Movie Review: 'Raazi'
Opened: 11 May 2018
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Vicky Kaushal, Rajit Kapur, Shishir Sharma, Jaideep Ahlawat, Ashwath Bhatt, Amruta Khanvilkar, Soni Razdan, Sanjay Suri
Director: Meghna Gulzar
Producers: Vineet Jain, Karan Johar, Hiroo Yash Johar, Apoorva Mehta
Our films haven't really explored themes revolving around war, spies and espionage and even when they have the results have been all but mixed and/or unnecessarily contrived. Even the few that have made the cut perhaps, are often jingoistic or so woefully lopsided, and so hellbent on making one side the enemy, that you can never really take them that seriously.
In that respect, Meghna Gulzar's Raazi already has the upper hand in that it gives a fairly balanced view of two warring nations without really resorting to hammy, caricature-ish stereotypes where one side (more often than not the Pakistani one), is depicted as the cold-blooded, one tracked enemy and where India is a shining beacon of nobility and honour. It is to Gulzar's credit then, that she avoids that trap when she could have easily opted for the scot-free way out by resorting to clichés, and made her product more commercially viable, in India at least.
An adaptation of a novel, Calling Sehmat, which was inspired by true events, Raazi is almost entirely set in the 70s when the strife between India and Pakistan was at its peak. Amidst the ongoing disparity, a young girl Sehmat (Bhatt), at the behest of her father, marries into an affluent, influential military family in Pakistan to act as a spy on behalf of India and to uncover the game plan that Pakistan has set in motion, and it's the subsequent aftermath of these events around which the film's plot unfolds.
Despite a few very obvious holes in the film's screenplay, Raazi is a taut, edge of the seat, well crafted thriller that keeps you invested in Sehmat's plight as it charts her journey from pure innocence and naiveté into a cold blooded spy who will stop at nothing to accomplish her mission, even if it is at the expense of her values and conscience. That Bhatt dives into the role with flourish is hardly a surprise, and even if she is little raw in a few scenes, her performance overall is pitch perfect and effortless and she yet again proves that in terms of pure acting talent and presence, she's far, far ahead of any actress of her generation. In fact it would be safe to say, that despite not feeling the pre-release buzz for the film, I grabbed a ticket just to see her perform, and needless to add, she didn't disappoint in the slightest.
Although the film is entirely about the principle character, the supporting players get ample moments in which to display their chops too. Vicky Kaushal as Sehmat's somewhat introverted and poised husband underplays his part perfectly, often letting his expressions do the talking sans any dialogue. His growing affection for his new bride is entirely believable and it is in the film's quieter moments that Bhatt and Kaushal shine, both individually and together. Among the remaining actors, the parts played by Sehmat's unsuspecting in-laws are more than efficient, but special mention goes out to Jaideep Ahlawat, as Sehmat's stoic, ambitious, mentor who will stop at nothing to ensure that his inexperienced ward delivers on what she's set out to do.
It's been a good year at the movies and an intelligent film like Raazi which is willing to raise the bar and take risks is a worthy addition to that list and testament to the fact that with research, the right team and talented writers, we can still churn out decent content if we want to. The film isn't perfect by any means – at times it's all a little too convenient, and the few misplaced songs in the film jar, rather than move the narrative along, but it's a good one time watch and a befitting tribute to the unsung heroes of yore that have been all but forgotten.
More importantly to its credit is that in an industry where gender bias is considered the norm, women actors and directors are slowly beginning to change the game and come into their own, and if that isn't progress I'm not sure what is.
Four cheers for Raazi it is then – it's engaging and well intentioned and boasts of a yet another riveting performance by Bhatt – you can't really ask for much more can you?