‘Raazi’ review: Love in the time of nationalism

A scene from 'Raazi'   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The only reason for a Delhi University student to don the cloak of an intelligence agency spy, slip a gun in her salwar and get married into a high-profile Pakistani family is the love for her nation, India, argues Meghna Gulzar’s film, Raazi. There are umpteen utterances of ‘watan’, ‘mulk’ and ‘Hindustan’ by Sehmat (Alia Bhatt) to supplement that belief.

And dialogues like, “Watan ke aage kuch bhi nahi, khud bhi nahi  (You can’t place anything before your nation, not even yourself)”. While that is the core philosophy of this film, it thankfully ventures beyond to depict the repercussions of foolishly holding onto any belief, especially in the early '70s when nationalistic fervour was aflutter. The film works its way towards a grey area to expose the darkness of war without being too didactic, overly patriotic or unjustly vilifying the other, which is utterly relieving considering the film’s trailer hinted otherwise.

But all the efforts are washed away with a final message in the end, which can only be seen as an antithesis of the point the film has been trying to make all along (Of course, revealing the message would be a spoiler). A film that lets audiences make inferences could have easily done without a written conclusion.

  • Director: Meghna Gulzar
  • Cast: Alia Bhatt, Vicky Kaushal, Rajit Kapur, Shishir Sharma, Jaideep Ahlawat, Ashwath Bhatt, Amruta Khanvilkar, Soni Razdan.
  • Storyline: An Indian spy is married off to a Pakistani military officer to find information on the 1971 Indo-Pak. war

Sehmat is introduced to us as a girl who saves a squirrel from being crushed under a car. So you know that she is sensitive, caring and emotional. The film uses such symbolism to build her character and depict her changing thought-process.

Based on Harinder Sikka’s novel Calling Sehmat, which is inspired by true events, the film doesn’t delve too deep into the technicalities of the 1971 India-Pakistan war but instead focuses on the emotions and evolution of Sehmat. Gulzar uses Bhatt’s prowess of breaking down on demand rather generously to illustrate her inner conflict. Unlike in a book, where the writer can use monologues, Gulzar makes Bhatt weep, gasp and take deep breaths to reveal how uncomfortable and unequipped she is for the task.

It’s certainly not easy for an ordinary girl to crack an espionage scoop while destroying her supportive husband’s home. The filmmaker understands those emotions and channelises them well, but all within the ambit of the expected.

Despite some well-crafted moments of suspense, one wouldn’t count Raazi as an out-and-out thriller, but more of a drama. It’s perhaps what works in the favour of the film: it insists on avoiding the clichés of a patriotic spy film and spares us dramatic speeches on nationalism.

The film also refuses to depict Pakistan as an incorrigible monster and even dares to somewhat antagonise the Indian intelligence agency for its cold-hearted approach to war. Although the film dodders with sending a clear anti-war message, it compensates with a fast-paced narrative which keeps you engaged.

The use of unadulterated Hindi and Urdu dialogues, and lyrics by the filmmaker’s father, Gulzar, is delightful. The recreation of the early ’70s is tastefully done and smartly packed in tight shots as to avoid the use of opulent sets. There’s a lot going for Raazi yet there’s a nagging lack of novelty — whether it is the film’s plot, message or Bhatt’s ability to cry.

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Printable version | Sep 14, 2021 5:04:29 PM |

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