Well, that's not entirely true. Calling the new 3D Hindi superhero flick Ra.One the Bollywood Tron or Iron Man would be a bit of a misnomer. The most apt parallel for Ra.One would be Automan, that swiftly cancelled 1983 cop show about a crime-fighting hologram. And like Automan, Ra.One is shitstorm preposterous in all the right ways.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Writer/director Anubhav Sinha's Ra.One — which is being billed as the most expensive Indian movie ever made ($30 million) — clocks in at an equally opulent 156 minutes. Such running times aren't uncommon for Bollywood flicks, but stateside moviegoers can expect your local multiplex to run roughshod over the film's built-in intermission. There's a sizable chance your bladder will be a live grenade by the time the credits roll.
As a result of this leisurely minute count, Ra.One can be four or five movies at the same time. For the first 45 minutes or so, it's a screwball family comedy. London video game designer Shekhar Subramanium (megastar Shah Rukh Khan) desperately wants to impress his villain-loving young son Prateek, who likes Iron Maiden and plays online games under the moniker "Lucifer."
After Shekhar fails to win over Prateek with his Michael Jackson impersonation (circa Bad), he vows to create the ultimate video game malefactor to earn his son's respect. Shekhar dreams up Ra.One, a post-apocalyptic supervillain composed of the 10 most evil men in human history (Hitler and Stalin among them). The last hope for humanity is G.One, a Tron-suited superhero with Shekhar's own face.
(At this point, it must be mentioned that the video game Shekhar designs is fantastically experimental. Ra.One is a Virtua Fighter-style fighting game with only three levels and requires a VR supercomputer to play. It's unclear how this would translate to consoles, but Ra.One fucks logic in the earhole.)
Anyway, Ra.One is a huge hit with the gaming company. All the adults get drunk and celebrate with an autotuned dance number (left). Meanwhile, Prateek plays Ra.One on the company supercomputer and beats two of the three stages. This is a problem, as Ra.One (the character) is a super-powerful AI who escapes into the physical world to get even with Prateek.
One of the first things Ra.One does in the real world is murder Shekhar with a hard-light Hadouken. This was the first of several moments that left my mouth agape, as it was a shock on par with seeing the Nutty Professor (the Jerry Lewis one) incinerated alive.
To destroy Ra.One and save Prateek, Shekhar's lab partner liberates G.One from the video game. Our screaming blue hero seemingly destroys the villain in an epic junkyard battle, and G.One immediately accompanies Prateek and his mother for an impromptu trip to Mumbai. G.One poses as Shekhar at family reunions, and the film relies on a "boy and his robot" style slapstick.
Of course, the above synopsis doesn't do justice to the effervescent nuggets of absurdity waiting to be discovered as Ra.One trundles on. I'm leaving out such great tidbits as:
- The subplot about Shekhar's wife Sonia's (Kareena Kapoor) thesis on the history of profanity.
- The scene where Shekhar's friend's geriatric mother is murdered by Ra.One with an ashtray.
- Prateek's online avatar, who resembles Dante from Devil May Cry.
- The sequence where a giggly gay airport security employee inspects G.One.
- The Bollywood gospel version of "Stand By Me" (during which Sonia remembers her dead husband, above).
- The testicle attacks. Seriously, Ra.One has maybe 10-15 junk shots. This film is rife with bruised scrotums.
- The vaguely homoerotic dance number (by Akon!) where Ra.One morphs into Sonia and hits on G. One at a birthday party (below).
- And of course, a nice long guest appearance by Chitti Babu, the star of the "robotic clone snake" blockbuster Enthiran.
The last one floored me. Seriously, I made an excited wailing noise like a wounded elk (there were five people in the theater so I didn't care). In my line of work, almost every scifi movie is spoiled right out the gate, but I had no clue Chitti was coming. Imagine if during Terminator 2, Robocop walked onscreen, fired a couple rounds into the T-1000, high-fived Ed Furlong, and left stage right. That's basically what happens in Ra.One.
Even though Ra.One is an almost three-hour time commitment, makes diddly sense, and is way less daffy than Enthiran, you will not be bored. Unlike American superhero flicks — with their turgid obsession with power, responsibility, and comic continuity — Ra.One caroms from one scene to the next, drunk off its own excess. Now I want The Dark Knight Rises to reboot the Batusi.
Ra.One is now playing in select U.S. cities.