Raazi movie director: Meghna Gulzar
Raazi movie cast: Alia Bhatt, Vicky Kaushal, Jaideep Ahlawat, Soni Razdan, Rajit Kapur, Arif Zakaria, Ashwath Bhatt
Raazi movie rating: 3.5 stars
Bring in Karan Johar, an India-Pakistan war, a Kashmiri family, and a novel springing from the pen of a retired defence officer, and you can almost hear the drumroll. That Raazi never becomes a chest-thumping spectacle of jingoism, despite all that is tempting in the preceding sentence, is presumably the work of the refiner sensibilities of writer-director Meghna Gulzar, with father Gulzar around as lyricist.
Raazi is an adaptation of Lt Commander (retd) Harinder S Sikka’s novel Calling Sehmat, on a Kashmiri girl of mixed Sikh-Muslim parentage who gets married into a high-ranking Pakistani military family, so as to spy for India. It was promoted as an ‘unknown true story’ of the 1971 war, and was given a willing platform by the Indian Navy — some said, for highlighting the Navy, that poorer cousin of the defence forces, in a pivotal role.
Raazi hangs on to that ‘true story’ claim, adding ‘incredible’ to it. That means it has almost all ground covered, apart from the fact that you should know by now that ‘a true story’ doesn’t have to be ‘the true story’.
But never mind, for Raazi is as true as mainstream Bollywood can get in dealing with two countries now joined only by rancour and wars. For at the heart of it are two normal families, separated by a border not yet as delineated by hate, and joined in their individual love for own motherland. When they look at the ‘other’, they don’t see an enemy, but people similar to them acting out of that same patriotic instinct.
There is a lot of reference to “watan”, “mulk” etc, and how “it is above everything else”, but we are spared speeches about one country being better than the other. Sehmat, played by Alia, is welcomed with open arms by the large, elite Pakistani family she gets married into. And only some of it has to do with the fact that her father was friends with her father-in-law in college, before Partition. Rajit Kapur as Sehmat’s father Hidayat is inconsequential; the mother played by real-life mom Soni Razdan remains in grief about this arrangement regarding her daughter, but almost completely silent.
No one brings up Sehmat being an Indian in Islamabad, at home among family, or in parties among guests. Her husband Iqbal, played by a very, very understated Kaushal, in fact, apologises when his father bursts out against India once, in the build-up to the 1971 war.
Meghna paces the film well, fleshing out the characters who make up the Sayed family, into which Sehmat is married, and then gradually turning up the tension as the bride’s cover wears thin. While the ease with which Sehmat sends messages across the border, duping so many people at so many levels, in one of the most high-security houses in the country, is a little dubious, the film is at least professional and thorough about it. It covers most details economically, and doesn’t spare Sehmat the dirt.
Where Raazi fails is in rousing any kind of emotions about its many likeable actors, who are all reasonably good, especially Ahlawat as Sehmat’s trainer and handler. The sense of what is at stake is lost in the minutiae of Sehmat’s operations, and the little details of her life in a family she is about to destroy are lost in staging the bigger plan. In fact, the nice moments in the film as strangers Sehmat and Iqbal inch towards each other make us wonder if therein lay a better story. Besides, Alia strains to convey the range expected of her, and there is just one too many scenes of her wailing loudly at every emotional crisis.
However, at a time when hate and anger are the currency of the subcontinent, a film like Raazi needs to be made. For peeping into the Valley and finding a true-blue patriot, for looking across the border and finding decency, and for giving Kashmiri embroidery as worn by Alia an authentic, modern, featherlight touch. Like a delicious Indian irony, expect the clothes to linger around longer.