A bumbling video game programmer Shekhar (Shahrukh Khan) creates a game to impress his son. He gives the villain in the game, RA.One (Arjun Rampal), artificial intelligence to make him a stronger and harder opponent but using his intelligence, Ra.One finds a way to escape the virtual world and enter our world.
A beautiful, preposterous slab of star-driven Bollywood fantasy, Anubhav Sinha’s Ra.One hits all the right buttons and does so with gusto. Frankly, audiences should expect no less from what is reportedly the most expensive Indian film ever made, every rupee evident in one of the most vividly-realised adventure films – from any country – in some time.
Iconic leading man Shah Rukh Khan doubles his screen wattage as both the nebbish computer designer Shekhar Subramanium and his digital, chisel-chested alter-ego 'G.One’. Asked to play daffy, Mr Bean-like awkwardness in the film’s first 90 minutes then shift to superhero mode for the action-packed second half, Khan puts on a show that thoroughly justifies the buzz suggesting he’s destined for Hollywood.
The whirlwind plot (from five credited scriptwriters) centres on Shekhar, his eye-rolling wife Sonia (Kareena Kapoor) and their tweenage son, Prateek (a terrific Armaan Verma). Inspired by his boy’s fascination with bad guy role-play, Shekhar makes an anti-hero called 'Ra.One’ the star of his latest video-game program (a reference to the 10-headed demon Ravaan of Hindu mythology). But like an electronic Frankenstein’s Monster, Shekhar’s creation escapes from the hard-drive and into the real world, with fatal consequences for most of the design team and large slabs of Mumbai and London.
The only way mankind can fight the evil Ra.One (strikingly photogenic Arjun Rampal, a great villain) is by creating a similarly-indestructible good-guy equivalent, thus G.One is born (again, the name has cultural significance – the Hindi jeevan means life).
Despite the B-movie plot, there are subtleties to be found in Ra.One, notably in the occasional quiet moments between family members, and in Khan’s mixed-heritage portrayal of Shekhar. (His dialogue is peppered with Tamil; a dinner scene in which he eats noodles and curd with his fingers got a big laugh from the predominantly Indian patrons.)
Sinha also deserves props for the expert, engaging dance numbers that meld credibly with the characters’ emotional development and narrative arc. Not so convincing is the 3D conversion; consider seeking out 2D screenings, especially if you’re prone to motion sickness.
Having proved his action-director chops with the pulsating Dus (2005), Sinha wisely never lets his audience ponder too long over the thin, comedic characterisations and overly familiar good-vs.-evil plot. Whether creating traffic havoc on the streets of London, pitting his protagonists against one another in vast virtual world or, in the film’s show-stopping set-piece, hurtling a runaway train towards Chhatrapati Shivaji station, Sinha stages the action with vigour and style. Influences are obvious – key moments are perhaps borrowed too liberally from Tron: Legacy, The Matrix, Speed, Constantine, Short Circuit and The Terminator, to name just a few – but given the thrills of this cracking piece of world-class hokum, audience members should happily overlook borrowed tropes.