Pick of the week: Bollywood’s blissful, idiotic “RA. One”

Pick of the week: From dazzling dance numbers to post-"Matrix" action, "RA. One" showcases Bollywood's confidence VIDEO

Topics: Movies, Our Picks, India, Bollywood,

Pick of the week: Bollywood's blissful, idiotic "RA. One" Shahrukh Khan in "RA. One"

I won’t remotely pretend that I’m qualified to judge “RA. One,” the Indian science-fiction action-adventure movie that opens all over the world this week, against the larger context of Bollywood cinema. What I can tell you is that “RA. One” is reportedly the most expensive movie the Indian film industry has ever produced, that it represents the continuing fusion of Eastern and Western sensibilities and technologies, and that it’s prodigiously silly and miscellaneous and a whole bunch of fun. This is hardly an original statement, but Hollywood had better not take its global supremacy for granted. While “RA. One” is as calculating as all get out, is loaded with blatant product placement and — in classic Indian style — combines any number of different and perhaps contradictory genres in an effort to reach babies and grandmas and everyone in between, it never feels cynically niche-marketed or fundamentally bored with itself, the way so many big-budget American movies do.

If you’re unfamiliar with Bollywood movies, the conventional thing to do would be to start with an acknowledged classic — maybe a delirious ’90s romantic-comedy hit like “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” or “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai,” both of which feature superstar Shahrukh Khan, who plays both a doofus dad and a video-game hero in “RA.One.” Or something more serious and substantial in tone, like “Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India” or “Mughal-E-Azam” or “Mother India.” But seriously, you don’t need to bother. “RA. One” is where Bollywood is right now, and no advanced degree in South Asian studies is required to grasp its combo of slapstick comedy, semi-chaste romance, “Matrix”-meets-”TRON” fight sequences and booty-shaking musical numbers, which blend hip-hop, bhangra, traditional Indian dance and ultra-cheesy MTV choreography. Seriously, check out the video at the bottom of this page, which features Khan, voluptuous costar Kareena Kapoor and American R&B star Akon doing the song “Chammak Challo” (which is roughly how you say “hot chick” in Tamil Hindi) and then tell me with a straight face that you don’t want to see this movie.



Shahrukh Khan is sometimes described as the Tom Cruise of India, in that he’s been a movie star for decades — Khan will turn 46 next week — and has a similar veneer of indestructible cheerfulness. But, honestly, that’s selling the Bollywood star short, since no one regards him as an unstable religious wacko (although he is a Muslim in a predominantly Hindu society) and he hasn’t yet encountered the treacherous, self-mocking character-actor phase that Cruise seemingly faces. In “RA. One,” he first plays Shekhar, a goofy London video-game designer with appalling hair, who creates a first-person ass-kicking game with an indestructible villain at the behest of his adorable tween son. That smoldering electronic baddie is the title character, whose name approximates the Hindi pronunciation of Ravana, the demonic, 10-headed king of Lanka from the “Ramayana.” In between the bevies of dancing girls in skimpy costumes, the gags involving Shekhar acting like a wimp or getting kicked in the balls (four times? Five?), and the no-kissing-allowed, comic-erotic relationship between Shekhar and his wife, Sonia (the robust and irrepressible Kapoor, herself one of the biggest female stars in Bollywood), RA. One escapes from the video game and comes after Shekhar’s son, for reasons I won’t bother explaining. (He’s evil!)

I’m not sure you can spoil the plot of a movie as nonsensical as this one, but let’s just say that in the second half of “RA. One” the action shifts from London to Mumbai — site of a long and pointless airport fight sequence featuring a guest appearance by Rajnikanth, a superstar of Tamil (as opposed to Hindi) cinema — and Khan plays G. One, the hero who emerges from the video game with a 0.01 percent chance (we are told) of defeating his nemesis. (At 146 minutes, “RA. One” is pretty brisk by Bollywood standards, but as is customary in India and many other markets, it will play with an intermission.) Aficionados of high-end digital effects won’t see anything especially new in “RA. One,” which rates about a B on the Michael Bay scale, but there is a terrific sequence when G. One has to run sideways along a runaway passenger train, ending in the complete destruction of a Victorian-era train station. (A strikingly similar scene appears in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming “Hugo,” and they’re likely both recalling this real-life disaster.

I make no claims for “RA. One” as great cinema, and director Anubhav Sinha displays no particular vision, beyond that of a general who’s kept his enormous army moving in roughly the right direction. (Sinha and five co-writers, Shahrukh Khan among them, get credit for the story and screenplay.) What makes this movie worth seeing is its blend of aesthetic and technical approaches — some of the crew and special-effects team was Western — its immense scale and abundant confidence, and its utter shamelessness in trying to entertain nearly all imaginable viewers, from Abu Dhabi to New Jersey to Zanzibar. If you’re bored by the action scenes or the love story or the dopey domestic comedy, just wait three minutes for something else to come along — and whoever you are, you won’t be bored by the musical numbers!

Hollywood has entirely abandoned that quest to embrace all comers in its single-minded focus on the young, male-dominated blockbuster audience, and not a single American film released this year at this budget level has made me laugh out loud and stomp my feet and yearn to leap from my seat and shake it quite the way this admittedly idiotic Indian movie did. (It definitely didn’t hurt that the New York preview screening I attended resembled an enormous family banquet, with catered Indian food, long speeches and wandering small children — the movie started more than half an hour late.) It’s hard to resist the conclusion that what has happened in industry and commerce and finance is also happening in pop culture. Hollywood has lost confidence, and may soon lose its grip on global preeminence — and a new leader, in what we used to call the “developing world,” is almost ready to take over.

“RA. One” is now playing in theaters worldwide.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>