Ah, what can we say about Raid and movies of this ilk? Films like these work at any given time, in any given place and with any given government because let's face it, no matter who you support, the system is the one that's corrupt. Most people are fine until the fire gets anywhere close to them.
However, a man who doesn't share these views is Amay Patnaik (a stone-faced Ajay Devgn). With a stiff-upper-lip, even stiffer shoulders, and 49 transfers under his very visible belt, Patnaik is an income tax Deputy Commissioner who conducts a raid on the not-so-humble abode of Rameshwar Singh (Saurabh Shukla) aka Tauji, based on a tip.
The film zeroes in on this event and stays there through the course of its runtime. With no elaborate sets, costumes or bombast, Raid sells itself as a procedural and a game of wits between an unstoppable force (Patnaik) and an immovable object (Tauji).
This choice gave the film two lines to proceed along (which is very meta when you consider its lead actors). One is the no-nonsense Ajay Devgn route and the other is the super-subversive and extremely enjoyable Saurabh Shukla route. The movie is a concoction of these two extremes, with more than a dash of Bollywood thrown into the mix.
Ajay Devgn is the Randy Orton of Bollywood. For those of you who haven't heard about Orton, he is a WWE superstar whose in-ring style and character are described as methodical and calculated by some but as boring and repetitive by others. The same can be said of most of Devgn's performances, and the one in Raid is no different. There is a stoicity to his manner that is uniquely his but is also severely detrimental to many a film that he is a part of. And a movie such as this set in a single location and with no bells and whistles (apart from the ludicrous twists it throws out in the second half) needed a magnetic lead actor to hold an audience's attention.
Devgn parrots many a line Ravi Teja spouted in Vikramarkudu
but lacks the manic energy the latter brings to the table, and Raid suffers because of it. Intensity and lack of palpable action are not the same thing. You may have seen the same complaints levied against a few Mahesh Babu and Ram Charan performances from time to time because the filmmakers helming their projects may have mistaken a perpetually bored expression with simmering intensity.
Trying his damndest to offset this is the ever-welcome Saurabh Shukla. Shukla manages to find the humanity in a sea of chest-thumping dialogue baazi that was prevalent in the '80s (this film's setting). His understanding of how the medium of film has changed over his long and storied career helps him create a fullfledged character out of thin air, and gives the movie the shot in the arm it needs to not be another Baadshaho
. The colourful family he is afforded and his reaction to their antics add a bit of much-needed levity to the film.
You can find a wee bit more comedy by laughing at a character in this film. Ileana D'Cruz, who plays Amay's wife Malini, said in an interview that her character was not a typical '80s heroine who just made food for everyone. That's right - she doesn't just make the food, she hand-delivers it to Patnaik as he conducts his raids. Her character and the relationship she shares with her husband are comic gold, and the fact that the film plays their relationship out without a tinge of irony makes it all the more humorous.
What aren't funny, however, are the many duets the duo share that destroy the pace of the film. Maverick composer Amit Trivedi and upcoming talent Tanishk Bagchi are tasked with adding impetus to a movie that shows its hand far too soon. Suffices to say, their over the top compositions and an undercooked romantic thread don't make for a blissful soundscape.
That being said, Raj Kumar Gupta's film is elegantly shot. Even though it lacks the striking visual grammar of his debut Aamir
, Raid hits the notes it needs to without skipping a beat. Patnaik's pronounced heroism and Tauji's underplayed exasperation at his family's ineptitude are cleverly captured under a current of one-upsmanship.
The film has oodles of skill and craft scattered around that are begging to be admired. But it lets itself down time and time again owing to its plotting and central performance. Every patriotic humdinger needs a central figure an audience feels that they can walk with. Raid's Amay Patnaik is no such figure. The movie neither shows the futility of a lone man fighting against a broken system a la Newton
nor has the sweet wish-fulfillment of a man overturning the establishment a la Oke Okkadu
This is Bajirao Singham
's bureaucratic adventures and all the soul-crushing mediocrity that comes with that.