Quietly patriotic

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 12 May 2018 11:31:19


By Farina Salim Quraishi,

Truth is stranger than fiction, and can be no less entertaining. When the truth is about the charged Indo-Pak ties, curated with care and presented from the heart, one can be assured that the ensuing product will be a mind-blowing one. Living up to the promise, uncrowned thriller queen Meghna Gulzar, after the fantastic Talvar, is on familiar territory and serves an ace with Raazi. Based on a true story, Calling Sehmat a book by Harinder Sikka, Raazi is an espionage drama with its head and heart firmly in place. Minus the jingoistic clamour of the cross-border stories, Raazi explores patriotism in a different light, leaving a lot of room for reflection.

The year is 1971 and Bangladesh hasn’t been born yet. India and Pakistan are on the brink of war courtesy the audacious uprising in the East. A Kashmiri double agent, Hidayat Khan (Rajit Kapur) is busy making trips to the other side under the garb of his business. While Pakistani Brigadier Syed is convinced that Hidayat is spying on India for Pakistan, the son of a former freedom fighter is, in fact, working for India; risking it all to bring valuable intel back home.

Even as the cross-border tension escalates, Hidayat is diagnosed with a lung tumour. With only months to live, Hidayat passes the ‘spying’ baton to his daughter Sehmat by promising her in marriage to Brigadier Syed’s youngest son, Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal). Brushing aside all opposition, Sehmat decides to live up to the family tradition and goes ahead with the dangerous plan. Under-prepared and woefully naive, Sehmat struggles to find her bearing even as events and emotions threaten to overpower her mind and more importantly her heart! Though Raazi wears its patriotism on its sleeve, it is of the quiet variety. Sans any traces of the chest-thumping drama that has become something of a norm in Indo-Pak movies, watanparasti is quietly loud in Raazi. The understated nationalistic fervour packs a more solid punch than a thousand slogans put together.

Despite ‘Everything Is Fair In Love’ finding mention a couple of times in Raazi, it is humanity which comes first in the tautly-made thriller. It does a great job of showing the toll of war – on both the sides, without being overly patriotic or unjustly vilifying the other side. Saying a lot with its unsaid questions, Raazi with its explosive emotions forces a rethink on repercussions and grey areas of war.

The dead-giveaway in the early sequence notwithstanding, the narrative is packed with intrigue and has enough twists and turns to leave one in a Gordian knot. Also, Raazi doesn’t spoonfeed its audience rather relies on logic to join the dots. At one point in the film, Sehmat calls in a contact for inputs only to get a warning, ‘Mausam kharab hone wala hai...’! The abundant use of fine Urdu dialogues by Gulzar is delightful and adds considerable heft to the film. The intelligently-crafted saga also has a brisk pace which keeps one engaged till the end.

However, Raazi makes the spying business look all too easy. Sehmat is able to send messages across the border, in one of the most high-security houses in the country, without breaking a sweat! Also, if Pakistanis are as gullible and clueless as shown in Raazi, then God help the country! These, however, are minor flaws in the otherwise finely-crafted film, which rides strongly on superb performances.

Raazi belongs to Alia Bhatt and the young actress couldn’t be in finer form. Putting up her restrained best for the role, Alia Bhatt is mesmerising in her transition from a carefree girl to a woman on a mission. Meghna Gulzar’s affinity to cry-a-bucket-sequences comes across clearly in the film and Alia rises to the occasion splendidly. The way the Highway star’s eyes well up with unshed tears, or the uncontrollable quiver of the lip to convey her grief is fantastic. Be it her conviction, conflict or even confusion, Alia shows it all easily on her face. The very talented Vicky Kaushal has a small role. But despite getting the short end of the stick, Kaushal puts forth a nuanced performance in the layered and complex role.

The supporting cast is first-rate too, with each outshining the other. Be it Jaideep Ahlawat as intelligence agent Khalid Mir, Soni Razdan playing Sehmant’s mom, Shishir Sharma as Brigadier Syed or even Rajit Kapoor playing Sehmat’s father, all the actors are value additions and sparkle bright in their well-written roles. With the right balance of head and heart and enough fodder for the mind, Raazi is clearly one of the few stories that linger in your mind even after you leave the theatre. Go watch for its quiet patriotism, if not for a splendid Alia Bhatt.

The Hitavada Rating: O O O 1/2