With the benefit of having watched Ra.One twice — once, with Chennai's elite grown-up audience and again, with the youngest Shah Rukh Khan fans in the city — I can vouch that Ra.One somewhat works, despite its idiosyncrasies.
On first viewing, I was appalled at the blatant lack of scientific realism in a science fiction film. Yes, we must suspend disbelief willingly and buy the possibility that a robot from a game can escape into the real world. But expecting us to buy that the game was launched even before a single person from the developing team has crossed Level One — or to say, without the game being tested — is just stretching artistic licence to moronic proportions.
Ra.One makes us appreciate the scientific realism of Shankar's Enthiran/Robot. Despite the fact that the audience would gladly buy anything Superstar was selling.
Shah Rukh Khan's dream project invests in technology but forgets the basic principles of the genre. Whether it was Stanley Kubrick or Terrence Malick who made modern masterpieces on science and religion respectively in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Tree of Life, they didn't forget what made the grand spectacle believable — scientific realism. To put it simply, you can't make science fiction without science.
Anubhav Sinha's Ra.One passes off mumbo jumbo as science. Just because the words Random Access are found in a computer science textbook, it does not mean they can be used as a perfectly plausible name for a robot in a game — a Playstation game sold with superhero suits. Superhero suits that come with a component called the H.A.R.T (nonsensically abbreviated to Hertz Amplifying Resonance Transmitter, a part that's ripped off from Iron Man's suit). Superhero suits with HARTS that are capable of replicating/duplicating any matter physically irrespective of its composition (metal, clothes or flesh and bones) and CAN ALSO hypnotise people over long spells of time! Basically, they can do whatever they want.
It is no surprise then that adults will cringe at this unabashed disregard for science in a sci-fi film that owes its mythology to scenes from Hollywood's mindless science-fiction entertainers that suddenly seem like classics in comparison. The problem with stealing from disparately different films (Terminator 2, Matrix, Iron Man to name a few) is you end up creating a Frankenstein monster of a superhero film. Ra.One dishes out a crock of cockamamie.
If you are from any part of South India, you have extra reason to take offence at Shah Rukh Khan's portrayal of geeky game developer, Shekhar Subramaniam. A score that goes “Paithyakaara Paithyakaara” (madman) introduces him, another that goes “Ayyayyo Ayyayyo” shows him as a social misfit and the character is obnoxious to the point of eating noodles with curd. And his faulty Tamil is played for laughs.
To his credit, Shah Rukh Khan emits goodness and shows a lot of heart even in this over-the-top stereotype. Also, the fact that the film never takes itself seriously makes suspension of disbelief a lot smoother.
It is a sillier version of Om Shanti Om (this time, he's reincarnated as a Robot to take on diabolic Arjun Rampal again) with its irreverent mood and ability to turn into a schmaltzy fond throwback to Hindi and Tamil cinema of yore.
The Rajni cameo, though delightful in concept, looks slapped on like an afterthought. But the crowd cheered anyway.
Young Armaan Verma is the real hero of this too-kiddie-for-adults, too-adult-for-kids film. He has an instantly likeable presence and almost outshines the gorgeous Kareena Kapoor in the sentimental scenes.
On second-viewing with a hall full of kids, it's easy to see why Ra.One works a lot better minus the hype. The charm of Shah Rukh Khan overrules every bit of logical inconsistency. The wafer-thin plot just seems like an excuse to unleash mind-blowing set-piece action sequences never seen before. The confrontation between Ra.One and G.One as they blow cars at each other and The Burning Train tribute that outperforms Enthiran's train scene in the visual effects department need to be seen to be believed. The spirit of R. D. Burman pumps up Vishal-Shekhar's score that is bound to grow on you.
And soon, Ra.One becomes this entertaining rollercoaster of a ride with Shah Rukh Khan once you've seen it through the eyes of a five-year-old in awe.
But then, you will also see all that conservative parents wouldn't be comfortable with. Constant condom-references, cheesy innuendoes, homo-erotic sexual tension, gory violence and loads of cleavage.
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Armaan Verma
Storyline: A whiz kid gaming geek must take the help of the good robot (G.One) to protect himself from the bad one (Ra.One) who has come out of the game to kill him.
Bottomline: Too adult to be a kid's action fantasy, too juvenile to be a sci-fi entertainer for adults.