Analysis: Is Shah Rukh Khan's Raees based on Gujarat gangster Abdul Latif?

While we investigate the similarities, director Rahul Dholakia also has something to say about the Raees-Latif connection. 

Keyur Seta

The trailer of Rahul Dholakia’s Raees, which was released yesterday, succeeded in upping the anticipation for the film. The masala factors and Shah Rukh Khan’s negative swag seems to have worked. There are reports going on that the film is based on the late Gujarat gangster, Abdul Latif. And the contents of the trailer makes us wonder if the film is at least loosely based on the mafia don of the 1980s and 90s. 

Firstly, let’s have a look at Latif’s life story. He started off serving liquor at gambling dens as a teenager. As the years passed by, he became a bootlegger and eventually the king of illegal liquor business in Gujarat. And like most of the famous gangsters, his tentacles spread in other major crimes like murder, extortion, kidnapping, etc. With his power also grew his political connections with the ruling party, Congress. 

Latif also had links with Dawood Ibrahim, the most dreaded gangster, who is also believed to be the mastermind of the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai. The Gujarat gangster also stayed in Pakistan for more than a year from 1993 onwards. After his arrest in India, Latif revealed to the investigators that he used to meet Dawood almost daily during his stay in the neighbourhood country. 

Latif was also said to have a Robin Hood-like image among the downtrodden of the society. This also became a reason for his popularity in Gujarat, especially among the lower strata of people. 

The gangster was eventually arrested in 1995 in Delhi and was killed in an encounter in November 1997 by Ahmedabad Police. It is believed that Latif’s criminal ways and his closeness to Congress were instrumental in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rise to power in the state from 1990 onwards. The party is said to have won on the anti-Latif wave. 

Now, if you have closely monitored the trailer of Raees, chances are that you would find uncanny similarities between the characters of Latif and Raees. 

To elaborate further, here are few notable similarities: 

- The story is based in Gujarat in the 1980s and 90s, the time when Latif was at the helm of affairs. 
- Raees seems to have started illegal liquor business early on since he gives his mother’s reference.
- He becomes the liquor king.
- He is also seen killing people.
- He has a tiff with the police.
- With the way Raees complains about the cop to a top politician, proves that he is well connected with those in power.

But despite these many similarities, Dholakia, during the trailer launch, maintained that the film is a work of fiction. When it was pointed out to him that there are talks going on in Gujarat about the film being based on Latif, he said, “Latif is not the background of Raees. Many such talks keep taking place in Gujarat. It’s based on a fictional character and on a fictional story. The film is based before Modi became the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The script is created by four writers, out of which two are journalists from Ahmedabad – Harit Mehta and Ashish Vashi.” 

Dholakia’s statement seems to have given away something. Mehta and Vashi have been field reporters in Gujarat. Now, why would journalists would be employed to work on the script of a film if it is not based on a real story? 

The filmmaker added that his only intention was to make a film on liquor ban. “I only wanted to make a film on liquor prohibition and gangster-politics nexus. If there was such prohibition in Bihar, my story would have been set there.”  

This might be a specific attempt by the makers to steer clear of any controversy. Latif’s son Mashtaq Shaikh has filed a case of defamation against the film for allegedly wrongly portraying his father. 

Whether or not the film is actually based on Abdul Latif will only be known after it releases. Let’s wait and watch till then.