Director: Anubhav Sinha; Screenwriter: Kanika Dhillion, Shah Rukh Khan, Mushtaq Sheikh; Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Armaan Verma, Shahana Goswami, Tom Wu, Satish Shah, Dalip Tahil, Priyanka Chopra, Sanjay Dutt; Running time: 156 mins; Certificate: 12A
It's a heavy weight to bear, even when you're Shah Rukh Khan and evidently an impossible feat, as Ra.One spectacularly fails to live up to the inordinate hype that preceded the film's release.
Things start off badly with the opening sequence, when a peculiar on-screen tryst occurs between Shah Rukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra, who makes a guest appearance as a damsel in distress. It's a redundant scene with little purpose other than to incorporate a few ill-placed in-jokes and it sets the theme for all that is to come.
We are brought into the present day where ten-year-old Prateek (Armaan Verma) fantasises that his father Shekhar, played by Khan, is a superhero as opposed to the bumbling computer gaming geek that he is. In a bid to impress his son, Shekhar develops a computer game in which two adversaries, Ra.One (Arjun Rampal) and G.One (Shah Rukh Khan), wage a battle between good and evil.
When Prateek defeats Ra.One, the evil-doer steps out of the game in order to seek him out and destroy him. Shekhar sacrifices his own life to save his son and with Ra.One on the rampage in the streets of Mumbai, Prateek finds a way to take G.One out of the game to take on his nemesis in a fight to the death.
The insistence on incorporating all the traditional elements of Indian masala cinema in a sci-fi movie is where this film fails. It's clearly targeted at a mass audience who require all those elements to be fully entertained, but with the lack of any coherent story in which the audience can be emotionally invested, the global Asian diaspora, accustomed to high action combined with some storytelling, will come away dissatisfied.
The individual performances too are below par. Khan is often criticised for his hackneyed performances and here too, he lacks the necessary presence to make his superhero convincing. The weak stabs at humour and jarring dialogue don't help his cause. Kareena Kapoor, the inevitable romantic interest, spends much of this film flitting abruptly between a gamut of stock emotions. With her focus on looking beautiful, she lacks credulity and you are unmoved by her plight.
The real revelation of the film is Arjun Rampal as Ra.One. The shaven headed Rampal brings a whole new dimension to the Bollywood villain and a role as a psychotic killer surely beckons.
There's no disputing the much higher standard of visual effects than is usual in Bollywood cinema and while Krissh was India's first foray into the superhero genre, the mass audience have never seen one of their own superstars doing anything quite like this before.
There is a thrill to be had in seeing Shah Rukh Khan scaling tall buildings like Spider-Man, careering through streets in high speed chases and sending cars and trains hurtling into the air, but we have seen this all before in Hollywood and that too hinged around much stronger stories.
No amount of star power, guest appearances, insanely infectious song and dance numbers, state of the art technology and promotion can compensate for a weak script, inept dialogue, hackneyed performances and poor storytelling. It is however, a first step for Indian cinema into the realm of sci-fi.
The technology has upped the ante for Indian filmmakers and it may yet be a forerunner for Bollywood, but its not great cinema and you leave wishing Khan hadn't talked this film up so much, and disappointed that it isn't the film that will win Indian filmmakers the global recognition they otherwise deserve. Die hard fans of Shah Rukh will flock to the cinemas regardless and the box office returns may tell a different story.