There were two things that I loved the most about the latest Bollywood movie Raazi which I watched yesterday.
First was the fact that even though the movie is Produced by Karan Johar’s Dharma Production house, it isn’t directed by him. So I was spared from the Razmataz & the orgy-like representation of life that we generally see in the movies directed by him (remember Student of the Year!!)
Moreover, Karan Johar is doing much better a job at pushing forward the new-age directors. And these directors are not shy from breaking away from the conventional mold of movie-making. The movies like Lunchbox, Kapoor & Sons, Dear Zindagi proves that creative license can be given. And a mainstream production house can execute money-making projects without clinging on the conventional movie-making formulas.
The second thing that piqued my interest came right at the end of the movie when the credit started rolling. There I came to know that the movie is based on a book called ‘Calling Sehmat,’ written by Harinder Sikka. The fact that a mainstream production house has taken an offbeat novel as a plot is a sign that we are not shy anymore from adopting the partnership-formula that has worked so well for Hollywood. Adopted screenplays from books.
And the book has an exciting plot.
A daughter of an Indian Spy sacrifices her whole life by agreeing to marry a Pakistani army man and settle right in the heart of the enemy cap where Stratagem where the tactics of beating India in the Indo-Pak war of Seventy one were being laid out.
The story touches upon the themes of love and sacrifice and the struggles of the life of a spy in a charged atmosphere of an enemy nation. In such scenarios, a single mistake can result in losing the life, and worse, the defeat of your nation.
“Nobody is important than the nation,” says Khalid Mir who is a mentor and reporting officer of Sehmat (played by Alia Bhatt.) She confronts him for so easily deciding to sacrifice her life by dropping a bomb on her even though she had sacrificed everything for the nation.
Sehmat is not a spy by profession. In fact, she is an ordinary girl who is studying in college. But everything changes when she is ad-hoc called at home where her father reveals that he has a tumor in his lungs and won’t live for long. Moreover, he needs her to become eyes and ears of the nation by entering the house of the Pakistani Brigadier. He holds the cards for the actions in Eastern Pakistan – an area falling into disarray very fast.
But that’s all as far as the best part of the movie is concerned.
Even though the tension in Sehmat in-laws house is very well brought out it was not leveraged to create heart-stopping moments that we remember from Spy Movies like Argo. Near misses don’t make us skip a heartbeat, which always ends up in Alia standing with her head back and sighing heavily after escaping a situation.
In spy movies as the plot is more or less already defined. What really takes the story at the new level is the characters and the set-pieces (scenes) around them. It is these that amplify the tension in the already charged atmosphere.
In this case, this responsibility fell on the shoulders of the actors playing the role of various family members of Sehmat’s in-laws who are sheltering a spy from the enemy nation. Particularly Sehmat’s brother-in-law and Abdul – the faithful servant of the house. Both of them ended up sniffing on Sehmat spying action to varying degree.
But both of them are sacrificed very easily. In a very lame fashion without putting up a good fight and giving Sehmat a challenge that would have really took the movie to the next level. (I haven’t read the novel but a bit of fleshing out the stand-off scenes would have made the arc more interesting.)
Abdul’s character held the most potential as the biggest obstacle against Sehmat’s plan. He doubted her from the very beginning, and the fact that he is also from India (just like Sehmat) promised layers to his character. And this prepared the ground for a great cat and mouse game that could have a delighted audience.
But the promised standoff never came.
And the very first confrontation they had (which was very predictable) resulted is executed and ended at once. Resulting in the death of Abdul.
In short, the movie that promised so much, fell short of what it could have delivered. After watching Udta Punjab I look forward to Alia Bhatt’s movies. But the character didn’t ask much from her, so she ended up delivering an average performance. Definitely a one-time watch – especially for uninitiated in Spy movies.
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Read review of Rangoon – A brilliantly scripted spy movie featuring Shahid Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut.
Also published on Medium.