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Monday, 7 November 2011

Ra One - not as bad as Baz Luhrmann's Australia

Ian Jack writes in the Saturday Guardian on the life and times of Sushil Kumar, the Indian winner of Who wants to be a Crorepati and how the BBC styled him as the real life Slumdog Millionaire. The winning prize of 5 crore rupees (about £400,000) was presented by Amitabh Bachchan, India's all-time Number 1 Film Star. Jack wrote about how Sushil Kumar's life was misrepresented by the BBC - who lazily decided  to go with a hugely innaccurate Slumdog angle.

As Jack had it,

Life often imitates art, but sometimes life is squeezed, bashed and bent into the shape of art because the complexities of reality are too bothersome to express, and in any case, fiction has been there first with a better version. We want fiction's echo, and you can hear it on the news.

Indeed. Tied in to that quote and also fascinating is the fact that Kumar's ancestral home had been repossessed by money lenders, a recurring theme in Bollywood movies, most notably in Mother India, Mehboob's fantastic but skewed perspective on rural Indian life.

With the exception of Amir Khan's more interesting projects (Peepli Live for a contemporary example, Lagaan for a historical one), poor Indians barely get a mention in mainstream Hindi Cinema anymore. It's all Mumbai mansions, outrageously opulent lifestyles and questionable ethics. Films like Dabangg or 3 Idiots may have their good points and it is hard to resist imitating Salman Khan do his policeman swagger-Schtick in Dabangg - the fact that boys in Peshawar and Kabul were inspired by him to wear their glasses on the backs of their shirts is inspired, but modern Hindi cinema is so far from being great film that it is laughable.

So it was with some trepidation that I accompanied my wife to see Shah Rukh Khan's latest movie, Ra-One. First of all the movie was playing at Cineworld in Hengrove Leisure Park. This is the sort of place that people should occupy, a wasted space of car park surrounded by the detritus of 21st century consumption - KFC, Mickey D's, Frankie and Benny's, a Premier Inn and Cineworld.

Fuck the magic of the cinema, walk through the doors of Cineworld and forget the ticket office - they have a machine for that now. Instead spread across the width of the foyer facing the entrance is a sales point of coke and popcorn. There's a type of phenomenally expensive coffee bean called kopi luwak - where the beans have been eaten by a civet and then shat out through wholesome civet guts. It makes the coffee extra tasty - and extra expensive.

Such is the price of popcorn at Cineworld, it must be a West Country form of Popcorn Luwak, made from the unpopped kernels that had been inadvertently consumed by bullet headed van drivers from Knowle West and Bedminster, and then shat out through wholesome Bristolian guts. There's a little Cineworld man somwhere who forages through all their waste products to sift out the little popcorny nuggets of gold. At least, given the price that's what I expect has happened. And given the taste too.

So that's the cinema. How about the movie. Well, there were 7 people there and that's never a good sign ( the reviews were never a good sign either). We sad down, watched the most misguided mega-ad ever (For Muller Rice and Yogurt. Watch the ad here. Insanely Crap!), laughed at the previews of some appalling upcoming Bollywood releases - Desi's Boys: a couple of muscle bound numbskulls become gigolos. Or how about Rockstar; a man wants to be a rock star but has never been in love. How can you write meaningful songs when you've never been in love... You get the picture.

Well, that was the best part of the evening. Because after that Ra-One started. How bad was it? Was it as bad as Baz Luhrmann's Australia? Well, nothing's as bad as Baz Luhrmann's Australia. That was so bad that it failed Dino de Laurentiis' bad test - that there are only two kinds of films worth seeing; the really good ones and the really bad ones. Australia proved him wrong.

So at least Ra One was bad in a way that was bad enough to pass the de Laurentiis bad test. It was amazingly bad, fascinatingly bad, a monument to badness. It started off with a disastrous dream sequence where a child is dreaming of his father being a hero in a video game. It made our stomachs shrivel like a dried up worm - this is a Bollywood movie, over 3 hours when you throw in the intermission. How would we survive?

The badness intensified, with a cringe-making performance by Shah Rukh Khan as Shekhar, a Tamil video game maker down on his luck. Ra One had been SRK's dream for 20 years and now he was finally getting it made. The only problem is he was 20 years too old for the part and nobody had dared mention this to him. Nobody had said no.

Similarly nobody had said no to the lame Tamil cooking jokes, the pitiful Jackie Chan cracks whenever the Chinese character (the best thing in the film) showed up. Nobody had mentioned that having a Terminator ripoff ("It's Terminator 1 and Terminator 2 - but in the same movie!") 20 plus years after the fact was a bad idea or that having a villain whose usp was being evil was not ideal characterisation - that once he had killed Shekhar's son, that was it, game over. Which is problematic because if you feel little sympathy for the son, then there is no real interest in seeing the villain-without-a-personality get defeated.

Ra One is a disaster of a film and it got made because nobody said no to SRK, and because he was too vain not to let it go or get somebody younger to play the lead role. Most of all the film is a failure because it was a plot written on the bag of a crisp packet, a crisp packet which was passed to some writer-underlings who were then expected to come up with a script. Well, they did and it was a stinker because nobody had dared say no.

Just say no next time boys! And that goes for you at the BBC too.

The pictures at the top are SRK with his Tamil hair, inspired by Rishi Kapoor in Coolie (pictured with Amitabh Bachchan). Rishi Kapoor's hairstyle was a direct influence on Harry Enfield's scousers (pictured at bottom). You can read more on Tamil stereotypes here.

 Let's end with a couple of good songs, ot-proof


Penelope Pedant said...

Some technical innacurracies from Penelope Pedant (Desi Boyz –Not Desi’s Boys – Desi meaning one of Indian descent). And maybe worth mentioning the clip is Telugu (not Hindi).

colin pantall said...

Thanks Penelope, that's great.

How did you enjoy Ra One?

Penelope Pedant said...

You're right...it stank

colin pantall said...

What exactly didn't you like about the film, Penelope? And do you think SRK can make a come back from this disaster.

Or is Salman Khan and his bad driving the new King of Bollywood?

Penelope Pedant said...

I couldn't really say. Pedantry is my speciality. If you want real insight into anything Bollywood, I suggest you check out the Bollywhat forum at http://www.bollywhat.com/ There is a particularly lively debate on the RaOne spoilers thread. Look out for MinaS's post --she really nails it.