What Facial Cleanser You Use Ah?
The wait is finally over, with the release of Shah Rukh Khan's most anticipated and the most expensive Indian film to date, RA.One, chock full of visual effects it just looks like any other big budgeted summer blockbuster spectacle that Hollywood can churn out, only with a little bit more heart thanks to its family, or rather its father-son relationship arc, and one really infectious song-dance routine in Chammak Challo, which has become my new ear worm.
Much has been said about the film's visual effects shots, and true enough with the resources and technical craftsmen involved, the special effects looked really good and polished, although at times certain scenes were created just for the sake of putting more stars into the fray, or just to alternate between make believe landscapes to add variety. For instance, there's an early fantasy sequence with Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Sanjay Dutt involved in a pretty campy set up that doesn't look too out of place from any Final Fantasy film, with martial arts, damsels in distress and awesome weapons. It served as a fun, opening action sequence after some mumbo-jumbo about a new science fiction technology created by the fictitious Barron conglomerate, in which SRK's nerdy Shekhar is a chief games developer having problems with being the hero in the life of his young son Prateek (Armaan Verma).
The story isn't something that's totally unique, given many easily identifiable references from various science fiction films already done in the last five years or so, although in some ways most of these films all share common themes and attributes such as heroism, family relationships and the likes. But there were elements that are too close for comfort with what's already out there, and that takes some shine off being something original. For instance, James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day was almost like the guiding light for the emotional centre of the story, with an evil being capable of shape shifting making it its mission objective to go after and eliminate the boy, who is being protected by a weaker version of the digital lifeform programmed for good. And of course there's the mom character (Kareena Kapoor as Sonia) who together form a dysfunctional family nucleus, except that she's not packing any serious muscle, trading mean attitude for more feminine moves on the dance floor.
Then with the recent release of Real Steel, the father-son story arc cannot be more pronounced, and incorporating elements from Gamer, you have avatar control built into this universe complete with the necessity to play out a deadly game, now transpired into the real world. Then when RA.One and G.One got introduced by Shekhar, they each come with a HART device that Tony Stark will probably send his lawyers to order a stop to the manufacture of the full bodied console game for a breach of intellectual property. Elements from The Matrix trilogy provided inspiration for sentient programs in the virtual world aspiring and eventually making it to the real world, but without the deep philosophical leanings, and formed the initial look and feel for the villanous RA.One when Tom Wu took on the role in the beginning (rumoured that Jackie Chan rejected this, and hence the running joke in the movie) complete with shades and black trench coat, before Arjun Rampal took over for the second half.
What's unique though is the creation of the names of the digital characters for the film, and having it named after the villain instead, since Shekhar's son Prateek, aka Lucifer as his online handle, made no hesitation in telling his clumsy, nerdy father that villains are cool and heroes are so passe, that in an effort to reconnect with his son, Shekhar readily convinces his development team to create a villainous character the world has yet to see, and incorporating Indian mythology into it, such as RA.One sounding very much like Raavan (with its 10 heads a metaphor for the identities he can readily adopt and use), while the good guy equivalent becomes G.One, or Jeevan, meaning Life, and made in the likeness of its creator.
Which of course is what forms a heavy dramatic aspect of the story in establishing the father-son, or husband-wife arc when G.One takes it upon its programming to protect Prateek and his mom by extension when RA.One enters the real world to hunt him down and to complete their unfinished business in the online arena. This provides for plenty of emotional wrangling since G.One may look like Shekhar, but possesses none of the mannerisms nor the bad curly hair but blessed with flawless synthetic skin (ok, I wonder how much of the budget went into this facial), so much so that it provided opportunity for an extended song routine which had licensed Ben E. King's Stand By Me to hammer it all in. Shah Rukh Khan plays two roles here which is probably reminiscent of Endhiran, the Rajnikanth blockbuster which was billed as the most expensive Indian film until this one came along, both as the creator and the product, although the innocence of G.One was more similar to SRK's portrayal in My Name is Khan.
Comparisons with Endhiran are inevitable, from certain scenes such as major fisticuffs involving the girl telling the robotic being to renounce violence, and an action sequence involving a speeding train which did look more like a summary of Unstoppable instead. Then there's the child like, innocent nature of G.One that makes it quite like Chitti, but I guess to ensure some peace was made before the film was released, this film had the Superstar reprise his now famous role once more in a cameo that overtly acknowledges unabashedly just who is the number one superhero in India. And frankly, Chitti here doesn't do much other than to appear and show who's boss, and the minute he appears, the audience just goes wild, which I'm sure this rapturous response will be replicated elsewhere as well.
So familiarity aside, RA.One still contains some nifty action spruced up by visual effects, although it's average at best for its story given that major ring of familiarity to it, padded like any other Masala offering with cheeky moments, slapstick, and all round promoter of good family values no matter how jarring those well meaning messages may come across. It's not the blockbuster I would have expected in its lack of sophistication in story telling, but no doubt it will ride on the strength of its marketing blitz and SRK's star status to ensure that fans still turn up in droves for this superhero's opening weekend.
P.S. would love to have watched this in 3D, but alas the print wasn't ready and will only be screened from Friday this week at select timings, and in truth now that I learnt it was a post-production conversion, that interest has now diminished, and none of the shots in the film was truly done with 3D in mind, nor to exploit what 3D can do.