“Raid”… A solid premise ruined by a total lack of feel for masala filmmaking

Posted on March 23, 2018

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Spoilers ahead…

At what point did I give up on Raid? I think it was when Amay Patnayak (Ajay Devgn), an upright IT officer (more about his uprightness, later), gets a mysterious phone call that promises a black money-related tip-off at a temple. When Amay tells his wife, Malini (Ileana D’Cruz), where he’s headed, she exclaims that he’s an atheist. This is in itself bad writing, for it baldly signals the audience that we are being set up for a punchline. But the line that arrives is worse. “Sirf Bharat Mata pe vishwas karte ho!” (But you only worship Mother India.) My objection is not to the flag-waving that’s become Bollywood’s latest fad, the patriotic equivalent of a #MeToo ribbon over a Gucci dress. No. I object to the lines being delivered by these actors, in a tone that hovers between “Remember to take your wallet!” and “Call me if you’re going to be late!” If you’re going to do this sort of thing, do it well! Masala pe vishwas karo!

Raid is filled with masala lines that Devgn, whose acting has begun to border on sleepwalking, can’t be bothered to lend any heft to. There’s a great throwback to the seventies when Tauji (Saurabh Shukla), the big shot whose house is being raided, asks Amay, “Kya milta hai is imaandari se?” Amay replies, “Raat ko neend achchi aati hai.” Imagine Amitabh Bachchan having a go at this retort, with Raj Kumar Santoshi behind the camera. Instead, we’re stuck with Raj Kumar Gupta, whose career has been chugging along a very different track (Aamir, No One Killed Jessica, Ghanchakkar). He seems almost embarrassed to have signed the project. (I kept wondering what the film would have been like with a more multiplex-y treatment.) I think the relative understatement (say, in the dining-table scenes at Tauji’s house, or the almost real-time unfolding of the raid) are Gupta’s doing, but realistic staging  isn’t enough to light the fuse that will make the film explode.

The early scenes are especially clunky. (The events are set in Lucknow, in 1981.) We keep cutting to Amay’s wrist watch — he’s punctual. He’s also a pill. He goes to a posh club in slippers, and when someone buys him shoes, he insists on paying for them. When drinks arrive, he chooses only what he can afford. I’m all for uprightness, but what’s unbearable is that Amay makes such a show of it. It’s like donating a lakh to earthquake relief, and uploading a photo of the cheque on Facebook the next day. It’s the old dilemma: How do you make Rama interesting, when Ravana seems so much more fun to hang out with? Gupta squanders all the opportunities for drama. The unsatisfied wife in Tauji’s household needed more than just the scene of her jealous but impotent husband lying awake till she returns. A corrupt officer’s (Amit Sial, who’s fantastic) transformation carries zero emotional charge.

And what about the scene where Malini reaches Tauji’s house with a large lunch dabba for Amay and his cohorts? He tells her she shouldn’t have come. She says, “You’re scared for me, right? That’s exactly what I feel every time you set out to do these things.” It’s a powerful statement, an honest man’s wife explaining to him (in a language he understands) what his honesty is costing her. But the acting is weak, and worse, the moment isn’t allowed to linger. We cut to a small song, whose only plus is that it isn’t as mortifying as the Rubaru-like number (from Rang De Basanti) that plays at the end, over a besieged Amay. It’s a bad state of affairs if a song is supposed to summon up emotions the screenplay hasn’t been able to so far. The subsequent closure (with a major reveal) is rushed through, as though everyone concerned couldn’t wait to be back home, or at least on the sets of a better movie.

The only thing that can be said about Raid is that it isn’t entirely unwatchable — and that’s largely due to Saurabh Shukla. The actor can play wily in his sleep, but there’s a vulnerability built into his character that’s easily the best thing about the film. Not only does Tauji have to face Amay and his band of intrepid do-gooders, he’s also being betrayed by someone from his own family. Shukla squirms exquisitely. The film’s best scene has Tauji crawling to Indira Gandhi, who ignores him and his veiled threats. What a great masala twist: the hero is camped in the villain’s house, and instead of killing him, the villain is running around the countryside, taking recourse to stodgily bureaucratic means. Too bad no one had a clue what to do with it.

Copyright ©2018 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi