Direction: Raj Kumar Gupta Produced by: Panorama Studios, T-Series Cast: Ajay Devgn, Saurabh Shukla, Ileana D’Cruz, Pushpa Joshi, Amit Sial, Sheeba Chadha, Sulakshana Panigrahi
Cinematography: Alphonse Roy;
Editing: Bodhaditya Banerjee;
Music: Amit Trivedi
Art Direction: Rajesh Choudhary
Hindi / Drama Thriller / 128 mins / India / 2018
With a great ensemble crew like filmmaker Raj Kumar Gupta, scenarist Ritesh Shah, music composer Amit Trivedi, editor Bodhaditya Banerjee and art director Rajesh Choudhary one expected ‘Raid’ to be a treat - to be savoured for long after. After all not everyone associated with the Kumar Mangat production and Ajay Devgn starrer could go wrong in executing their behind-the-scenes roles and yet, while it does not come a cropper it could have been far more gripping. As it turns out, it is good enough only for a bite - a one-time watch.
Raid’s advantage lay in the fact that its story is based on real income tax raids (conducted in July 1981 and September 1989) which took place in Kanpur, Muzzaffarnagar, Bijnore and Meerut when Congress (I) was in power at the Centre and Uttar Pradesh had V P Singh and N D Tiwari as the state’s chief ministers respectively. In the first case Sardar Inder Singh’s residence was raided under the command of IT Commissioner Sharda Prasad Pandey in 1981 and went on for more than 18 hours. In the second instance in 1989, over 19 locations including factories and homes of two industrialists - paper-mill owner Harish Chhabra and jewellery man Chitranjan Swarup were raided simultaneously.
Of the three, Singh and Swarup had been Congress MLAs while Chhabra a state-level Congress worker, and teams of nearly 90 officials and counting along with cops were put to service. While Singh’s raid went off peacefully, in Chhabra’s case IT officials were mercilessly beaten up by mobs while the cops did nothing. The officers ended up with broken bones, fractures, head and facial injuries for doing their jobs. Some even ended up permanently disabled.
Devgn essays the role of Amay Patnaik, the IT Commissioner used to being transferred because of his principles and incorruptibility. It is on his 49th transfer and Lucknow posting, that Patnaik is tipped off on MLA Rameshwar Singh played by Saurabh Shukla. What unspools thereafter forms the film.
While there is no denying that Raid completely enthralls in key moments, there are several times where it jars and as audience, you feel the scene or dialogue is redundant and a distraction. Most of the track between Patnaik and his wife (played by Ileana D’Cruz) for instance is a needless one which takes away from the main plot’s seriousness. It appears forced and out of place. Story, Dialogue and Screenplay writer Ritesh Shah, who has the right background (he has written ‘Madaari’, ‘Kahaani’, ‘Pink’ and ‘Citylights’) could have played this one out very differently.
But there seems a hangover of perhaps Neeraj Pandey’s ‘Baby’ where the audience felt a real connect with the relationship that Akshay Kumar shares with his wife. There it is dealt with extreme finesse. Here, scenes like Cruz walking in with lunch while her husband and his team are in the middle of The Raid are entirely unwarranted, not to mention unbelievable. I mean, it’s not exactly she has to carry roti and achaar to her kisaan husband in the khet, right? Even their romantic moments, barring a scene or two, if taken away will take nothing away from the film.
The real meat lies with Saurabh Shukla as MLA Rameshwar Singh a.k.a Tauji a.k.a Rajaji, whose film ‘Raid’ is. As a shrewd, shameless, conniving and corrupt-to-the-core political heavyweight Shukla is unstoppable and makes this his best performance to date. He is menacing, fearsome, funny and despicable by turns and steals the show from Devgn in several scenes. In his desperation to save ill-gotten wealth which turns up from false ceilings, random pillars, hidden vaults, earthen pots, staircases, secret basements and dry water tanks, all of INR 420 crores – he combats Patnaik at every turn using coercion, threat, political influence and in the end, mobs.
Devgn underplays Patnaik, moving from hardcore action of a star to delve into the realm of a performer again. But his stance as an honest man is diluted by the very dialogues he mouths. Those that do, rarely speak. To that extent, some of Patnaik’s verbal sparring with Tauji/Rajaji is unnecessary. Gupta credited with solid films like ‘Aamir’ and ‘No One Killed Jessica’ seems compelled to pander to Devgn’s stardom while Shukla determinedly goes the deepest black he can - on his own.
Mention must be made of Amit Sial as Lallan – a member of Patnaik’s team (who goes from being corrupt to honest inspired by his boss) and the 85-year old Pushpa Joshi as Tauji’s mother. She is outstanding in her debut performance and the audience will fall in love with her natural wit and simplicity.
The best in Raid is reserved for the last - its climax. As things get out of hand for both Tauji and Patnaik, the mobs get a free rein to run riot. From blood-thirsty, lathi and scythe wielding crowds to scared IT officers to Tauji drinking and calculative to the last to Patnaik facing imminent defeat closeted and surrounded with the sealed wealth in trunks and cartons, the finale doesn’t make for even blinking lest you miss out on all that is happening onscreen. Bodhaditya Banerjee’s deft editing is its highpoint. Banerjee is the guy who made you fall in love with the courtroom drama Pink. Here too, he takes the bull by its horn and makes your heartbeats quicken. He is the storyteller you should watch in future.
Raid becomes a must watch for Shukla and its climax sequence – if you can sit through some of its flaws that built it up.