Espionage has always interested me, along with crime and movies or shows made in the thriller genre. So this was one movie that I was looking forward to watching on the big screen, ever since its inception. I was slightly curious if I must say to find out if a current top actress has managed to pull off this role with ease. Based on Harinder Sikka’s book Calling Sehmat, which is said to be inspired by true events during the year 1971 when tensions between Pakistan and India ran abnormally high and the subsequent war. It was an exciting and dangerous time for the Indian Intelligence (RAW) who covertly ran many operations to tap Pakistani military and thereby weaken its resolve to destroy India.
Raazi collected over Rs 50 crore within a week of its release. The story of an Indian spy married to a Pakistani army officer, set just before the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 stars the darling of the current generation, Alia Bhatt. The film also stars stalwarts of Indian cinema like Rajit Kapur, Shishir Sharma and Soni Razdan. But if it’s doing amazing business, it’s because of that little chit of a girl Alia Bhatt. So she is, in fact, the strongest and also the weakest link in the film.
A non-discerning viewer would come back home with a heavy heart, impressed with Madame Bhatt’s histrionics and the suspenseful but slow to pick up action. Well, it had all the ingredients of a pot-boiler but I wasn’t too sure about the kind of film to expect since I had not seen Meghna Gulzar’s earlier film, Talwar, too, based on the infamous Aarushi murder case. But to my mind, it was that if Alia Bhatt could perform well in Imtiaz Ali’s Highway and Udta Punjab, both realistic films, she would perhaps do a fine job here too. But, alas my expectations fell a little when I saw the half-hearted direction and implausible storyline.
To be honest, I enjoyed the film in spurts…though it had the husband rolling his eyes every now and then and stretching and performing some movie hall seat yoga in between. But like it is, with a product that has a lot of promise, I felt let down. Alia is relatively good as the spy Sehmat Khan who follows her father into the espionage business and of course, manages to do more damage than her father had in his entire lifetime!
But she’s no Meryl Streep. There are so many false notes in the film, like when she is portrayed as a young college going girl who is scared of small injuries and has a very soft heart when she rushes to save a squirrel from being crushed by a car. The character build-up comes across as fake because a person cannot undergo a metamorphosis in a very short while to become daring and unafraid to face the risks she takes to become a spy for India in Pakistan.
How did the progression of character happen? We don’t know. We are not told. When her mentor and her father’s colleague, the formidable actor Jaideep Ahlawat, who plays RAW agent Mir Khalid, asks her why she chose to blindly obey her father who wanted her to fill his shoes, who would soon breathe his last, she has no plausible answer. She replies, “It’s in my blood, my genes,” a tad unconvincingly. If that were the case, in present-day India, the Congress scion Rahul Gandhi would have made for a very effective politician!
And her dialogue delivery in each powerful scene falls short; like when she has to be offended at being pushed by her mentor to the ground and hit by him, to test her reflexes; she comes across as mildly annoyed. That fire within is missing. But perhaps, to be fair to her, she tried her best. Being a director’s actress can have these pitfalls. Meghna Gulzar could have packed in a punch with her calling the shots but left much to be desired. As in characterisation, the development of the protagonist leaves us unsatisfied and panting for more.
Slow to pick up, a plot that doesn’t quite make us ‘raazi’ to suspend our disbelief to the heroine’s motives, this movie is a tricky one. And I suspect, there were three things that made Gulzar pick Alia: for box office collections, for the publicity, for suiting the role look-wise perfectly.
Sehmat Khan’s subsequent escape from Pakistan, her giving birth to a child and her life after is also summed up very abruptly. A little bit more of story weaving would have been a welcome addition. Also, this is one of the few films made in India where Pakistan is not portrayed as a monster; rather Indians are the ones who seem to have no feelings here: that is Meghna Gulzar’s portrayal of an endearing story otherwise.
Still, for the essential kick of patriotism and jingoism on which a film like this rides, it’s worth a watch.