Alia Bhatt in a still from Raazi Image: YouTube/Dharma Productions
Starring: Alia Bhatt, Vicky Kaushal, Rajit Kapoor, Soni Razdan, Shishir Sharma
Directed by: Meghna Gulzar
You will like it if you liked: Omerta, The Ghazi Attack
You know what, the world may think we are stupid, but the truth is we are really at the raw end of the deal here. You want us to grow up, world? Then stop showing us movies like Ek Tha Tiger and Tiger Zinda Hai. Because then that's what we are going to believe -- spies are a bunch of superhumans who fight like Rambo and dance like Michael Jackson (or at least they think they do). Because if that's what a spy movie is like, then Alia Bhatt and Meghna Gulzar have got it completely wrong.
Here's putting our rant in perspective. When Kuch Kuch Hota Hai released, I was in school. And after watching that brainwash of a film 21 times, all I wanted was a white salwar suit with a red bandhni dupatta, a chain with a 'cool' pendant, write letters to my future daughter and enrol into a college like that. But we all know wearing a 'cool' pendant makes you the opposite of cool, right? The glass ceiling of my Utopian world shattered when I actually went to a college like that and realised no one is dancing on the basketball court. Unless it's Kimaya (Fergusson College alumni, can we have a cheer, please?)
Similarly, here's what Salman Khan's farce of a spy film did to our collective consciousness -- it made us believe being a spy is fun, no different from being a cop (Dabangg) or a thief (Kick). And then I watched Raazi.
I don't think it is a coincidence that Rajkummar Rao's Omerta, the story of a terrorist, and Raazi, the story of Sehmat, an Indian spy married off to a Pakistani General's son (Vicky Kaushal) as an on-field agent, released so close to one another. It had to be the eye-opener Indian cinema audiences needed. We actually needed it yesterday, but better late than never.
Sehmat, a 20-year-old college student, is the only child born to a freedom fighter (Rajit Kapoor) and his wife (Soni Razdan). Rajit had been working as the eyes and ears of the Indian Intelligence Bureau for years only to find out that a lung tumour will kill him in a matter of months. But the show must go on, the war needs to be won, and he bestows his daughter with a task too big for her shoes. She must now rise to the occasion.
The film, blessed with Meghna's meticulous eye for detail, follows Sehmat's journey. She must train first, learn everything from holding a gun to planting a bug under someone's desk, sending messages in Morse code, and be the docile nayi bahu, all at the same time.
Sehmat here is no Tiger. She breaks down in tears when she is overwhelmed by the thought of being caught, she winces as she fires guns, and her face is plastered with a shadow of guilt when she has to actually kill someone. Collateral damage, right? Yes, they speak in weird, often funny codes, but no, she doesn't break into a dance or a dream sequence ever. Her life is no dream; if anything, it's a nightmare.
You will be left awestruck to see just how much Alia's acting has evolved since Highway. We didn't think it was possible, but it seems like it is. And Meghna makes her better -- her gorgeous Pahadi skin flushed with a pink glow has a couple of freckles, when she howls she has a runny nose, and her hair is full of flyaways, never straight out of a salon -- all working to make her look real, like you and me. Meghna, however, left Vicky pretty much unused throughout the film, saving the climax. But then, if this were a cricket match, you'd always need an anchor with a pinch hitter, right?
And then the curse of the climax strikes. Meghna resorts to drama, the sort that tugs at your heartstrings, and emotions that leave your eyes moist. I get that it's a necessary trope to tell this story, because how else did you really expect the life of a spy who falls in love with the enemy to end? But I wish that it was a couple of notches lower. And wasn't dipped in a sugar syrup of patriotism -- she is an Indian spy, does the obvious really needs to be stated by an old navy man speaking to his soldiers?