Ra.One: India’s hero is super
Ra.One is extremely illogical, unevenly paced, clumsily acted at times and misses a lot of opportunities – yet like that annoying stray cat, which rubs against your leg outside of your house every day, the film is somewhat charming, even if its flaws do scratch you on the face along the way.
This charm, in large part, is due to Armaan Verma (Prateek Subramanium), the charismatic child actor in Ra.One who easily steals every scene he takes part in. This is his first Bollywood shindig, and obviously uncorrupted by the exaggerated acting culture of the Indian film industry, he does something unheard of in the history of Indian cinema: he doesn’t overact; when he is required to show grief, rather than beat his chest and scream expletives, he displays restrained sorrow; when he flirts with his next door neighbour, instead of making creepy facial expressions, he uses an engaging smile; when he is taking part in action sequences, rather than display an intense look which could easily be mistaken for constipation, he simply shows steel in his eyes, and uses just the right pitch in his voice.
In fact, the rest of the film’s Indian cast could learn a lot from Armaan Verma. Kareena Kapoor, who plays his mother, is lacking in some of her more demanding scenes. And Shahrukh Khan, who while adequate when playing the role of the superhero G.One, is embarrassingly bad as a father.
However, the worst of the film is the ridiculous plot, which takes a lot of failed inspiration from sci-fi Hollywood films. In it, Shekhar Subramanium (Sharrukh Khan), a programmer, at the insistence of his son Prateek, develops a video game where the villain, Ra.One, is more powerful than its superhero, G.One. At some point, thanks to what the film tells us is some ground-breaking technology, the villain Ra.One, transfers himself to the real world, into the body of a display dummy of the video game’s villain. But unfortunately, the silliness doesn’t end there. In the real world, not only does Ra.One inexplicably retain his virtual world superpowers, including the ability to shift forms to look like another person, but is also superhumanly strong and fast. How is this possible if Ra.One inhabits the body of a display dummy? Doesn’t any of this violate some fundamental law of physics? The film does try to make some attempt to explain it, talking about experimental technology, but it just comes off as lazy plot writing.
And after Ra.One kills Shekhar, Prateek, using the same technology, brings the video game’s superhero G.One, who was modeled after his father, to life as well. And yes, as you may have guessed, G.One also comes to life in a display dummy’s body.
As I said, Sharrukh Khan, who plays both G.One and Shekhar, is quite terrible in his role as the programmer. Here, he is clearly inspired by the bumbling behaviour of Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent in the Superman films, but overacts to an uncomfortable level. He attempts to portray Shekhar as a harmless, inept, and blundering buffoon, but tries so hard, that instead of feeling sorry for Shekhar, we feel sorry for Sharrukh Khan, and his miserable acting chops instead.
To the film’s credit, the narrative achieves some poignancy when G.One comes to life. When G.One meets the widow of Shekhar, she struggles with the memories of her dead husband in scenes that are both touching and adequately performed by Kareena Kapoor. And in what are interesting moments clearly inspired by films like Terminator 2, G.One slowly befriends Prateek, who is constantly reminded of the memories of his dead father by the superhero’s presence.
The film has some decent 3D effects, while it also has a lot of snazzy and intense action sequences, some of which are quite effective, including an entertaining train crash sequence. Unfortunately, the film’s climatic action set piece is also its most lacklustre, letting the movie end with a whimper, rather than the important bang an action film needs.
But on the whole, while the action scenes are worth watching, the film does suffer from poor characterization. For a film about a superhero, both its superhero and its super villain are as uninteresting and one dimensional, as video game characters are stereotyped to be. In the end, while the film does achieve its goal of having special effects on par with Hollywood cinema, regrettably, it doesn’t feel like it had its sights set too high otherwise.
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