The appreciation that Meghna Gulzar’s Alia Bhatt starrer Raazi has earned, shows that the director has further sharpened her skills after the excellent Talvar, and the young actress proved that she can hold a film on her own.
If Lt. Commander Harinder S. Sikka’s novel Calling Sehmat was not supposed to be based on a true story, it would have been unbelievable. Never mind how patriotic he may have been, which Indian father would send his young daughter across the border to spy for India?
In Meghna Gulzar’s elegantly mounted and skillfully paced, Raazi, a Kashmiri girl, Sehmat (Alia Bhatt) is thrown into a tough situation. On her dying father’s (Rajit Kapur’s) request, she agrees to marry Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal), the soldier son of a Pakistani brigadier, Parvez Syed (Shishir Sharma—a brilliant perfomance). The time is 1971, and war clouds are hovering, so she would be in the lion’s den, so to say, and privy to classified information. But there is danger, both of being caught, and of the resolve weakening because her husband and in-laws are so kind.
Before the wedding, she is trained in espionage, self-defence and, if it comes to it, murder. Her stone-faced handler, Khalid Mir (Jaideep Ahlawat--outstanding) asks the gentle, naive girl why she agreed to do it, and she gives him a small sermon on patriotism. The girl who ran in front of a car to save a squirrel and felt dizzy at the sight of blood, fearlessly risks her life for her country.
It does stretch credulity a bit, when Sehmat easily sets up a transmitter in a bathroom and finds ways of meeting others in the network, with none except the loyal retainer Mehmood (Arif Zakaria) suspecting her. She steps beyond the line of duty several times, taking undue risks, but what she uncovers—Pakistan’s plans to attack India via the sea—tilts the outcome of the Indo-Pak War for the liberation of Bangladesh, into India’s favour.
In spite of the film’s premise being jingoistic, Meghna Gulzar portrays the patriotism of both sides; if Sehmat and her network put their lives in danger, so does the other side; she does not demonise the Pakistanis, on the contrary, she portrays them as affectionate and trusting. Iqbal actually apologises to her when dinner-table conversation is anti-India.
One knows how the story will end, but there are several moments of tension that make the viewers hold their breaths. And Alia Bhatt, steely, vulnerable, brave but humane keeps the eyes glued to her face with her quicksilver changes of expression and demeanour.
Raazi is a the story of one brave woman, but also brief history of time in terms of altered Indo-Pak relations and the position of Kashmir then and now.
And, for Bollywood cinema, a step forward in terms of putting the heroine at the centre in a film that pleases most-- if not all sections--of the audience.