(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on 29 October 2011, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/RaOne/327648.html)
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Armaan Verma
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Rating: 1.5 stars
He could have bought a Ferrari, got a nose job, inked a tattoo or coloured his hair. Yet, Shah Rukh Khan chose to pierce his nipples, play a Tam Brahm, and grab Arjun Rampal’s crotch.
When Ra.One opens, the audience is already nursing headaches – the person tasked with converting it into 3D makes white letters pop out of a black screen right from the logo to the disclaimer. Then, we take an aerial tour of London, and pop into Barron Industries. Jenny (Shahana Goswami) seems to be teaching a ‘Technology for Dummies’ class, with a rapidly changing accent, to South East Asians and Europeans who understand Hindi. The dummies are suitably awed by a hologram image of the founder, Barron (Dalip Tahil). Barron appears only twice in the flesh – he addresses his office staff in Pidgin Hindusthani, and argues with Ra.One (Arjun Rampal) in chaste Hindi.
Next, we see Shah Rukh Khan speeding through strange lands, to perform a stunt straight out of Wolverine’s forest sequence in X-Men: The Last Stand. Then, he jets off to rescue an annoyingly high-pitched Priyanka Chopra, dressed in a skimpy red number, from Khalnayak (Sanjay Dutt) whose decaying teeth we get uncomfortably close to. The sequence draws largely from Padayappa, and we’re wondering whether this is Rajnikanth’s much-touted guest appearance.
Turns out this superhero, Lucifer, is a kid’s wishful projection of his cowardly father Shekar Subramaniam (Shah Rukh Khan) in anotheravatar. His American-accented British school teacher breaks into his reverie. We find out his Appa, whose vocabulary is limited to “aiyyo!”, “vandu kondu”, “rascalla”, “illaa” and “ingay vaa”, is a klutz who owns a fleet of Volkswagen cars, crashes into the one Alto in England, eats noodles-and-curd with his hands, and sports an Afro. Oh, he makes a living by designing cool video games and poorly animated PPTs.
He’s married to Sonia (Kareena Kapoor), whose contribution to feminism involves writing a thesis on swearwords. She believes world domination lies in changing the ma-behn genus to baap-bhai-chacha. Her other linguistic accomplishment is regularly mispronouncing “konjam-konjam”, “condom, condom”. Despite this, and the multiple injuries Shekar sustains on his procreative organs, he entertains hopes of making more babies, and conveys as much to Sonia on her typewriter. You see, the entire family operates in a time warp, not the least manifestation of which is the kid Prateek’s (Armaan Verma) hairdo. Inexplicably, he finds his father more embarrassing than his overgrown Beatles haircut. His ancient Michael Jackson poster leaves no room for Rihanna or Justin Bieber.
Shekar decides to win his son over by designing a video game where the villain Ra.One is more powerful than the hero G.One (Shah Rukh Khan in bot form). Full points for wordplay. The family attends the launch, and Sonia lovingly asks her husband to “re-lakes” as he is racked by nervous tics. When she turns to her son and gleefully says, “Papa is looking so hot, na?”, you realise why this kid’s so messed up. Then, Shekar and Sonia decide to boogie away, leaving their son to experiment with the game, under the supervision of the Japanese-named Chinese gaming whiz Akashi (Tom Wu). Full points for stereotyping – and research.
Sonia has a propensity to tear off her clothes when she dances, and so everyone is distracted when Ra.One breaks out of the game, enters the real world, takes on Akashi’s form, and sets out to kill Lucifer (Prateek’s gaming name). Her penchant to strip is also the reason everyone – including G.One, who has been coaxed out of the virtual world – fails to notice Ra.One’s reappearance in various forms on two later occasions.
Sonia has decision-making trouble. She takes her son to the site of a gory accident, but shields him from risqué magazine ads. She buries a relative in a coffin, but contrives to scatter his ashes in the Thames. She alternates between consulting the rear-view mirror and swinging her head around while driving. Conveniently, both the Metropolitan Police and London’s ubiquitous CCTV cameras evince no interest in her activities. She switches from grieving widow to gamebot-molester in three minutes, and relocates multiple times.
The movie is a revelation to Tam Brahms, who will discover that their customs include using their grandfathers’ – and not fathers’ – first names as surnames, celebrating karva chauth, worshipping Madhubani paintings, and living in exclusive gated communities reserved for their species in Mumbai, where their daughters dance the alarippu every day. Shah Rukh Khan’s perception of ‘Madrasis’ does for North-South relations what Achmed the Dead Terrorist did for US-jihadi harmony.
But the rest of the world may have its share of epiphanies too. For instance, NRI kids in London have Mumbaiyya accents, and are fond of Americanisms such as “zip it, crap face” and “I’m gonna whoop his ass”. We also ascertain that Chitti, who was last seen in a display case in Endhiran (Robot in Hindi) still wears lipstick and speaks of his memory in terms of “jigabyte”. We discover what the lovechild of Darth Vader, Megatron and Imhotep would look like. We learn the contours of the abdomen guards sported by Ra.One and G.One.
The movie has one funny moment, one decent twist, and two re-recording themes – aiyo-aiyo and paithyakara-paithyakara. Aside from the catchy Chammak Chalo, the only positive is a sizzling Arjun Rampal, who has landed his dream role - no expressions, loads of muscle-flexes and mean gazes.
A Rs 175 crore budgeted action flick can’t be carried by graphics, skin show and Shah Rukh playing the lovable comic hero from his Raj-Rahul days. There’s no explanation for why Ra.One suddenly emerges from his console, or for his obsession with Lucifer. Kareena brings little to the table, and the dialogues are as predictable as the storyline. And one may not care for one’s kids to witness decapitation, pelvic thrusts, and insatiable groping; or listen to someone stammer over the word ‘control’.
Verdict: I should have taken it as a sign when Microsoft One Note tried and failed to open the e-ticket I’d saved as ‘Ra.One’.