Underneath the inspiring, moving cinema that it continues to be, director Nitesh Tiwari‘s true-life story in Dangal also streamed an uneasy feeling within that gets buried with the triumphant and manipulative ending that you willingly submit to. And that forgotten feeling is, did papa Phogat’s ends to a gold-laden ambition justify the means of cracking the whip on his hapless daughters? Papa may know best, but how far can he go to force his offsprings to realize his dreams?
Set in the year 1971 as the turmoil between East Pakistan, West Pakistan, and India becomes a vortex of overlapping tensions, director Meghna Gulzar‘s Raazi channelizes those parental-children feelings with a searing realization, as you see a regular collegian, Sehmat Khan (Alia Bhatt) gently manipulated by her father, Hidayat Khan (Rajit Kapur) who’s a spy for the Indian government, to step into his shoes. And the only way is to marry into Hidayat’s supposed pal from across the border in West Pakistan, Brigadier Syed’s (Shishir Sharma) home. Based on a true story book, Calling Sehmat (the protagonist’s name is a cover for security reasons) penned by former Indian Navy officer Harinder Sikka, and written for the screen by the director with Bhavani Iyer, Raazi is part-thriller, part-patriotic tinge, part-relational tensile push-and-pull that brings into relief the inner tumult that agents and soldiers of any country must experience as they scrape their inner grain and go against it.
In that, Alia Bhatt’s performance is truly powerhouse, her journey from a hesitant, doubting, picture of innocence to a steely fifth columnist an onscreen wonder. She underlays her act with an unspoken intelligence that she randomly accesses when her character takes spot-decisions and acts on them. The actor is beautiful when she holds a pistol for the first time, the crack of the shot distorting the child-like naiveté on her face, before she rearranges it back in a jiffy.
But she and the director are at their best when her character struggles with the plans she executes in the Syed household, sometimes literally, and then watches in helplessness all the irreversible destruction she’s causing there – all set to pulsing background dit-dot-dot-dit score by Shankar Ehsaan Loy.
Aiding Bhatt is a stellar support cast. Shishir Sharma as her father in-law is gently dignified, stumped by all that’s happening around him, the unfathomable force that’s threatening all that he’s ever known. Vicky Kaushal is absolutely winsome as Sehmat’s husband, Iqbal Syed. His is an act that’s kind and sensitive, pre-empting every thought that his newly-wed from across the border might have – and even playing for her Bade Ghulam Ali’s renditions, setting aside his jazz records for the evening – but not, unfortunately for him, reading all of them. And then, in a scene where he asks Sehmat if any of it was real, tears flow down his cheeks that break your heart.
There’s also Ashwath Bhatt playing Sehmat’s brother in law, Mehboob Syed, and Amruta Khanvilkar as Munira, his wife – both of whom come up with solid performances. Plus, Arif Zakaria in a marvelous pallid and haunted act as the household help who’s raised Iqbal, and is deeply troubled by the arrival of an Indian girl into the family. Rajit Kapur and Soni Razdan as Sehmat’s parents are very good, too. As is Jaideep Ahlawat as Khalid Mir, Sehmat’s relentless trainer and mentor, who might whack her on the head when she slips, but also lets it slip only occasionally in his eyes that he cares for her.
Even if the purported twist in the climactic thrills is a mile-long predictable as are some of the plot-points more elastic than required, Raazi‘s strength lies in that it doesn’t paint anyone in black or white – you just might reserve your sympathies for the Syed family even as your heart pounds for Sehmat’s safety. And that cinematic turmoil doesn’t come close to what Sehmat undergoes as she, like Eric Bana‘s Avner Kaufman in Munich, begins to slowly disintegrate from within, every act of patriotism and saving the country from disaster pushing her slowly into an avalanche of emotions that no one can train her to face. Being a patriot extracts a heavy price – Sehmat might add up to only becoming an anonymous hero, but deep inside her it’s never a zero-sum game.
Raazi is rated U/A (unrestricted public exhibition subject to parental guidance for children below the age of twelve) There’s violence and mild sensuality.
Director Meghna Gulzar Running Time 2h 18 min
Writers Meghna Gulzar, Bhavani Iyer
Stars Alia Bhatt, Vicky Kaushal, Shishir Sharma, Jaideep Ahlawat
Genres Action, Crime, Thriller
Watch the trailer of Raazi here: