By Kamran Jawaid | The post is the unedited and updated version of the review published in MAG the Weekly on 8th April 2017, which can be read here next week.
In the first twenty minutes of Raasta, a mix-bag entertainer – though not in the way one imagines – we see a young (*ahem*) lad trying to find his way in the world. Sameer, who we see in every frame but never truly get to know, is “over-qualified”. He’s been looking for a job since graduation but, alas, parchi’s and sifarish’s beat him to the punch. People look at him, and then look the other way. But Sameer dreams like an adolescent, of becoming a film star and getting hitched to the right girl – Maya (Saima Azhar), who runs an NGO for poor, needy women.
Sameer has two buddies (actors Saleem Mairaj and Irfan Motiwala, mostly never in the same frame together; like most characters in the film, we never get to know much about them). He has a strict, uncorrupt, police officer brother (Aijaz Aslam), a compassionate sister-in-law (Sana) and a niece, who appears in two or three scenes (in one, I thought it was a nephew; my bad).
Sameer’s life is uncomplicated, lackluster and near about oblivious and inconsequential from what we see. He hangs out with his buddies, dances right into a film set with no visible cameras (and a bruise on the face that is never explained), and switches into an overzealous street-punk for no apparent reason. If he is the epitome of a lovable rascal, I don’t know what went wrong in this last generation of youngsters.
I suppose, Shah Rukh Khan is to blame. For the youth and Mr. Lodhi.
The raunchy, bad-mannered, cutesy persona may, at times, work for Shah Rukh Khan (it was originally an update from Dillip Kumar’s), it fails miserably in his aspirants. They turn into cocky over-actors, who smirk and tremble, sometimes in the same frame.
Mr. Lodhi, as if to one-up his apparent idol, decides to be different – and stops acting altogether. The result: whenever he cries, shuddering and re-repeating dialogues, the audience snicker and hoot.
For a cinema with 20% occupancy on its first Saturday, this is bad news.
In one scene in the movie, Sameer – voicing Mr. Lodhi’s personal demons – admits that the only way he would be in a movie was when he made one for himself. It was both a wink-nudge moment, and an eventuality, I guess.
As the screen and lyric writer, producer and director, Mr. Lodhi has a clear idea of how he is making this film – and its inherent pitfalls. It may not be a grand hero’s journey one expects from a film, but in a sense it was exactly the dread one was anticipating.
Scenes flow with some semblance of relativity, however, editorially the film is cut-and-pasted like a novice. In one instance for example: Sameer rides on top of a bus with Mazar-e-Quaid in the background, which in subsequent cuts, continuously shift distance.
Cinematographically, Raasta doesn’t fare any better. Night scenes are under-lit and graded with harsh greenish-hues (Daylight scenes are fine; cameras fare better in God Almighty’s HMI).
Of all the technical people involved in Raasta, the film’s focus-puller (the man responsible for keeping actors in focus) deserves a hefty bonus. He keeps the film’s lead in sharp sight.
With the assistance of such a talented technician, like a bona fide and insecure A-list star, Mr. Lodhi lodges himself in almost every available frame. It is his chance in the spotlight and he milks it dry. It is near-about a perfect example of one’s narcissism.
For instance: The screenplay, as if not to overshadow Mr. Lodhi, throws characterization out of the window. Everyone, with exception to Mr. Mairaj, Mr. Motiwala and the child actor, knew what they were doing – not that the others had much to do. At times when scenes go long, Mr. Lodhi dub’s over the dialogue with his narration – as if his is the only opinion that matters.
The film’s villains (Naveed Raza and Shamoon Abbasi, the latter one of the few good actors in the film, after Sana and Aijaz Aslam), threaten and kill every now and then; their motives linger around as aimlessly as the film’s plot, and their only usefulness is when they face off against Mr. Lodhi.
After the intermission, his first love, Maya, disappears from the plot completely, and he smoothly transitions to another girl (Abeer Rizvi).
In one scene, his new girl gives him a golden, career-making advice: to become a rickshaw driver. And lo and behold, he does that. Bloody brilliant.
At that juncture, I would’ve added another advice to the character: join Uber Go (the Rickshaw division) and do 18-hour days. You won’t go hungry – ever again.
The published version (to be replaced later by the actual digital copy) is this: