We’ve all seen it. That film surrounding “star-crossed” lovers, numerous plot twists, disfunctional families, and a prolonged issue. It very often includes a woman running in the fields towards her lover, a hero that has multiple lives during fight scenes, and a father that just doesn’t get it.
Through it all, Bollywood movies have captured our attention and with that also come our expectations that these films are no more than lengthy tear-jerkers capable of grabbing our next 2 and a half hours while bringing along a few family members for the ride.
This season I gathered up enough courage to watch a Bollywood film in theaters. Usually, I don’t pay for a Bollywood film ticket unless I hear rave reviews from friends or family. And even then, I just watch the film on Netflix. But this time, the film Ra-One had one of my friends excited to watch. And so I tagged along, hoping it’ll be well worth the ticket.
It was a thirteen dollar surprise along with the Imaginasian movie theater at 239 East 59th Street in Manhattan. I wasn’t sure what to expect of a Bollywood movie theater, but the room was fully furnished with big leather chairs that looked like I was about to take a ride in the next Transformers car. Contrary to the funny comments I heard about Bollywood theaters, popcorn was served instead of samosas and no one whipped out their homemade chicken tikka masala while the film was showing.
The film surprised me in many ways, but also fulfilled my expectations that it was indeed a Bollywood film with a few tweaks here and there. For example, the already popular song, “Chammak Challo,” was sung by Akon, a Senegalese Amercian R&B recording artist.
The film was described as a “science-fiction, superhero thriller” by New York Times movie critic Rachel Saltz. I thought of it more as a superhero film and the first Bollywood film that ever did the superhero genre right. It was a pleasant surprise to see that Bollywood could afford to create their own superhero. Sharukh Khan was casted as both the superhero and the lead actor. Khan plays Shekhar the nerdy father of Prateek (played by Armaan Verma), a boy who thinks his Dad is uncool and cowardly.
In the film, Shekhar is a creator of video-games. After his son challenges him to create a video-game where the villain is more powerful than the hero, Shekhar invents both Ra-One and G-One. Ra-One named after the villain Ravana in the Ramayana and G-One after the Hindi translation “Life”. The film begins with a funny, sappy portrayal of Shekhar and his triumph in creating a game that satisfies his son. Later the film takes on a new twist when the evil villain Ra-One escapes the game to kill Prateek after he manages the impossible task of defeating Ra-One in the game. The film transforms into a fight between good versus evil with G-One, played by the one and only, Sharukh Khan versus Ra-One who takes on the identity of various characters in the film.
The film directed by Anubhav Sinha had a reported 30 million dollar budget according to The Times of India making it the most expensive Bollywood film ever made. It’s interesting to note that the New York Times critic, Rachel Saltz, describes the movie as “traditional” in her review “Computer Nerd Creates Superhero Showdown.” However, I have to disagree with her. While the film fulfills the general Bollywood equation with songs, dance, and a slew of digital effects replacing Bollywood dazzle, Ra-One has created an entirely new genre for Bollywood film.
Ra-One has taken on a new realm of action-adventure. I’ve never seen a Bollywood film that was able to have believable digital effects along with a villain that changed identities and a superhero that Indians could identify with. In America the film may be judged through a different lens, but Ra-One has done much for Bollywood cinema, in terms of diversifying its themes and raising the bar for future superheros. All in all, it’s worth a watch!