The troubled journey of Shah Rukh Khan’s Abdul Latif-inspired saga

Ever since Shah Rukh Khan unveiled the first look of Raees — with his character’s punchline “Baniye ka dimaag aur miyanbhai ki daring” — the Rahul Dholakia directed film has been drummed up a lot of curiosity among fans.
Shah Rukh Khan in the original ‘Raees’ posterShah Rukh Khan in the original ‘Raees’ poster
First, its original release date — Eid 2016 — had to be set aside, to avoid a clash with Salman Khan’s Sultan.
Raees Teaser: Shah Rukh Khan will leave you in awe with his badass don avatar
Then, the new date chosen for Raees’ release — Republic Day 2017 — was found to be in direct conflict with Hrithik Roshan’s Kaabil.
Even as these issues weighed Raees down, a bigger storm was brewing.
As anti-Pakistan sentiment simmered in India after the Uri attacks in September that left several of our military personnel dead, there were calls to boycott all artistes from across the border. Raees was among the films struck really hard (the other film was Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, which had a cameo by Fawad Khan) as it marked the Bollywood debut of Pakistani actress Mahira Khan.
The storm has now settled, and despite calls to replace Mahira, she still continues to be Shah Rukh’s love interest in the film (although reports say her role has indeed been trimmed considerably, in order to avoid backlash).
The Raees trailer itself has been highly anticipated — initially it was believed that it would release on Shah Rukh Khan’s 51st birthday in November; then reports stated it would be attached to Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi.
Neither of these scenarios played out — instead, the makers announced a 7 December release date.
To mark the occasion, SRK also unveiled a new poster for the film:
Can’t wait for the trailer tomorrow? Here’s a new poster to keep you going until then. Ab #ApnaTimeShuru
— Raees (@RaeesTheFilm) December 6, 2016
This poster also introduced a new slug for SRK’s character Raees Aslam: “Ab apna time shuru”.
Just who is the character of Raees Aslam based on?
As per reports, SRK’s role was inspired by Abdul Latif. During the ’80s, Latif ran a flourishing bootlegging business in the Popatiyawad area of Gujarat and rose to become a don. It is said that he worked in gambling dens, serving liquor, from a very young age. This may have had something to do with his getting into the bootlegging business later in life.
As his profile rose, so did the scale and scope of his illegal business interests. It is reported that Latif was involved in hawala, land deals and contract killings. The charge of receiving smuggled arms in India, through the villages on the western coast of Gujarat, has also been laid at his door.
He was also said to be a close associate of Dawood Ibrahim — which led to him being considered a prime suspect in the 1993 Mumbai blasts.
At the same time, numerous stories are also in circulation about Latif’s altruistic deeds. Robin Hood-esque anecdotes about the don, claim he helped underprivileged Muslim youth get jobs, and provided the poor with financial and other aid.
Latif was killed in an encounter with the police in Naroda Patiya in 1997, allegedly while trying to escape (he had been incarcerated at Sabarmati Jai since 1995).
Raees is not the first film to be inspired by the don: Encounter Latif by Sharique Minhaj was released in 2014.
Even this aspect of the film was mired in some controversy: Mushtaq Sheikh — the son of Abdul Latif, on whom the superstar’s character is reportedly based — had previously asked for a stay on the film’s release.
Sheikh has said that while he and his family were consulted by the Raees team while the film was being researched, they were not aware of what the “treatment” would be. Sheikh contended that his father has been shown in a negative, defamatory light in the film and sued Shah Rukh, Farhan Akhtar, Rahul Dholakia and four others for Rs 101 crore in damages.
Sheikh’s main point of contention was that Raees allegedly shows Latif running a brothel and using women bootleggers in his business.
Harsh Gajjar, a lawyer for Sheikh, told The Indian Express at the time: “There were 97 cases lodged against Latif in his life time. These cases were for bootlegging and serious offences under TADA, however, at no point he ran a brothel or used women for delivering liquor. By attributing such false claims in the movie trailer the respondents have defamed the family’s image in the society.”
Previously, the makers of Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai… found themselves at the receiving end of a defamation suit after the kin of Haji Mastan — on whom Ajay Devgn’ character in the film was said to be modelled — took umbrage at his portrayal.
The producers, Balaji Motion Pictures, were asked by the court to include a disclaimer in the film stating that it was not based on Haji Mastan’s life.