Bollywood’s investment on spy thrillers is at an all time high. In the last decade it has given some gold standard espionage flicks like Madras Cafe, Baby, D-Day; and some very watchable ones in Ek Tha Tiger, Tiger Zinda Hai, Agent Vinod and Phantom. Add Alia Bhatt’s rapid progress in skills and stature; fast rising Vicky Kaushal (watch him in his epic breakdown scene in Masaan); solid Jaideep Ahlawat (the stirring Shahid Khan in Gangs of Wasseypur); and director Meghna Gulzar’s short cv considerably jacked up by a fantastic Talvar. With so much promising ingredients in place, I had every reason to queue up for a ticket to watch the latest Bollywood release, Raazi.
Based on a true story
Raazi is based on Harinder S. Sikka’s novel ‘Calling Sehmat’ about a daughter of a spy strategically converted and planted as a daughter-in-law behind enemy lines, on eve of the 1971 Indo-Pak war. There is every reason to believe it’s a true story covered up as an ‘Incredibly true story’ for other sensitive reasons. Whatever the reason, churlish Pakistan has gone ahead and banned the movie! Which makes it easier for a neutral to guess who won the Indo-Pak war and who will come out trumps in the tussle between Mia guy & Biwi spy. Why Pakistan why?
Raazi indeed lives up to it’s ‘blue chip stock’ like ingredients and premise. The metamorphosis that Sehmat (Alia) goes through as a compassionate college girl who can’t stand the sight of blood to a cold blooded, super efficient spy is the big highlight of the film. Sehmat convinces us all that even in 1971, an average Indian girl could multitask just as good as any guy, if not better. Shuffling between a dutiful wife, grieving daughter, singing teacher, efficient at work and yet, a patriot who found war meaningless and bloody. Alia’s expressions (note her instant smile despite being flattened on floor), her eyes, earrings, vulnerability and sharpness – all stand out.
Good support cast
The other stars of the show are a tight plot, well paced screenplay – watch out the scenes after Alia starts operating in enemy territory – Jaideep Ahlawat and Vicky Kaushal. Vicky’s Iqbal, a perfectly caring and understanding husband, exudes his niceness so well that you start feeling bad for him instantly. That one day a nice human being will come to know that he is being cheated and undeservedly get heartbroken. Amidst all this, Sehmat goes on to relay Indian authorities some extreme confidential details of Pakistan’s plan to sink INS Viraat. A piece of information that helped India not only foil enemy plans but also make initial inroads and damage to Pakistani bases.
And few flaws at last
While Raazi keeps you glued, engaged and at edge of the seat for most parts – each time Alia’s cover comes close to getting blown off – the movie doesn’t end as well it pulled itself all along. How Alia got a second duplicate key is unexplained. The climax is hurried, convenient (a top spy won’t make that basic an error) and doesn’t at all do justice to Vicky’s Iqbal. Perhaps it stems from the fact that Meghna Gulzar didn’t want the movie to end on a Baby / Argo style escape and instead focus more on how war impacts humans, emotions and their lives. Fair point, just that it doesn’t gel as well with the narrative, where Sehmat was always shown focused and decisive. The ending does seem a tad melodramatic and let down to many of the good work preceding it.
Rating: 4/5 (Must watch in theatre; it’s important to encourage good movies)
Big takeaway: There is no ME in the nation. I am the nation, the nation is ME. Each of us, represent our nation, every minute of our lives.