Raakh Short Film Review: Style Over Substance

The problem with this film, like most of Milap Zaveri’s work, is that it tries very hard to be cool and twisted

Director: Milap Milan Zaveri

Cast: Vir Das, Shaad Randhawa, Richa Chadha

Rating: 1.5 stars

Raakh, a short film that stretches a 4-minute concept into an indulgent and expository 22-minute ‘thriller’ with 6 minutes worth of end credits and a song, comes from the Sanjay Gupta mold of style-over-substance filmmaking. Which is just as well, considering its director Milap Zaveri was Gupta’s dialogue writer for films dating back to the Kaante (2002) days.

raakh still 2

Given that Zaveri has lately established himself as a “sex comedy specialist” (the horrid Masti trilogy, Kya Kool Hai Hum etc) – single-handedly outing us Gujaratis as some of the most crass and lurid Indian minds – he uses Raakh as a return to his (ultra) dramatic mainstream roots.

Only, I’m not sure which is worse.

Though it positions itself as psychological torture porn, the title (meaning “Ashes”) is based on some strange metaphor that makes absolutely no sense in context of the events.

This one stars another comedian who has been determined to diversify: Vir Das, as an unhinged chap exacting revenge on his wife’s killer (Shaad Randhawa, who I remember from most Mohit Suri films). Though it positions itself as psychological torture porn, the title (meaning “Ashes”) is based on some strange metaphor that makes absolutely no sense in context of the events.

raakh still 3

The captor lyrically describes the life cycle of a burning flame to his perplexed victim. I see no logical reason for this other than that the director is keen on showing off his dialogue-writing (Zaveri rarely ever writes “lines” or conversations) skills. Another example is how each member of the crew solemnly holds a flaming matchstick during the end credits, as if this were some kind of noble social-message parody about the perils of not owning a fire extinguisher. To further romanticize the concept of filmy badla, they’re in a dark basement dungeon with a microwave, giant fan, crucifix, multiple digital projectors and homemade food.

Each member of the crew solemnly holds a flaming matchstick during the end credits, as if this were some kind of noble social-message parody about the perils of not owning a fire extinguisher.

The problem with this film, like most of Zaveri or Gupta’s work, is that it tries very hard to be cool and twisted. It may have been, perhaps ten years ago. Here, everyone wants to make some sort of grungy statement: the cinematographer, actors, director/writer, musicians, production and sound designer.

raakh still 3

As a result, Raakh comes across as naïve, excitable and almost juvenile, made by folks who’re not really into expressing themselves through art; they’ve conjured up a voice and vision they think many viewers want to consume. Going by the numbers, as they all no doubt do, and as we’re relentlessly reminded every time they make something, they may or may not be justified in doing so. But in the end, Zaveri is probably aware that he’s made a film without really exploiting the format to its fullest. He is still selling, instead of creating.

Raakh comes across as naïve, excitable and almost juvenile, made by folks who’re not really into expressing themselves through art

And that’s my main concern when it comes to commercially successful directors dabbling in shorts: instead of truly experimenting with and exploring the craft, they treat this medium as a mere extension of their compromised feature-length sensibilities. They don’t treat it as an opportunity to push themselves and do something different. The moment they stop believing that such projects are a “showcase,” we’ll have a bunch of far more honest efforts. And hopefully, the only ashes we see will be of the cricketing kind.

 

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