in conversation with Minikhan: Ra.One
Ayooooo! My thoughts on Ra.One are still swirling around, so I thought I'd talk it over with Minikhan. After all, who understands rubbery SRK better than he does?
Before we begin, a disclaimer about our conversation: I do not have an informed opinion about superheroes generally or superhero films more specifically. I'm not sure what Minikhan reads and watches while I'm at work, so for all I know he's an expert on sci-fi and superheroes and VFX and might have surprisingly strong opinions.
Beth: So Minikhan, what did you think of your first trip to a Bollywood movie in central Illinois?
Minikhan: To be honest, I was kind of surprised no one recognized me, but it was nice to be able to just watch the film in peace. That hasn't happened in I don't know how long. The crowd didn't seem terribly excited about it, though, did they?
Beth: They did not. My India Real Time column is going to discuss that this week, though, so hush.
Minikhan: You and Bollywood Fangirl were mighty talkative in the cinema. Was there any part of it that you liked unreservedly?
Beth: "Unreservedly" is such a tricky concept, Minikhan. But I think I can name two, though I might change my mind by the time we're done with this conversation. First and foremost, the action sequences were very impressive and felt like honest attempts to go full-throttle.
Minikhan: Lemme pause you there. You don't watch action movies, so why should I listen to you about "impressive"?
Beth: Okay, that's fair. There were no aspects of the action that distracted me from them and what they were trying to communicate about the characters and the drama/risk of the situation/story. They suffered from an utter lack of internal logic, but so did every other aspect of the film, so I had long let go of that dream by the time freshly-minted Ra.One chased after Kareena's car by running instead of by, oh, taking the kinds of gigantic leaps we saw him do ten minutes later.
Minikhan: That was at least a cool contrast with G.One's entry, since he drops down out of the clear blue sky—nothing so mere mortal-like as running.
Beth: But I'm glad you pointed out that I never go for technologically impressive action films. My liking the action more than anything else underscores what a hot mess the rest of this was.
Minikhan: The train crashing through Victoria Terminus was my favorite. And so symbolic! A character being held up as an INDIAN SUPERHERO ZOMG!!!!! gets to be involved with bringing down a symbol of the Raj while not actually being responsible for the resulting deaths himself!
Beth: I also thought your human version and his crew did a great job making three different characters in the film (if we count the hilarious version dreamed up by his son in the opening sequence, complete with whoa!-adult black strappy leather—and what does it say that that's what the kid invented as a hero? His own father in eyebrow-raising clothes with a woman who isn't his mom?).
Minikhan: You love it when Shahrukh acts! "Tries to act!" many commenters will doubtless say.
Beth: Guilty. Note I'm not talking about the quality or appropriateness of one of those characters.
Minikhan: The less said about that racist, sexist, size-ist, juvenile, ridiculous crap, the better.
Beth: Agreed. In fact, I thought about trying to re-write "It's Criminal" as something like "It's juvenile! Baby's brain is goin' 'Stop stop stop!'", but I lost my inspiration.
Minikhan: Will you check and see if I was made in China?
Beth: You were. But don't take it personally. I can't imagine any of the people involved with this film put a lot of thought into deciding whom to mock.
Minikhan: Yet they bothered with details like making G.One's snot luminous.
Beth: "Luminous Snot" describes this whole film, actually.
Minikhan: Here's another good thing about Ra.One: it got better as it went along! That never happens!
Beth: Reverse of the Curse of the Second Half! What do you think the underlying problems were in the first part? It's not as though being set in London automatically makes a film horrible.
Minikhan: No, though that and the huge corporate setting they implied sort of beg the kind of multi-cultural word that "mass entertainers" aren't, um, adept at depicting.
Beth: What do you mean? Don't all gora street toughs in London speak Hindi?
Minikhan: Maybe that was part of hospitality efforts for the 2012 Olympics. Learn how to threaten people in langauges they might be more comfortable with!
Beth: I think the basic problem with the first part, and maybe therefore the whole film, is that everything was determined by an obnoxious, spoiled child. That the film was packed with the kinds of things kids—
Beth: Right. Making a film for boys (or media executive visions of boys as consumers) is one thing but having their way of seeing and navigating the world—e.g. mega-villains are cool! prove that playing video games is actually useful on a major scale! solve problems by grabbing them in the crotch!—as the basis of the philosophical structure takes much better writing than this had.
Minikhan: You think Ra.One had a philosophical structure?
