Despite being a big budget film with some slick special effects Ra-One - directed by Anubhav Sinha (Dus, Cash), does not deliver the creativity or panache that viewers associate with many Western superhero films. It also falls short of the benchmark set by director S.Shankar for sheer, in-your-face, sci-fi fun in Enthiran. Shah Rukh Khan has reportedly invested hundreds of crore in this - his own production, as well as launching a global media campaign and the sale of merchandise. But even though the film has broken new ground in the sophistication of its special effects - it simply lacks heart. Not H.A.R.T. which is some wiz-bang acronym for the source of Ra-One’s power but good old-fashioned Bollywood heart - D.I.L. - that which the best Hindi films have in dollops.
It is quite a fast paced film about a geeky dad Shekhar (Shah Rukh Khan) who tries to win the affection of his son (Armaan Verma) by creating a video game called Ra-One in which the bad-guy potentially wins. What begins as a game spills over into reality as the villain (Arjun Rampal) takes control doing battle with the robotic hero G-One (Shah Rukh Khan) - protector of Shekhar’s family.
When I read that SRK adored James Cameron’s Avatar, I was fearful. Here was a film that took special effects to a new level but in the process lost out in terms of development, characters and ultimately - engagement. Would Ra-One suffer the same fate? It has and it’s unfortunate because Khan is a consummate entertainer but this film turns him into a plastic action figure. Mind you, this may be what he wanted since he has always claimed that he is making Ra-One for his kids. Maybe a Western female of an age is not the ideal audience.
But I love superhero movies. As a child, as an adolescent and as an adult I have been sucked in by this ‘other-worldly’ yet contemporary form of escapist entertainment. If I was an under-11, I might find aspects of Ra-One such as the kiddie-culture and game - interesting but ironically, in some countries the film has been classified as requiring parental guidance. I know that in India - films for a young audience are a new phenomenon so maybe Indian kids will respond to Ra-One as Western kids have responded to Spiderman. I just don’t believe that there is great ‘cross-over’ potential here.
The humour in Ra-One is rather ‘wannabe’, verging on low-brow. Too many ‘jokes’ about kicking guys in the privates. There’s also a tacky moment at the airport when a customs official is sexually aroused by Khan’s body piercing on various unconventional body-parts. (So this is really a film for kids?) Despite a slew of writers responsible for delivering the screenplay and dialogues, the result is unimpressive.
A startling omission from the screenplay is the time of ‘realisation’ when a superhero is coming to terms with his powers and the audience is discovering what they are. G-One is born complete - no uncertainty, no transformation, no angst - he’s just there. His powers like Ra-One’s are - strength (yawn), speed (yawn) and some morphing (from the villain). Back stories enliven superhero narratives with their links to mythology and dark pasts. Barring the Raavan connection to Ra-One’s name and Jeevan (Life) link to G-One there is no context worth mentioning. Such a pity because a good back-story provides the idea and franchise (if it is to eventuate) with its longevity.
The songs were enjoyable enough although the gutsy “Raftarein” (Vishal- Shekhar) could have been made a feature instead of being tacked on during the credits. Khan’s goofy persona in the songs grew a little tiresome and the superhero could have received some spotlight.
With international input at all levels of production - screenplay, editing, photography, music and action co-ordination, Ra-One is still unlikely to ‘cross-over’. Maybe though, a new generation of Indian kids will find pleasure in playing with their action figures.