code). At the LAUNCH PARTY for the incredibly poorly conceived video game which the Mean Boss had threatened HAD TO BE A SUCCESS or they were ALL FIRED (guess they're all fired once sales plummet when gamers of the world realise what a shitty AND unbeatable game it is) it is revealed the game HASN'T EVEN BEEN TESTED PROPERLY: no-one's even made it to Level 3 yet. FACE. PALM. Obviously, this is to explain what happens next – the whole house of cards the rest of the film is built on. If the designers were remotely...competent and had ACTUALLY tested the game, they would have REALISED that the villain Ra.One was going to come to life and try to kill people. BECAUSE THAT'S TOTALLY A THING THAT HAPPENS, because ...
- ...“rays in the atmosphere”.In any film, you are required to suspend your disbelief to some degree. If basic things that should make sense, DO make sense – like, the game that the whole thing is built upon isn't a bullshit excuse to just make a BIG SPECIAL EFFECTS MOVIE and actually showed some degree of thought and effort or even RESEARCH had gone on – FOR EXAMPLE, then the whole “the villain of a computer game can come to life because of rays in the atmosphere” is something I wouldn't even BLINK AT. But because most of Ra.One appears to be hastily scrambled together justifications for whatever stunt or special effect the filmmakers wanted to show off, DISBELIEF is basically how I stared at the screen the entire time, when I wasn't just incredibly bored and willing it to end.Sometimes I made THIS face.
WE KNOW IT'S AKON. We CANNOT SUSPEND OUR DISBELIEF SUFFICIENTLY IN THE MOMENT to immerse ourselves in the film and feel like the character is singing a song. It's SRK lip-syncing to Akon, and it's jarring and distancing and clinical, no matter how much you like the song.
In the past month or so, I've marathoned through a number of the Hindi films from 2011 that I felt I needed to see – the critically acclaimed, the underrated, the ones that weren't necessarily blockbusters (I'll start writeups soon). The thing they all have in common is a clear focus - on a strong story that needed to be told, on clear, well rounded characters and relationships, on a defining message that could be taken away from the film, something that lingers after the credits have rolled. I got none of this from Ra.One.
Let me be clear: I don't have a problem with the performers or the performances in Ra.One. Arjun Rampal, Kareena Kapoor and Shah Rukh Khan each do a fine job with what they have to work with – the problem is what they have to work with is below each of them. I have an issue with this film, this KIND of lazy haphazard film, and I am sad and worried that SRK has been so excited and focused on this and Don 2 (I'm yet to see it) and an idea of “Hollywood style” filmmaking. What that means – what he THINKS that means, I'm not sure, except the impression I get from Ra.One, clinical, focused on the effects, is that “Indian film” is emotive sentiment and “Hollywood film” is flashy action. That's a blanket statement that is very limiting, to BOTH industries, and a dangerous belief to have going in to any filmmaking venture. Because you end up with an unbalanced mess.
What I saw in Ra.One was SRK clearly searching for where he fits now, for relevance, and looking to mask his confusion by creating a film that could be billed “the most expensive Indian film ever” or “a leap forward for special effects in Indian filmmaking”. Those are both achievements, sure. But they don't add up to a movie with heart.