Issue 69 / SRK's "Raees" Breaks Records, But Does It Deliver?

SRK’s “Raees” Breaks Records, But Does It Deliver?

Feb 15, 2017

With our review of Shah Rukh Khan’s latest film, we wonder if it really helps shed light on Gujarat’s corruption culture?

Director Rahul Dholakia’s latest film, Raees, in spite of all of the hoops it had to jump through (with the rescheduling of its release and the potential ban that was sought by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena [MSN] following the Uri and Mumbai attacks, as the film stars Pakistani actress Mahira Khan, which could have stopped the film from coming to light) has risen to the top of Bollywood’s box office. So far, the film has grossed close to $6.7 million US. But, I mean who is really surprised?

Bollywood film Raees Shah Rukh Khan
Pakistan actress Mahira Khan centered some of the controversy surrounding the film. Photo Credit:

The star-studded, talented and wonderfully photogenic cast of the film includes some of Bollywood’s finest, such as the legendary Shak Rukh Khan (SRK), Sunny Leone, Mahira Khan, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

The film is takes place in Gujarat, India during the beginning of the ’80s and ’90s, and boasts that it “critici[zes] the prohibition of alcohol, prostitution, and illegal drugs in Gujarat, [and]…unfolds the story of a cruel and clever bootlegger, whose business is challenged by a tough cop.”

Bollywood film Raees Shah Rukh Khan
This “Dry State” means business! Photo Credit:

Throughout watching the movie, I pinpointed many similarities between the infamous gangster Al Capone and Raees, as they were both kingpins during the prohibition era in their respective countries, got into the business at young ages, and acted as Robin Hoods within their communities.

Nonetheless, the film follows the story (which is supposedly not based on any real life scenarios) of the main character, Raees, played by Shah Rukh Khan, as he seeks independence from his long-time mentor in the biz, Jayraj Seth (Atul Kulkarni), and sets out on his very first business venture with his partner in crime, Sadiq (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub).

Bollywood film Raees Shah Rukh Khan
Is it me or can SRK pull off any look? Photo Credit:

The audience gets to ride along throughout Raees’ tumultuous rise to the top in the underground hooch business. His character is ambitious, quick-thinking, relentless and fights tooth-and-nail for his business, which leads him to join forces with the two-faced likes of Musa (Narendra Jha), who fronts him the money that he needs to start his business. While the action scenes in this movie are a little far-fetched, even for the most colourful minds, Shah Rukh Khan owns them, looking mighty fit at 51, and he shows off the range of his acting skills, which have earned him the ‘King Khan’ title in the industry.

The movie starts to pick up speed when Raees is faced with a straight-edged, by the book cop, Majumdar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who is hell-bent on taking Raees down. I quite enjoyed this character’s one-liners that truly made me laugh out loud, his killer ‘stache, and those aviators! This new opponent pushes Raees to be even more clever in his methods to transport and deliver his hooch in order to keep his lucrative business thriving. However, Raees’ inability to back down, control his temper, and to think before he acts is what ultimately leads to him making enemies with those who once lent him a helping hand, losing the things and people he loved, and to have so much blood on his hands, both literally and figuratively.

Raees Shah Rukh Khan Bollywood film
Looks like the crew and cast are hard at work! Photo Credit:

On another note, the film promises a criticism of prostitution and illegal drugs, but neither topics received much (if any) coverage in the lengthy film. In particular, the underlying causes for entering into prostitution are due to a number of the following factors: “Ill treatment by parents, family prostitutes, social customs, lack of sex education, prior incest and rape, [and] economic causes include poverty and economic distress.”

It was disappointing that the film did not touch on prostitution considering films focus on the poverty of the community, and the dire effects that both of these issues continue to have within South Asian communities such as Gujarat. More importantly, the film was set in the 1980s and 1990s, which coincided with a Women’s Liberation Movement Coordination Committee that came together to bring awareness to the need to protect various groups of women, including prostitutes. The goal was to ultimately provide women protections, such as against the violence they faced, including being forced into prostitution. However, the movie remained eerily silent about it, and instead capitalized on a suggestive song/dance number with dancers (who are likely sex workers) at a club, which is unfortunate.

Meanwhile, today, aside from selling hooch illegally, prostitution and the sex trade are another major source of income in places like Gujarat. In fact, the most recent numbers in June 2015 indicate that there are well over two million prostitutes in India. With that in mind, while acts associated with prostitution continues to be prohibited in Gujarat, the trade has flourished, which has allowed ‘Red Light Areas’ where sex workers have set up “make-shift” shops to engage in their work, to become established.

However, the problem with prostitution in South Asia, specifically in places like Gujarat, is that these professions are deeply embedded in the fabric of the society as a means to get by. Boys and girls alike, are groomed from birth to take their place in the trade. For instance, many “…boys are raised to be pimps, and the majority of girls, some as young as 12 years old, earn a living selling sex.” For women, they are often trapped in this lifestyle as they are not given the tools they would need to have the opportunity to achieve more in life, such as learning how to read or write, which is problematic.

Bollywood film Raees Shah Rukh Khan
The practice continues today, whereby young girls are often destined for a life as a sex worker in many parts of India. Photo Credit:

Another important factor, which Raees addresses, is that although acts associated with prostitution are illegal (such as using the money earned) and prohibition is in effect, it is somehow able to thrive due to the helping hand of police in the area. Many police officers take their cut for turning a blind eye, as seen in the movie, while others indulge in the sex trade as paying and willing clients.

Therefore, while these trades remain underground and are supported by a corrupt law enforcement system, the cycle will continue for these people, as the root causes remain unchecked, which is truly unfortunate.

Taken at face-value, Raees delivers a solid effort that Shah Rukh Khan fans worldwide appreciated in droves. Nonetheless, the film misses an important opportunity to seriously delve into another highly relevant topic during that era: prostitution. And so, while the film tries to shed light on many of the issues that plague the people of Gujarat, it bites off a little more than it can chew and its initial purpose gets convoluted and hard to follow, which is ultimately disappointing, for me at least.

Main Image Photo Credit:

Devika Goberdhan | Features Editor - Fashion


Devika (@goberdhan.devika) is an MA graduate who specialized in Political Science at York University. Her passion and research throughout her graduate studies pushed her to learn about and unpack hot button issues. Thus, since starting at ANOKHI in 2016, she has written extensively about many challe...


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