India seriously lacks some good quality spy stories. They are either too laden with forced patriotism or harp on one-note formulaic good and evil side narrative more often than not. Raazi is none of that. Directed by Meghna Gulzar, the movie is an adaptation of the book Calling Sehmat which was based on a real life account of an Indian spy who married a Pakistani official to pass intel across the border in times leading up to the Ghazi attack. And it is so beautifully done. It is this understated story of a girl who is not a professional spy but is trained to ace the art because ‘watan ke aage kuch nahin, khud bhi nahin‘. As an audience member, you are brought onto this journey with this girl who is sweet, innocent, passionate and mission oriented all at the same time. The tension is palpable, not for the implication to the impending war between the two countries but because of what those situations might do for our protagonist that we have grown to care for minutes into the movie.
The movie never dramatises the narrative beyond what is needed and that is the reason why it might seem simplistic in some parts. It plays out as a spy thriller without taking sides. It is not about infiltrating a terrorist group planning an attack from the other side- it is as much a story of Pakistani Army officials doing their jobs as it is about Sehmat doing hers. During one of the sequences entailing a miraculous singing transformation for some kids at an annual day celebration in Pakistan, you see both Sehmat and the kids singing Ae Watan– the essential patriotic addition to the album. It means exactly the same for both the sides, albeit intended for countries at loggerheads with each other.
Coming to the star of the show, Alia Bhat. She is amazing in this one. She has gained so much control over her face, her reactions and every nod of her head that you cannot but marvel at the growth she has shown as an actor in almost every frame. Although one can debate that she has almost mastered the act of that ‘one breakdown scene’ at the end, that she repeats in almost each one of her performance. Regardless, it is her movie and she is aware of it. This is not to take away from the supporting cast including Vicky Kaushal, playing Sehmat’s compassionate husband, Rajit Kapoor as the father, Shishir Sharma as the father in law and Jaideep Ahlawat playing Sehmat’s handler who impresses the most.
The movie is shot so realistically with pretty Kashmiri landscapes, intricate markets in Pakistan or the matter of factly cold Delhi training camp. The music with three songs plays beautifully with the screenplay throughout the movie. Ae Watan will inspire the patriotism while Dilbaro will get you emotional playing on the father-daughter relationship. The first half is more impressive than the second and some elements of the climax might seem a little too convenient and avoidable. I mean, if the dumbo sitting next to you can guess what happens next, you know these are ‘too much in your face’ moments.
A definite recommendation.
Hits- Alia Bhat, subtle storytelling, direction, realism
Misses- Simplistic, drags slightly in the second half, checks off some ‘must to do’ patriotic moves
(Picture credits- Wikicommons)