Monday, May 14, 2018

Raid: Review

Raj Kumar Gupta’s Raid has maybe an hour of worthwhile material stretched to a trying 128 minutes. The film, which unfolds over a few days in 1981 in Uttar Pradesh, pits an honest Indian Revenue Services officer, Amay Patnaik (Ajay Devgn), against a grassroots political operator whom everyone calls Tauji (Saurabh Shukla). Operating on a tip, Patnaik, who’s been transferred 49 times in the past for his unbending honesty, launches an early morning raid on Tauji’s house, where 420 crore rupees are allegedly stashed. A battle of wills ensues, between the good officers and Tauji, and also between co-writer Ritesh Shah and the Hindi language to find yet another way to say that Patnaik is a very dutiful boy.

The qualities that (presumably) make Patnaik such an excellent IT officer are the same ones that make him a taxing movie lead. Upright and uptight, he can barely make it through a scene without bringing up the rulebook (when the lead character in Newton did that, he was seen as fussy and inflexible, whereas Patnaik practically has a halo around his head). In one scene, he carries his own bottle of cheap rum to the club because drinking someone else’s expensive booze is against his principles. It’s a mild surprise when his wife mentions that he’s an atheist, but then the next line is: “You only believe in Bharat mata.”

For a while, it seems like Patnaik has received a bad tip. His team turns Tauji’s home inside-out, but find nothing. But then, when Patnaik seems to have exhausted every option, it’s revealed that he’s been sitting on vital information. The withholding of this from us, the audience, serves some dramatic purpose, but it makes little logical sense. Had Patnaik used this information earlier (and it’s the sort that would form the basis for a raid like this), there would have been less fruitless searching. It’s presented as a last-minute brainwave, but it’s really just bad planning by Patnaik, or some casual writing by Gupta and Shah.

This might be a mild spoiler—though it arrives well before the halfway mark—but Patnaik and his team do eventually start unearthing Tauji’s hidden wealth. Even as the increasingly frantic strongman tries to call in political favours, one hiding place after another is exposed. From nothing being found, the film moves on to show us everything being found. Most of these scenes poke fun at Tauji’s despicable kin, but given how close they are to caricatures, it’s difficult even to feel contempt for them.

One sequence in particular seemed to underline the film’s attempts to over-work even its good ideas. A gun goes off by mistake and gold pieces start raining down from a hole in the ceiling. The panic on the faces of the family members seems genuine, and had the scene concluded here, it would have been a solid gag. But then Devgn comes forward, takes his time, shoots at the ceiling – once, twice. The same outcome, but with minimal payoff.

Shukla does everything he can to breathe life into the entitled bully he’s playing—his amorality is much more engaging than Patnaik’s rectitude. Devgn’s rise as a mass hero in recent years has coincided with a narrowing of his range as an actor. He’s blandly professional here, and I felt more for Amit Sial’s morally compromised subordinate than for Devgn’s adarsh balak. When Raid’s trailer released, there was some speculation that it would be similar to Special 26, a sly, twisty 2013 film about income tax raids. If only.

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