Junglee Pictures & Dharma Productions present “Raazi”

Produced by: Vineet Jain, Hiroo Yash Johar, Karan Johar & Apoorva Mehta

Directed by: Meghna Gulzar

Written by: Harinder Sikka, Bhavani Iyer & Meghna Gulzar

Music: Shanker-Ehsaan-Loy

Starring: Alia Bhatt, Vicky Kaushal, Jaideep Ahlawat, Shishir Sharma, Rajit Kapur, Soni Razdan, Amruta Khanvilkar, Ashwath Bhatt, Arif Zakaria, Pallavi Batra & others Sp. App.: Kanwaljeet Singh & Sanjay Suri

At once, we sense a layered film. For one, there is the real-life story that happened, with all its own layers, like how a 20-something college girl is summoned from her Delhi college by her dying father Hidayat (Rajit Kapur). Hidayat is friends with Pakistani brigadier Syed (Shishir Sharma) and goes to Pakistan ostensibly for business but actually as an Indian intelligence man. The year is 1971, months before the Indo-Pakistan war.

Hidayat is an incredibly patriotic Kashmiri Muslim. He has married a Sikh woman Teji (Soni Razdan), and he is a third generation soldier. He tells his wife and daughter the truth about his illness and also announces that he has fixed Sehmat’s marriage to Syed’s son Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal), but that her job in that household will be to become the eyes and ears of our motherland. Syed, Iqbal and the latter’s elder brother Mehboob (Ashwath Bhatt) are all members of the Pakistani military force for whom also “mulq” (nation) is above all. And intelligence reports suggest something diabolical brewing against India.

The night after his suggestion, Hidayat has second thoughts and explains to Sehmat that he has patriotism inculcated in him and has blindly followed his father’s instructions, as had his father from his grandfather. But he cannot expect her to go on such a completely deviant, life-changing and possibly life-threatening route. But Sehmat explains she is willing – and why.

After her wedding, she is welcomed in Pakistan by her unsuspecting in-laws and quickly sets up her equipment in her room – she has undergone intensive and ruthless training under Khalid Mir (Jaideep Ahlawat) before her wedding. Outside his military role, Iqbal is a soft and cultured man who cares for his wife and never forces himself on her.

The marriage is consummated much later. But from day one, Sehmat gets to work passing on information by the Morse Code and other pre-planned procedures. At a critical point, the loyal family servant Abdul (Arif Zakaria) finds her with incriminating equipment. Ruthlessly remembering her training and instructions, Sehmat eliminates him.

And so the film moves to its relentless conclusion where, thanks to Sehmat, the Indian intelligence comes to know that Pakistan will attack India primarily by the sea-route, with the main initial target being the INS Vikrant – we have seen this taken forward in the 2017 “The Ghazi Attack.” (On a lighter note, we could say that the South film is like a sequel that was released earlier!). In the bloody climax, Sehmat comes home safely, but there is a twist, and questions are raised by her about war and its repercussions on families.

And so come in the layers. Without hitting or hating the enemy, “Raazi” makes a case for unalloyed patriotism to the point of being ruthless to oneself and the enemy. At one later stage, the commander who trained her moves to Pakistan to save Sehmat, but if that is not possible, she has to be eliminated, hence his personal intervention!

Second, the Pakistani soldiers are shown for what they are – fighters for their nation, for whom, like their Indian counterparts, the nation is above self and even personal trauma.

Third, Sehmat falls genuinely in love with her husband and his family members but does not deviate even one percent from her primary mission, at great cost to her psyche.

Fourth and filmic are the twists and tweaks that sound too commercial and a shade incredible: How, for example, does she have so many narrow escapes from certain exposure and how she manages to smuggle in all the equipment she needs, despite the cross-border travel (so what if she is an Indian bride in a military family?). The final escape seems a shade credible, but how did the commanding officer who trained her reach Pakistan so easily?

Above all, how are Syed and his family be the right ones for India to get such a comprehensive view of the plans against us? And how does Hidayat know that a mole in their family can take care of this crucial mission? Overall, a liberal license seems to be taken for mainstream attention either by the book or by Gulzar herself, because even if the basic story has really happened, it could not have done so in such a simplistic way.

Thus, despite the audience-friendly format, the film does have some deficiencies within its execution as a thriller: it moves placidly, too placidly sometimes, and there is no whopper twist or unexpected jolt to the viewer at any point, and nothing that directly inspires a surge of patriotic sentiment in the audience.

The languorous pace especially runs in the first half, in which the story fails to move sufficiently forward. While being realistic, such a narration takes away substantially from the excitement, and so many sequences, we realize, could have had heightened tension to boost the cinematic potential, but do not: At some level, truth must have been stranger and also stronger than fiction!

“Raazi” gets its strength from the dialogues (Gulzar herself) that are kept to-the-point and simple, and from the superb crafting of the meticulous characters. There is no playing to the gallery here and no projection of overt patriotism by any major and minor character. The Syed family is efficiency and integrity personified as a “military machine,” so to speak, but they are normal and affectionate human beings with each other.

In fact, Khalid as the Indian commander comes across relatively as a larger-than-life character – cold as marble outside, and so ruthless that we can shudder for the enemy because such a devilish thinker is on our side!

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music goes well with the film, and a special pat on the back is in order for the instantly-catchy riff of “Ae Watan.” Nevertheless, it must be said that there is no lasting quality in the songs. The background music (withTubby joining the trio) is routine but pleasant. Technically sound, the film works especially well in some powerhouse sequences, like the Abdul elimination episode, the sequence where Iqbal comes to know the truth, the dining room sequence lambasting India because of which Iqbal is extremely apologetic later to Sehmat, and the brief interaction between Sehmat and her widowed sister-in-law Munira (Amruta Khanvilkar).

Alia Bhatt’s performance can be best described as “implosive” – its impact is realized the moment we forget that we are watching a young, very talented star who is taking on meat beyond her age and experience. Getting well into Sehmat’s character and psyche, she is wonderful in the key emotional sequences, and would have scored better in the post-climax had she not been told to go the routine way of expression in contemporary times – screaming and howling her guts out.

After her, the honors go to the implacable Jaideep Ahlawat as Khalid – this is one actor improving BY THE FILM. His expressions are fantastic – here is another internal explosion of strong sentiments.

Full marks are also due to the subdued performance of Vicky Kaushal as Iqbal, Shishir Sharma as his father, and Ashwath Bhatt as his brother. In a brief role, Arif Zakaria as Abdul scores quite big. The rest of the actors do what is needed – very well.

If you like well-crafted but relaxed thrillers, this film is your cup of tea. But even otherwise, to get acquainted with a true-blue hero (Hidayat) and his incredible daughter Sehmat, this film is a must-watch, especially when we consider that the leadership of our neighboring nation is as intransigent and wicked as ever. And very interestingly, the film has no Hindu character among the principal players. But as long as we have the Hidayat bloodline, it does not really matter.

Rating: **** (Almost)

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