After having talked about Krrish extensively, it was brought to our attention that there’s another superhero movie out of India. So, ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a look at Ra.One, the unbeatable villain, and his nemesis, good guy, G-One.
Shah Rukh Khan. Bam. There. Box-Office Gold. Because Shah Rukh Khan is such a name that even people in German-speaking countries know him. He’s the face of Bollywood in these parts. A few years ago, German TV-station RTLII held Bollywood Nights, where they showed movies that almost all starred Shah Rukh Khan. His name has become synonymous with Bollywood in the German-speaking world.
And Shah Rukh Khan has a double lead role in – Yes, I’m making that claim again – the first superhero movie out of India. It’s not Krrish as previously reported, but Ra.One. Unless there’s an earlier one. And no, the Indian version of Superman doesn’t count, because Superman isn’t Indian. Rajnikanth in Enthiran, you say? You just wait. We’ll get to that one. Bah. Okay, so, Ra.One. On with it. He’s a superhero from India. One of them. I give up.
Shekhar Subramaniam – played by Shah Rukh Khan – is a mild-mannered video game developer in London. He has a loving wife and a son who’s in a bit of a difficult age. But Shekhar loves them dearly and tries to instil a sense of compassion into his son who thinks that being badass is the way to succeed in life. This is also what leads to the unfortunate demise of Shekhar.
Because Shekhar and his team have worked on rather unsuccessful video games. However, our mild-mannered protagonist ad interim, realizes that his son is his target audience. So he listens to the idea of the kid and takes a radically new approach to designing a game: He doesn’t create a cool hero, but he goes to create the ultimate villain. The epitome of evil. The final challenge for any gamer. Shekhar sets out to create Ra.One.
A short note here, while we skip over the parts of Shekhar developing Ra.One and his good-guy counterpart G-One. During that development process, everybody on staff misses the fact that Ra.One is doing weird things that nobody programmed him to do. You’d think that this would raise a lot of red flags. But it doesn’t. Instead, they’re coming up with puns.
So Ra.One’s name is a pun. First, his name is an abbreviation for Random Access Version One. Due to plot contrivance, his name also sounds almost like Ravana or रावण, who’s the main enemy of humanity in the Hindu myth called Ramayana. Ravana is described as having ten heads and a twenty arms. But only two legs. He’s depicted as having blue skin – while Ra.One has red as his colour theme – and is a firm believer in Shiva, the Hindu God of Destruction. It bears mentioning here that the Hindu religion does not see Shiva’s kind of destruction as apocalypse, fire, brimstone and death. But more as the knocking down of what was there before. So Shiva is more “The Transformer” than “The Destroyer”.
Opposing him is G-One. His name is also a pun, but a less mythological one. Jivana or जीवन translates to life or existence. His colour-theme is blue.
However, Ra.One is the combination of the evil energy of the ten most evil men in history. These men are never named, but you know that this can only mean one thing: Trouble. In the game, Ra.One is hyperadaptive. He learns who the player is and how he plays. The game itself looks to be a standard beat-em-up like Tekken or Street Fighter, but with a twist. Both Ra.One and G-One have a sort of energy core implanted into their virtual bodies. They can be removed seemingly at will. But neither G-One nor Ra.One can be destroyed unless they’re united with the core. And Ra.One can only be killed with a gun that the player gets on level three. The gun only has one bullet. If the player misses, then he can start on level one again. Quite the challenge.
Enough exposition. On with the plot. Ra.One escapes the virtual realm and goes after the last player that opposed him. That player goes by the name of Lucifer. But before that, he tears through the game’s developer team, killing Shekhar along the way.
Only one person can stop Ra.One from destroying the world. Or something: G-One. And he needs help. The help of Lucifer who just happens to be the son of Shekhar.
The movie has problems. A lot of them. But it also has got a lot going for it, too. Most of all, the concept of it. The part with the heart-unit that needs to be there in order for a game character to become mortal is a nice twist that hasn’t been there yet. Both Ra.One and G-One have really cool looks to themselves and the action scenes are impressive. Sadly, that’s pretty much where it ends.
The rest of the plot is derivative. The relationship between Shekhar’s son and G-One is heavily reminiscent of the relationship between John Connor and the Terminator in Terminator 2. Then there’s also the fact that the plot is so very predictable. Sure, the killing of Shekhar early on comes as a surprise. But the fact that children are legally not allowed to be harmed (see also our article on the laws of Bollywood) paired up with the law that the good guys are legally not allowed to lose pretty much dictates the outcome of the movie. And between the point where you realize all this and the point where G-One and Ra.One finally duke it out, there are two hours of Terminator 2. This isn’t a bad plot necessarily, but the problem is that we’ve seen it twenty-three years ago.
What makes this movie drag on forever is the fact that there are no more plot twists after the first fifteen minutes. After Shekhar’s death, that was it. It’s paint-by-numbers after that. Very little breaks the mold. The greatest and by far the most awesome thing about this movie is the guest appearance of Chitti.
Chitti is the main character in the aforementioned Enthiran, starring the superstar Rajnikanth. Chitti is a robot, much like G-One to an extent. And the two share a moment of dialog while Chitti is revered as some sort of superhero by the people. It’s a lovely homage to the movie and status of Rajnikanth. That’s awesome.
There are also giant, gaping plot holes. No sane coder would just ignore his program doing weird things that are completely out of the norm. Especially not if his job is on the line. Also, light is not tangible. It can’t be. But I’m willing to let that slide if everything else holds up. But it just doesn’t. The entire conflict is based on sheer human idiocy and contrivance.
Another thing that bothers me is that the movie is geared very much towards international audiences. While the song-and-dance-numbers in Bollywood movies are a very peculiar thing about the culture of moviemaking in India, western audiences are no strangers to musical numbers. Most people actually think that it is part of the Bollywood-experience and that it’s a unique quality and a big plus about the movies. And in Ra.One, the first and the only song I can remember is about 45 minutes in. Why? Okay, the song wasn’t that brilliant but I just missed it.
Still, Ra.One isn’t a horrible movie. In fact, it’s well-made, the script is just weak. The CGI is good, the action scenes are well-done and Shah Rukh Khan is convincing. He’s funny, he’s engaging and even though he’s given very little to work with, he’s doing a very good job. All in all, Ra.One might be a good movie to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon. But it’s hardly a classic or one of Bollywood’s greatest.