There is a scene in Rahul Dholakia’s Raees where Vijay, the symbol of conscientious idealism in Salim Javed’s cinematic universe of the 70s, appears for a few seconds on a screen in an open air theatre to take a greedy capitalist to task for a coal mine that has caused poverty, death and persecution of poor miners. The film was Yash Chopra’s Kala Patthar but it could have been Deewar. Or Trishul where the protagonist was never deviant without a reason and where his empathy for others came from a back story of deprivation and loss. From a mortal injury to the soul.
So this scene appears just when Shah Rukh Khan’s Raees is confronting a factory owner and asking him to pay compensation to his debt ridden workers. The moment does not totally work not just because it is a clumsy tribute to a simpler, more innocent heroism but also because Raees is primarily a bootlegger who at some point decides to be a saviour. The fire in his belly as a child is stoked by the desire to do “dhanda,” when he sneaks liquor bottles out of a heavily policed area in his school bag. There is nothing in his history that however explains the fracture in his morality. It is also hugely symbolic that Raees grows up in a Gujarat where Gandhi is now just a symbol, a mute statue whose spectacles are sometimes stolen to make a political point or in this case, filched by a child who cannot afford a pair.