Director: Raj Kumar Gupta
Cast: Ajay Devgn, Saurabh Shukla, Amit Sial, Ileana D’Cruz
For 130 minutes, Raj Kumar Gupta’s Raid, heavily penned by Ritesh Shah, tells us a semi-true story about an I-T officer raiding a corrupt minister’s mansion in Lucknow. True to its title, this is all that happens. A two-day-long raid is executed to recover some INR 420 crores – also known as the GDP of an East European nation – from one house in 1981. Given that there are no computers and cellphones back in the day, the “plot” then has a legitimate excuse to be primitive, repetitive and unambitious. In that sense, it stays true to the essence of 1980s Bollywood.
To spice up the mundaneness of an I-T raid, the hero challenges the villain and the villain taunts the hero. Procedural technicalities are forsaken in pursuit of dramatic tone. The media and fake news have no roles to play. As a result, the film is one giant montage of money and wealth and gold being found in walls and wells and pillars, interspersed between embarrassed expressions of the raided family and triumphant expressions (it’s hard to tell, really) of the film’s Gandhian protagonist – almost as if Neeraj Pandey decided to invade the holy confines of an obscenely excessive saas-bahu household. By any stretch of imagination, this is not the best combination of narrative templates.
I’m not sure what it says about the fabric of a young nation, but the “righteous misfit” syndrome has long formed a high-functioning Indian cinematic genre. Whether it’s literal (PK, Jagga Jasoos), physical (Bajrangi Bhaijaan), nationalistic (Toilet, Pad Man, Airlift, Aiyaary), historical (Padmaavat), political (Newton, Nayak) or personal (Munna Bhai), the principled teacher’s pet stereotype is the easiest – and most convenient – representation of instant nobility. In a world where dutifulness amounts to heroism, existing becomes an act of rebellion. Gupta makes it imperative for us to notice that his hero, too, is a direct descendant of this first-benchers’ colony.
Since he has planned for ninety percent of his film to occur within the tepid theatricality of the raid, the rushed opening ten minutes – as is often the case in lazy, cringe-worthy setups – is pregnant with examples of new I-T head Amay Patnaik’s specialness. When offered expensive whisky at a party, the man pulls out a cheap quarter of rum from his pocket: “I only drink what I can afford”. When stopped at the entrance of a club for wearing sandals, he compliments the importance of rules and drops a reference about Gandhi’s barefooted marches.
His wife (the Ileana D’Cruz bot) jokes about their lack of material possessions when asked about their new home’s interior decoration; next moment, she mentions their “7 years 49 transfers” streak to reiterate the no-country-for-honesty sentiment. When he informs her of a temple visit, she promptly mentions his atheism and his loyalty to only and only “Bharat Mata”. In short, the annoyingly ethical Rajput King Maharawal Ratan Singh died because of his usool and was reincarnated as poker-faced Patnaik. We get it.
Ajay Devgn appears so uninspired that music director Amit Trivedi, in a desperate attempt to lend gravity to Devgn’s glorious static, turns Raid into a grating ‘Once Upon A Time in Lucknow’ soundscape
Their marriage is highlighted with a bunch of completely misplaced romantic songs, and these songs find ways to continue in flashback spurts even during the raid. Minister Rameshwar Singh’s (Saurabh Shukla) universe is a little more interesting – if only because Shukla finds a way to subvert the concept of middle-Indian hamming. However, he is torn between exchanging dialogue-bazi with Patnaik and shooting daggers at the guilty members of his family. His ancient mother is introduced as a crowd-pleasing device to distract us from the film’s sheer lack of kinetic energy. Writer Ritesh Shah is too busy invoking his inner Rajat Arora; rarely do the characters ever converse in lofty metaphors that don’t involve Ramayana, Mahabharata and animals.
Furthermore, in the good old name of creative licensing, Patnaik – as macho and upright as ever – is actually not designed to be a very competent professional. He bases his entire raid on a mysterious blind lead, repeatedly breaks his own rules by allowing Singh to leave the premises and seek intervention from the CM, FM and PM, and is unable to keep his mission secretive enough to prevent his loving wife from reaching the mansion with his tiffin. If this were 2018, his boss would have fired him on Twitter. Fortunately for Patnaik, his opponents are equally guileless.
As demonstrated in the trailer, a farmers’ riot breaks out to intimidate his team. The angry mob – incensed by the treatment of their boss – is so incompetent that it takes ages to merely break into the house. They struggle to hack down doors, never mind hunting down humans. My frame of reference is strong, given that I’m from Gujarat. These folks come across as a collection of stoned zombies with zero hand-eye coordination.
Speaking of stoned zombies, Ajay Devgn is missing more than a vowel these days. He has always been an unremarkable performer – hardly an actor and barely a star, hardly an action hero and barely an everyman vigilante. But his recent passiveness is so apparent that filmmakers have started to design their projects in sync with his astounding lack of motivation. He appears so uninspired that music director Amit Trivedi, in a desperate attempt to lend gravity to Devgn’s glorious static, turns Raid into a grating ‘Once Upon A Time in Lucknow’ soundscape. Trivedi’s rapid descent continues with this film; what’s worse is that his collaborator, Gupta, uses him as little more than a glorified background musician.
Eventually, Patnaik’s legacy is concretized here in a way that 1990s WWF superstar I.R.S. might have appreciated, even if the burly American stood a more coherent chance of raiding a household in dusty Uttar Pradesh. With Devgn sashaying across halls bearing the pensive look of Bajirao Singham being audited, perhaps the tight-shirted I.R.S. fantasy is what D’Cruz visualizes when she innocently asks him: “kadak ho?”