Ra.One is a lovely, entertaining movie. I highly recommend it, especially this Diwali season. It’s not a great film per se, but it is great entertainment. Expertly packaged, playfully presented fun. With music by Akon.
Ra.One is a play on Ravan, Ravan, the embodiment of evil in the Ramayana (Sri Lankan, thank you very much). He’s actually the bad guy. The good guy is G-One (Good One, also Jeevan, which apparently means life). While that is quite smart, the movie is advertising agency deep, that’s about all there is to it. It also samples from Iron Man (the chest power supply, HART), Batman (the Joker’s prisoner’s dilemma), and of course the Matrix (sunglasses, trenchcoat, neck cracking). Also a bit of Terminator. This is all good. I’ve seen Bollywood movies that are completely derivative, but by sampling so omnivorously Ra.One ends up being more Paul’s Boutique than Karaoke. That, is sampling can be an art, a la hip hop.
The overarching plot is of a video game becoming real, though the havoc is largely contained to one family. The bad guy, Ra.One, is essentially mad because the kid left the game early. He just wants a replay.
As a peculiar note, dopplegangers are a particular Bollywood trope, that is, doubles. I saw one movie where the plot moved to Brazil and Bipasha Basu’s character remained in India. To keep her on screen, they simply wrote her back in as a twin that happened to live in Brazil. You had the same thing also in Don (two Shah-Rukhs) and honestly a lot of films.
What some critics have complained about but I liked is that superheros don’t appear till just before intermission. This is good. In Iron Man, they spent a lot of time building the character up so that you care about them. This gives the action meaning, which makes it emotionally exciting. In Transformer 3, for example, there was pretty constant action, but at no point did I really care if the characters lived or died. Actually, I kinda wanted them to die.
I was amazed at the music. Bollywood music is rarely bad, but this was something else. All of the main songs were written by… Akon. Yes. Considered Ravan by a few Sri Lankans, he’s an international pop star. His music mainly annoys me, but I think he’s a great songwriter. In Ra.One he sings the first real Indian booty shake song – Criminal – but that’s not the highlight. I was amazed at Chammak Challo, where he sings in Hindi and, I think, Tamil. I cannot hate on this (making of).
For me, ever since Dhoom (was it Dhoom 2?) Bollywood action has been on par with Hollywood. Hollywood often goes too far, into meaningless and incomprehensible explosions, like Transformers. There’s also been a push to make violence more real and more bloody, which turns me off. In Ra.One, the action is pantomimed (it is, after all, a video game), which makes it much easier to follow. The action is also not superfluous, it’s all plot and emotion driven, which is what I think matters. It’s like the original Star Wars vs. the hollow prequels. It’s also perfectly and humorously executed, especially the running on the train scene. Amitabh Bhachan has commented on the technology here, he apparently did some voicing for the film.
All the visual effects are basically flawless. They are copying ideas pioneered in Terminator and Matrix, among others, but with a humor and story-telling that’s uniquely Bollywood. What I also appreciate is that the violence isn’t gratuitous. In Iron Man they staged car battles in active traffic, here it’s in a vacant lot. I only remember two characters that visibly died (both Chinese, incidentally). Ra.One’s violence remains largely video game.
Aside from Akon, Sanjay Dutt, Priyanka Chopra and, wonder of wonders, Rajinikanth also appear. The latter looked extremely made-up and I couldn’t quite be sure that it was him. I think the legend was quite sick at the time and barely made it. He’s still got the swagger.
So what’s missing? Well, basically that deeper plot. There are moments that are absolutely incoherent.
Someone dies in the office and Ra.One copies his body. The cast has a funeral, books tickets for India, and only then does someone go back to the office to discover the guy dead.
It is, in a sense, like a video game because the conclusion is foregone and there isn’t any real tension. There’s also no particularly clever twist at the end.
While the movie is great entertainment, it teaches you nothing especially new or challenging, it’s just fun. The emotional crux of the film would be the kid, but he barely develops throughout the film. The usual arc is you get a bad kid whose learns to trust again or something, but here you had an essentially normal kid who remains essentially normal. That is to say, the characters themselves don’t really change. I tear up a lot at cheesy movies these days, but no such response here. Still, it’s a classic story of good defeating evil.
Happy Diwali everyone.