Raid review: Ajay Devgn's raid, Saurabh Shukla's rage seize the imagination

Release Date: 16 Mar 2018 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 10min

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Mayur Lookhar

A gripping story by Ritesh Shah, robust screenplay, and intense performances by the cast make Raj Kumar Gupta's Raid a success.

One of the prime ills of India is corruption. Business tycoons and politicians are often perceived as corrupt. Not all of them are, but when the taxman casts his net, a few politicians and businessmen are invariably snared.

Director Raj Kumar Gupta takes us back to the 1980s, a period in which the income-tax department conducted some high-profile raids across the country.

Gupta and writer Ritesh Shah have used events from a few such raids to plot their drama, simply titled Raid. A source had earlier told us that the film's story was drawn largely from one high-profile raid in Hyderabad mixed with a few startling incidents (including arson and lynching of some taxmen) from a couple of raids that took place in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Income-tax deputy commissioner Amay Patnaik (Ajay Devgn) is tipped off about crores of rupees in cash and valuables stashed in the Sitagarh ‘White House’ of Lucknow goon-cum-politician Rameshwar Singh (Saurabh Shukla). Moving against Rameshwar Singh is a huge risk, one that could cost him his job, his dignity, and even his life. But Patnaik goes with his instinct and raids the palace of Rameshwar Singh.

The film's trailer appeared to have given out much of the plot: a determined, righteous officer taking on a powerful criminal politician who will stop at nothing to embarrass Patnaik and his team. Probably that is why there wasn't much of an air of expectancy around Raid. What more would the film offer, people probably wondered, expecting it to play out along expected lines.

(Also, there was a touch of irony attached to Raid, with the lead star's name featuring in the Panama Papers leak. Ajay Devgn, though, had clarified that he had declared his offshore account while filing his tax returns.)

But Gupta and Shah have plotted a gripping story, one that throws up quite a few surprises. If you have never had the taxman knock on your door, you are unlikely to ever know what transpires in the hours/days thereafter as the sleuths conduct the raid. As a result, you would not be in a position to judge the events unfolding in Rameshwar Singh’s ‘White House’, and the writer would be free to let his imagination run wild.

Yet, Shah and Gupta don’t go berserk. They strike a nice balance between fact and fiction, carving out a robust, intriguing, thoroughly entertaining screenplay. More than the black money the I-T sleuths recover, it is the drama inside the ‘White House’ that drives Raid. Much of this drama is provided by the politician's family as its world falls apart.

Shah has films like Pink (2016) and Citylights (2014) to his credit. And it is his watertight writing of some endearing characters that drives Raid. The Patnaik-Singh war of words takes on a Ramayanesque tone, and may even be deemed clichéd by some, but it works perfectly with this story.

The robust screenplay is backed by stellar performances led by the underrated Shukla. As the patriarch Rameshwar Singh, he throws his weight around in the family, not sparing even his aged mother in his anger, shoving a jalebi down the toothless lady's throat.

At first, Rameshwar Singh is all swagger, confident that Patnaik won’t find a single undeclared asset. When the cookie begins to crumble, the swagger gives way to a deadly rage. You fear the man will go crazy and even take a match to everyone around. In fact, it is one such fit of rage that sees gold biscuits rain from the top. Rameshwar Singh is losing his bearings and resorts to binge drinking.

Shukla hasn’t played Rameshwar Singh. He has lived the guy. He bowls you over with his intensity and is truly fearsome. His verbal volleys with Patnaik are entertaining, but as the intimidating patriarch he strikes awe in the audience. You are left numb when he warns his family: "Khana khate waqt baat nahi karte [Don't talk while eating]." And, of course, the scene with his old mother is truly cruel.

Of course, Rameshwar Singh is not all aggro and evil. He also has the odd moment of humour, like when he tells officer Sudhir Lallan (Amit Sial), "Kripaya baahar aayie taaki hum prakriti ki pukaar le saken [Please come out of the closet so that I can answer nature’s call]." Shukla has put in a virtuoso performance, one that is easily his best.

Ajay Devgn has been off colour for a while, but he returns to form with Raid. Patnaik is perhaps a bit too righteous. For example, he turns up at a party in sandals and is turned away by the club manager for not wearing shoes. The host quickly arranges for a new pair and Patnaik  pays him Rs21 for it.

Watching the scene, you hope the character is not reduced to a caricature. Thankfully, Shah and Gupta don’t go overboard with the righteousness.

Unlike Rameshwar Singh, Patnaik is calm and collected. Devgn maintains the requisite intensity throughout the film, giving a nuanced performance.

Ileana D’Cruz also turns in a measured performance as Patnaik's wife Malini. There isn’t much scope for a character like her in the film, but you do wonder how the lady lands up at the location of the raid when her husband had never shared a word about his operation with her. For a moment, you wonder maybe Malini is more than just a housewife.

The supporting cast is also good, particularly Sial, who plays a corrupt I-T officer, and Sulagna Panigrahi and Saanand Verma (Paglait from the popular TV show Bhabhiji Ghar Par Hain) who play pivotal characters from Rameshwar Singh's family.

The one actor who deserves a standing applause, however, is newcomer Pushpa Joshi, who plays the crooked politician's mother. She must be over 75 but displays such natural wit and incredible energy that she will put any young woman to shame. Many will see their own dadi (paternal grandmother) in this Dadi. Credit to the casting team and director Gupta for unearthing such a gem. Joshi is another example of the saying that age is just a number and one should never stop dreaming.

While much of the film plays out fine, Patnaik’s needless show of bravado in the climax does ruin it somewhat. Also, the poor songs break the mood of the film and could have easily been done away with.

The filmmakers have kept the identity of the real I-T officer on whom Devgn’s character is based secret. The trailer suggested that the film was based on a few raids in Uttar Pradesh in the 1980s but Ritesh Shah categorically denied that the film was based on a well-reported raid on former Congress legislator Sardar Inder Singh. However, Rameshwar Singh running to the then prime minister does suggest Shukla’s character is loosely based on Inder Singh.

The odd folly does not, however, take away much from the film. Raid throws light on the pressures that income-tax officers face when they go after the rich and the powerful and on the perils of vote-bank politics.

Corruption exists in the income-tax department too, but Raj Kumar Gupta’s Raid helps to restore some faith in the taxman. You do hope there are more Amay Patnaiks in the department and that their hands are not tied by the bureaucracy or their political bosses. We need them today more than ever, at a time when flamboyant businessmen are making a habit of fleeing the country after duping it of thousands of crores.

Maybe that is wishful thinking, but Ajay Devgn’s Raid and Saurabh Shukla’s rage do grab hold of your imagination. Take a bow, Raj Kumar Gupta and Ritesh Shah.