That Raazi is one of the better films of the year so far is possibly of much lesser importance than the fact that it is a very important film for the times we live in.
– Important because it tells us how important it is to keep Nation first and everything after that, even yourself, as the protagonist declares right in the beginning (of what she has been always taught) or her husband revalidates later
– But more important because it tells you that Patriotism is above any colors of nations and is equally dear to the common (wo)man beyond national borders irrespective of where (s)he comes from or lives
– More important because it tells a grounded and deeply sensitive human story at the most troubled times of war, where empathy and compassion are not forgotten emotions, and the unseen wounds and unhealing trauma is the price you pay for a lifetime long after the physical war is over
And all of this comes to life through a sensitive humane portrayal of a compassionate story by Meghna Gulzar executed with precision. I have no idea how much has she deviated from the source material of the film ‘Calling Sehmat‘ (and would like to find out), but what she creates on screen is a compelling drama without going overboard for most of the times, and keeping the context very real. Aided with a good layered screenplay and a very believable ensemble, she is able to establish personal connect with the audience through her characters, none of whom are all right or all wrong. They are just doing what their priorities are asking them to do, and yet are getting compromised and breaking down at every point because of the collateral damages that intense war brings upon them externally and internally. So much so that you can never take sides of who is right or wrong in this murky game, and hence feel equally for every target eliminated, every brutality inflicted and every manipulation induced to reach the broader objectives of national needs.
In this world of Meghna, you feel goosebumps with Sehmat as much for your ‘watan‘ as the little kids from across the border feel for theirs, in this world you get equally pained by the vulnerability and trauma of Sehmat Khan, and the heartbreak of Iqbal Syed being betrayed. In this world you get as much angered by the ruthlessness and lack of emotions of an Indian intelligence officer and a manipulative father on this side, as by the shrewdness of a Pakistani loyalist or a suspecting brother on that side. It is a nation that triumphs, it is humanity that pays the price.
And yet, the film remains short of becoming a classic because it is not uniform in its refined texture and tone. You can see some gaping holes in the plot and get distracted by some shrill tonalities popping up here and there. You feel them because you are watching a underplayed Meghna Gulzar human drama and not an over the top Neeraj Pandey spy thriller where this noise would have anyway gotten muted in its own overwhelming influence. You end up questioning the cinematic improbabilities of Sehmat remaining undercover for so long without anyone finding out anything in the same house, you wonder how it was so easy for her to be assisted back without any military operations to nail her down, you want to know how come Iqbal Syed lets her go out of the house in the first place even when the secrets have been exposed. And you want to ask Meghna if she has overused the power of breakdown moments from a certain Alia Bhatt far too much that it doesn’t come out as impactful at every instance as it should.
And that is why it is Alia Bhatt who is the biggest strength of the film and also its biggest weakness. Alia is tremendous in scenes which is all actions, expressions, eye movements, and no words, which is a big part of the script. Her face is a canvas that can capture every emotion crystal clear. She is also extremely good in a couple of scenes where she is stone faced during her training (especially shooting practice) or her spy stint, or a couple of vulnerable breakdown scenes, especially the one during the end or just before the interval. But you can also feel that amidst all the underplayed and nuanced performances, it is only her who crosses the line of trying too much in quite a few occasions. Her emotions are not always as organic as they need to be, her vulnerability at times appears forced and she sheds tears too often to move you every time with it. Sehmat is not an easy role at all, and though I doubt if anyone else could have played it better, but the fatigue of Alia playing such heavy roles time and again is clearly showing up. I really want her to try out something light and fun in the future to break this monotony. She surely will excel in that too.
In other roles, Vicky Kaushal as Iqbal Syed is so gently understated and nuanced that you want to go and give him a tight hug. Jaideep Alhawat is brilliant as the cut throat duty officer and is brilliantly contrasted to Sehmat’s softness in many places. Shishir Sharma as the father from the other side is frankly more impressive than Rajit Kapoor on this side whose act comes out as forced. The others are all apt and don’t throw surprises. Good work done by casting director Jogi again after October to put together a strong ensemble cast.
Technically, the film excels mostly. The cinematography stands out, Shankar Ehsaan Loy possibly give the best music of the year so far, and the production design is on point to beautifully recreate a period half a century ago. The editing however comes across a bit jarred. Some scenes are abruptly cut out and yet at 140 minutes, the film does appear a bit stretched at times, although it does maintain its gripping pace throughout.
Some of these minor issues aside, Raazi is still a fine film on the whole and certainly one of the best of its genre that we have seen in an Indian film. But then its the genre of Raazi which cannot be bracketed as a spy story. Rather its a story of uncompromising patriotism, uncomfortable truths, unconscious emotions, unimaginable trauma, unquestionable humanity and undeniable love! Love that blooms in the darkest of times, love that keeps us going, love that kills us from within, and love that puts nation above everything else, including you!
Aye watan, watan mere, abaad rahe tu…
Main jahaan rahoon, jahaan me yaad rahe tu….