RAW Review

Actors Jackie Shroff (left) and John Abraham in a still from “RAW (Romeo, Akbar Walter).” Abraham, who plays the lead in this spy thriller, is sincere but is handicapped by his poorly-etched character. The film, sadly, does not fit the bill. (photo provided)

KYTA Productions, VA Film Company, Red Ice Productions & Viacom 18 Motion Pictures present “RAW (Romeo, Akbar Walter)”

Produced by: Dheeraj Wadhawan, Ajay Kapoor, Vanessa Walia & Gary Grewal

Directed by: Robbie Grewal

Written by: Robbie Grewal, Ishraq Eba & Shreyansh Pandey

Music: Ankit Tiwari, Sohail Sen, Shabbir Ahmed & Raaj Aashoo

Starring: John Abraham, Jackie Shroff, Mouni Roy, Sikander Kher, Alka Amin, Purnendu Bhattacharya, Anil George, Raghubir Yadav, Rajesh Shringarpure, Shadaab Amjad Khan, Suchitra Krishnamoorthy & others

Rahimatullah Ali aka Romeo (John Abraham) is the son of a late martyr who was a distinguished Indian solider in the 1962 war. He works in a bank because his mother (Alka Amin) would not like him to join the army after she has lost her husband. But RAW director Shrikant Rao (Jackie Shroff) singles him out, tries out his skills during a staged bank robbery and enlists him into RAW as an anonymous agent. The mother has to be told that his bank is giving him a promotion and an assignment abroad. This angle is treated very unconvincingly and amateurishly, for any bank would allow sons to contact their mothers at least once a week or so! The year is 1971.

Once in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, things are staged so that Akbar Malik, which is Romeo’s new identity, gets very close to influential arms dealer Isaq Afridi (Anil George) and lands in Karachi as his lieutenant. While Pakistan will soon be at war with India, they are also trying to suppress the rebellion in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), whom India is supporting. Akbar Malik becomes Number 2 in Afridi’s team and his opponents are very unhappy. The idea is to get arms supplied to bomb Badlipur in East Pakistan, the epicenter of the revolt.

Of course, Akbar’s actual job is to get intelligence to know what Pakistan is planning. His cohort here is Mudassar (Raghubir Yadav). And Romeo’s girlfriend and office colleague Parul (Mouni Roy) is there too as a diplomat. Smelling a rat is inspector Khan (Sikander Kher), who suspects Akbar.

A spy thriller needs many things, but before anything else, it needs pace and, at the same time, an emotional connect. Neither of these qualities is there in sufficient measure in this often confused narration that is also dull, slow and too long. There is a forced attempt at emotions (in the mother-son track or the Akbar-Mudassar angle), and a documentary-like treatment of the climax that should have been a mix of the hard-hitting and the moving, and explained more as well.

Many things are too simplistic, like how easily and completely Mudassar hides the transmitter when the cops search Akbar’s house or the way several Pakistanis, including Mudassar, are on the Indian side. There is a ‘joker’ whose surprise identity is revealed only in the end, and this revelation is far from gratifying. While there are (very few) tension-filled moments like the cops’ search and a nice twist at intermission point, the film refuses to make up its mind on whether to follow the dark, bloodied school or that clean and yet commercially gripping style of slick, spy dramas like “Dus,” “Raazi,” “16 December” and the lot.

Above all, the identity of Walter and the explanation of the cryptic statement by Rai about the tea during Romeo’s training comes too late, when the audience is bored of the overlong narrative, the needless and poor songs (the last spy drama with great music was “D-Day”), the formulaic chases and so on. Also, it is not clear at all why and how Rai zeroed in on a bank employee just because he is an army man’s son.

Technically, the film is average, but Grewal slips both as co-writer and director. His last film, “Samay” (2004) also suffered from an interesting idea ineptly executed, and this one’s no different. The background music (Hanif Shaikh) is routine.

John Abraham is sincere but is handicapped by his poorly-etched character. Mouni Roy and Alka Amin, as his girlfriend and mother, respectively, have nothing to do. Yadav is alright, and so is Anil George as Afridi. Two actors who act competently but are wasted after a long gap are Suchitra Krishnamoorthy as Rehana Kazmi, an Indian journalist, and Shaadab Amjad Khan as Afridi’s son. Sikandar Kher is just okay, his performance clichéd and on the borderline of hamming. The others just fit the bill.

The film, sadly, does not.

Rating: **1/2

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