Let’s be frank, the only female spy most of us have ever heard about is Mata Hari. That’s an oft-repeated name, and a simple Google search will tell you all about her. Also, whenever you talk to any person remotely connected to any kind of authority, they will give you a wistful look and say, “There are so many heroes and heroines who have never been revealed.”
So, Meghna Gulzar tries to bring about a change with her film, “Raazi”. The film is backed by the who’s who of Bollywood. Dharma Productions and Junglee Films produced this venture. Alia Bhatt plays the titular character. But does it do what a film is supposed to do, entertain? That’s something for the audiences to decide. Before that, here’s my review.
Alia Bhatt plays Sehmat, the young daughter of an Indian, Muslim businessman, Hidayat Khan, who doubles up as an Indian spy in Pakistan. That’s possible because Hidayat is close friends with an army official, Brigadier Syed. Hidayat senses something big is going on and gives the greatest sacrifice – he decides to marry off his young daughter to the Brigadier’s son – who is also an army officer. Readers of spy novels will describe Sehmat’s role in the espionage game as someone who’s just supposed to gather intel. Observe and report. But of course, because this is a film, things are meant to change.
“Raazi” is gripping, there’s no doubt about it. The uniqueness of telling the real-life account of a female Indian spy definitely works. Add to that an explosive performance by Alia Bhatt. You have to give it to this girl. Nobody would have faulted her if she donned the same red dress and red lipstick and turned up on the sets of “Student of the Year 14”. But she’s taken her career in her own hands and is doing films that are as unique as they are entertaining.
Bhatt portrays her character well – an unassuming, polite and dutiful girl who’s suddenly thrust into the dark, dirty world of politics and espionage. She bites into the meaty role with the confidence of a veteran. She portrays it all, the spunk of a collegian – the sensuousness of a newly-wed bride and of course, the gritty intensity of a spy. The definitive scene, in which she turns into a spy from a newly-married girl is intense and evokes emotion.
The next best performance – underrated, maybe – is that of Jaideep Ahlawat. Jaideep had wowed me with his performance in the original “Commando”. There, he was over the top and here he is the epitome of a spy handler – invisible in plain sight, unassuming and take drastic steps when needed. Vicky Kaushal doesn’t have much to do, but whatever he does, he does it like a professional.
But even with all this, “Raazi” has chinks in its armour. The biggest culprit here is the screenplay, and because Sehmat forms the biggest part of the screenplay, it’s her character that suffers. Her introductory scene has her walking barefoot on her college grounds, getting hurt while trying to save a squirrel. In a span of 40 minutes, she commits a murder. There’s actually a scene where she says that she faints at the sight of blood and an injection. In around an hour, she knowingly assassinates a man by injecting him with poison. You don’t turn into that after someone throws a salt-shaker at you a couple of times – as that is what happens in “Raazi”.
The problem here could be that the screenplay writer was just too impatient to bring the killer Alia into the picture. Otherwise, how plausible is it for an intelligence force to deploy a young woman as a spy in another country – that too in an army officer’s house. Even the newest political thriller fan will agree that “Raazi” is against the very template of a ‘new spy’ story. Our Sehmat is ‘born with it’, and then the powers-to-be don’t even send her on a practice mission on ‘apni zameen‘. Because it would be safer to send her into a desert without a Bisleri bottle, isn’t it?
So, as a film buff, I have to wonder how much, if any, footage was left at the editing table. After all, even the title song is used only once. When was the last time someone used an Arijit Singh song only once in the entire film?
Barring a questionable screenplay, “Raazi” is good viewing for this weekend – and anytime the audience decides to.