It is said that war is hell, no two ways about that. But while reams of paper are devoted to immortalizing the slain and surviving heroes of battles we know of, there are so many more anonymous individuals who served their country by just doing their duty when called upon, and went above and beyond the call, only to move back into the shadows when they were done.
Meghna Gulzar, who is a filmmaker with a penchant for character driven dramas, adapts Harinder Sikka’s book “Calling Sehmat”, a tale about a young spy behind enemy lines during war. But the question remains, does the acclaimed director stick to her usual subtle manner of storytelling, or does she too succumb to the temptation of cheap jingoism?
The year is 1971, Sheikh Mujib is raising hell in East Pakistan, and it seems that the Indian government is all set to take advantage of the situation to embarrass their neighbours to the west. Hidayat Khan (Rajit Kapur), an Indian spy from the Kashmiri side has been convincing the Pakistanis for years that he’s their man, realizes that his days are numbered after being diagnosed with a deadly disease.
To continue his legacy, he beseeches his young daughter Sehmat (Alia Bhatt), a student at Delhi University to step up and take his place as a civilian asset for the Intelligence Bureau. Even as Sehmat is married to a Pakistani Army Major Iqbal Syed (Vicky Kaushal), the son of a family friend, the powers that be across the border set events in motion to deviate the Indian forces from the Eastern borders. But is young Sehmat up to the task as her handler Khalid Mir (Jaideep Ahlawat) fears?
The first thing about Raazi that one notices is that how even the biggest revelations in the plot are handled in such a low key nature, almost like it’s giving the viewer some breathing space to sit and process what just happened, rather than assault his senses with a cacophonous background score. Meghna Gulzar sets out to narrate the story of a spy, but instead introduces us to a young girl, caught in circumstances way way way bigger than what she’s supposed to be dealing with at her age.
The writing by Meghna Gulzar and Bhavani Iyer really helps to not only elevate the level of storytelling, but is also immersive, and takes us into the claustrophobic environs of a spy, living under the fear that one wrong word, one false move, could be her last. And all this is done so organically, with such finesse, where, except for a scene in the 2nd half, the movie doesn’t strike even one false note. Add to that the extremely balanced tone the movie takes in depicting its characters, and you realize this isn’t your normal jingoistic entertainer.
Alia Bhatt is just going from strength to strength, and her performance as Sehmat can make one run short of superlatives. It is just astounding, how she manages to grasp the intricacies of a complex character, and make it her own so effortlessly. Except for a scene in the second half, she is almost pitch perfect, and one can only wonder how she’s going to better this. Vicky Kaushal is charming enough, but in front of Alia’s on screen charisma, his performance does pale a bit.
The supporting cast puts in impeccable performances, Rajit Kapur being the pick of the lot, as the man caught in a conflict between his filial duty and patriotism, Shishir Sharma as the tough Pakistani military man, Arif Zakaria as the Syed family’s loyal retainer, and of course Jaideep Ahlawat as the no-nonsense spymaster who tries not to let his concern for his young ward come in the way of his duty for the country.
To sum it up then, Raazi is a thrilling tale, about a girl who first becomes a spy, and then deals with the consequences of it, told unflinchingly without resorting to any gimmickry, just good old-fashioned storytelling.