Beth: Maybe? I mean, it fulfilled poor Shekhar's idea that good triumphs even against more powerful adversity.
Minikhan: They kept saying that, but I wasn't completely convinced that G.One was weaker than Ra.One.
Beth: I'm not sure that shook out, no. I was talking with the Horror this morning about what defines and characterizes a superhero and I realized that Bollywood tends to give us heroes that are not only already pretty superheroic (a point several writers made before this film came out) but that they are much, much better than the villain, if not in strength then in moral fiber, which counts for a lot.
Minikhan: So if Bollywood makes a superhero who has to be weaker than the villain, it just doesn't quite jive and some kind of major overhaul of the filmi formula would be required?
Beth: That's what I'm wondering. Though it seems to work pretty well in Mr. India.
Minikhan: Being a human who is sometimes invisible via technology and proclaims himself an ordinary Indian isn't the same as being a semi-digital semi-programmed strongman.
Beth: True. Maybe G.One isn't human enough to be a superhero?
Minikhan: Maybe. Drona was a much more human superhero, but that didn't work at all, so mere humanity isn't the only factor needed.
Beth: What did you think of Kareena?
Minikhan: Not particularly noteworthy in any regard. There was no Bebo fierceness, but I might have been a little touched by her depiction of grief for Shekhar.
Beth: Her character didn't work well in the first part, though no more poorly than anything else. I liked her more as the film progressed.
Minikhan: For what I think was maybe supposed to be a feminist slant, she had no problem gyrating around in tiny clothes.
Beth: She's just third-wave, that's all. At least the kid wasn't in the room to see all the skimpiness and ass-grabbing. I kind of wish she had had something to do in the climax, but I suppose they could justify her absence by saying she wasn't a character in the game.
Minikhan: That's just a more elaborate way of saying "It's in the script."
Beth: I know, I know. She got used as a weapon against the airport thugs but then didn't do any actual fighting. But maybe that is how the character would have wanted it—she seemed very unhappy to be in that situation.
Minikhan: True. And at least she upheld the proud Kapoor family tradition of driving like a lunatic!
Beth: Twice! And for reasons that made sense!
Minikhan: And Arjun?
Beth: Ummm. He was in it!
Minikhan: He wasn't awful, but he had nothing to do. Why do you think SRK seems to like Arjun as an on-screen adversary?
Beth: My theory is it has to do with maintaining some sort of set level of charisma. SRK exudes it without even trying (well, usually) so he needs someone who has none for balance. Voilà.
Minkhan: I thought Ra.One was very scary-looking in a sort of "Darth Maul as a digital skull" sort of way.
Beth: I did too! I was relieved to wake up on Saturday morning and not have dreamed about him!
Minikhan: Do we have to talk about that horrible child?
Beth: No. Well, maybe a little bit. I really, truly hated him as a character (it feels wrong to say you hate a twelve-year-old as a person) but at least he learned to appreciate his father's work and values.
Minikhan: Do we have to talk about his inexplicable haircut?
Beth: Double no.
Minikhan: Do we get to laugh at how he played the triangle in his rock band?
Beth: Amid all the Ra.One-related screeching in all directions, whose reviews have you liked?
Minikhan: I'm glad we read your friend Temple's before we watched the movie and tried to imagine seeing it from a thirteen-year-old boy's perspective.
Beth: And she's definitely a fan of Shahrukh, so we didn't have any of that nasty hater blinkeredness.
Minikhan: And she doesn't mind thinking about things, so there's no brain-dead fawning, either.
Beth: There were two others that have helped me think through the film. Jai Arjun Singh's was short and to the point, and I can totally imagine feeling like that the elements he named just sank the experience, especially if you went into it really hoping this was going to be INDIAN SUPERHERO ZOMG!!!!! (not that this writer did that).
Minikhan: You like short writing?
Beth: Harhar. My other favorite is by Samit Basu, who is an author of comics and speculative fiction and various other things and has spent some time in the wilds of the film industry working on an adaptation of one of his novels.
Minikhan: I liked that one too. It's got that brain/heart balance you like so much and isn't at all bitter despite having pretty good reason to be.
Beth: Imagine being an actual writer and watching movies like this. Gah.
Minikhan: And don't forget Vigil Idiot. He nailed its problems, as usual.
Minikhan: Hey, let's go see if tonight's Good Wife or "Treehouse of Horror" is online already.
Beth: Great idea. Let's find some good writing.