The argument broke out at my home days before Raees released. My husband frowned, “How could he glorify a gangster?”
“Don’t forget there’s a substance-actor combatting the star-power from the other end. How is that a glorification, if he is being challenged neck-to-neck by an opposite force?”
Of course none of us were convinced with each other’s logic. Icing on the cake, a trusted friend, Sonika Bakshi, as crazy for Shah Rukh Khan as I am, floored half of our common audience with a blog where she declared she wouldn’t watch Raees because the intent of the film offensively betrays the humble Indian’s sensibilities.
Another journalist turned author’s article celebrated the actor’s rebel against the current establishment as he plays Muslim characters in three back-to-back films. This one reached out to a bigger mass, gathering mixed responses. I threw a sarcastic social media post against the blog calling it the worst insult for my favourite actor where his creative choices are judged with reference to the religion of the characters he portrayed; fans, critics, journalists and authors generously expressed both consent and criticism for my take.
The argument with my husband continued. I said Raees first, he said Kaabil.
Raees won that part because the wife never loses. But logic and counter-logic continued during half-time. Since the coffee queue was huge, we chose to come back to our seats and keep the rants alive. As the film ended, we argued even more. His take remained the same, but my logic had changed!
Cut to history.
The films that made Shah Rukh Khan were not mushy love stories. Those were unique content that made the audience uncomfortable. In Baazigar the hero kills his love interest and is unapologetically indifferent about it. Darr, a landmark, introduces a stalker. Anjaam, a less successful but much remembered project, was the story of obsession of a rich spoilt brat.
Shah Rukh Khan loves to say the other side of the story! Period. And there is always another side of the story. Ignoring it makes life easy. But the other story is the cause; rest are consequences.
Recently I was talking to my friend, actor Joy Sengupta. He beautifully explained that hanging a rapist would never be a full-proof solution to crimes against women. Because the issue is far more deep-rooted than one eventful hour when the torture is inflicted. Lack of appropriate exposure and education, lack of sex-education, supressed demands of adolescence, overflowing energy of the body which can’t find a release, erupts as violence at the slightest provocation.
“Provocation” here is just one word, used by many while measuring the length of skirts or time of the day. Yet that is the word which gains prominence compared to the more important context preluding it. Sadly, no political party ever considers nailing the issue with a sharp sickle at the roots. They would rather stay surficial and “condemn” every time an act of crime is committed.
After all, the other side of the story might be too long-term an objective. Hold on, and address the crimes with a few dialogues and promises. Or simply live in denial. Job done, chair justified.
What is expected of a boy who grows up in the ambiance of crime? The mother he worships as God convinces him, “Koi dhanda chota nahi hota, aur dhande se bada koi dharm nahi hota.”
That’s what he has believed to be the method of sustenance. Right from his childhood he has learnt from life that the ultimate transaction is not money but blood. Those are the roots that run as veins in his body.
Politics will always overlook this part of the story, which runs in shady corners of the country. Is it fair to blame cinema if it picks up that lead? Cinema can’t clean, but it can dare to point a finger towards the dark.
After all, the line of differentiation between right and wrong isn’t as visible as black and white!
For me, a fan who calls SRK her childhood habit, and yet hasn’t ever minced words to express disappointment if a film didn’t make sense, Raees is a brave attempt. And a fantastic one. This matured Shah Rukh Khan resonates again like a tiger and how. With voice, body language and flawless restraint, Nawazuddin Siddique felt like a perfect opposition to Shah Rukh Khan’s aggression.
Mohammad Zeeshan Aayub was smooth in his character throughout; but towards the end where he hugs Raees knowing pretty well that it would be their last hug, he leaves a lump in the throat.
And before I sign off, here’s one question if anyone has ever cared to think.
How would a superstar who survived death threats himself from gangsters once upon a time, now turn up to glorify a gangster at this stage of his career?