Ra.One: Read As Only Negative Emotions
The year is 2011. The world’s political, economic and cultural landscape is changing at an unprecedented rate, as global focus moves inexoribly towards the East, with the Arab Spring, China’s economic dominence and India’s cultural hegemony beginning to spread its wings beyond its shores. It is a good time to be young in Asia.
On October 24th, the most expensive Bollywood movie ever made was released to an incredible amount of fanfare and a marketing blitz not seen even in a society as pop culture driven as India. It was supposed to have been India’s proudest moment; an announcement to the world that Bollywood was ready to compete with the big boys on the West coast of the United States. Finally, a superhero movie on par with Batman, Iron Man and X Men. Backed by the biggest Hindi film superstar of the past decade, this was supposed to have been India’s big coming out party, on par with the Formula 1 race set to launch a few days later, and India’s World Cup win a few months earlier.
Instead it turned out to be a masterclass in how not to make a film.
Now I’ve seen bad movies before (more than I care to admit). I have walked out of movies disappointed many times. I have walked into movies with low expectations and have still been surprised at how much worse they managed to make themselves despite my worst preconceived notions. But when it’s India that does it, it becomes that much more personal. I feel somehow partly responsible for the trash that is thrown at me in the guise of entertainment. Ten years ago this wouldn’t have been such a big deal. Now, everybody is scrutinising India. I get asked surprisingly indepth and knowledgeble questions about India simply because I am Indian and am expected to have an insider’s knowledge of all things India. If I reply with a ‘I don’t know’, I burn with shame. I feel like I’ve somehow let down India and all Indians. Everybody expects more from India, especially ourselves.
Which begs the question: why did SRK market that film in such an ostentatious and glitzy way when anybody with half a brain could tell you that this film will go down as one of the greatest celluloid dumps ever taken on a cinema screen? Insultingly, it was about recouping costs. Instead of using that money to learn how to write a script and edit a movie, it was instead spent on third rate special effects and to pad out SRK’s immense ego.
The film features an incoherent plot that plods along with the grace and rapidity of a drunk hippopotamus performing Swan Lake. The characters are shallow and vapid, and intensely unlikable. In keeping with the film’s ethos of ‘more is more’, the acting was usurped by overacting, the fight sequences were painfully drawn out and directionless, and I can only presume that the editor was not paid enough, because they haven’t done their job. At almost three hours (!) the film is an exercise in patience not seen since Jesus proclaimed he’d be back (like Terminator 2, which ‘inspired’ scenes in the movie). We’re still waiting for him, but somehow Ra.One felt longer.
In an effort to convince themselves that the movie will work, the movie blatantly rips off every sci-fi and superhero Hollywood movie of the past 25 years. Iron Man is particularly re-hashed and force fed, along with Terminator 2 (as mentioned earlier), Tron, The Matrix (they actually made part 3 look good), and in an effort to cover all bases, the video games Devil May Cry, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.
To top it off, the first half of the movie is spent alienating the entire South Indian diaspora, in a comedic effort that is racist, fascist and most insultingly, not funny. The second half of the movie has a special appearance by Superstar Rajnikanth himself, almost as if half way through the movie they realised they may have spat on the faces on vast swathes of paying customers, so they threw in something to make it alright. The only reason I can imagine Rajni Sir (as he is affectionately called) agreed to his frankly bizarre and forced special appearance, is that he is too nice to say no.
Peppered with shit and fart jokes, the movie just doesn’t have a target audience. The story will only appeal to children, as the movie makers have condescendingly made sure we realise. At the same time, the repeated adult sensibilities of what passes of as humour is something that completely negates that. Even the special effects, what was the major selling point of this film, is ameteurish when compared to Hollywood, which is what they were aiming for. It may be the best thing in Hindi cinema, but we really have a long way to go if we’re trying to take aim at Hollywood.
All in all, it is a vanity project of the utmost blatancy for SRK. For a movie that is not even named after the character he plays, he has screen time throughout the movie. The music, which can sometimes be the saving grace of such utterly shambolic projects, is also mediocre at best. If anything, this movie pushes Indian cinema back by about 10 years, simultaneously successfully managing to insult the paying cinema-going public of India and Bollywood.
I hope, I truly hope, that we make good films of all types, major superhero blockbusters including. Throwing stuff against a wall and seeing what sticks is not a way to spend $30 million. And I hope we have the cojones to admit when we’ve made a colossal mistake, as clearly these folks didn’t. The movie’s made it’s money back, and will definitely turn a profit. But at what cost to SRK’s brand? I hope he takes a sabbatical and reaches an epiphany of what we deserve as entertainment and not what he thinks we do. Considering that he is SRK, he will still manage to continue having a career in the industry. As for everybody else associated in this film, I cannot be so sure. What should have been our crowning glory has instead turned out to be the biggest embarrassment for India since the Commonwealth Games fiasco last year. And even then we managed to eventually host a successful games and come second in the medals tally. At a time when we should be looking to turn more and more people onto Bollywood and Indian culture, this movie does a creditable job of making Indians themselves wary about future such endeavours and not recommend other nationalities from indulging in Indian culture.
Bad movies happen, I realise that. But people like SRK should now realise that there is much more riding on this other than just a movie. I sincerely hope this movie acts as an extremely quick learning curve for everybody else involved with Indian pop culture. We definitely deserve better, even if they don’t realise it.