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Fine performances by Jaideep Ahlawat and Vicky Kaushal, with Alia Bhatt having her moments, still cannot overcome Meghna Gulzar’s tepid telling of the story of a young Kashmiri girl, Sehmat (Bhatt), married into an elite military family in Pakistan and spying for India as the two countries head towards the war of 1971 that led to the liberalization of Bangladesh.
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Raazi leaves you with a sense of disappointment as the story, based on the book Calling Sehmat by Harinder S Sikka, had much potential to being a searing, edge-of-the-seat spy thriller. And while Meghna Gulzar stays clear of obvious jingoism and looks for the smaller humane details in Sehmat’s tale, the film appears much too incredulous to be true, even if truth is said to be stranger than fiction.
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Things get off to a klutzy start from the beginning itself as Naval officer Kanwaljeet Singh gives a speech that forcibly leads us into Delhi University girl Sehmat’s story. She is recruited by her father (Rajit Kapur), suffering from a terminal tumor in his lungs, to take over from him as India’s eyes and ears in Pakistan even as the two countries seem to be heading for an inevitable confrontation in 1971. Her marriage is fixed to a Pakistani military officer’s son, Iqbal (Kaushal), also in the Pakistani Army, and she is to keep sending information to her pragmatic trainer-mentor Mir (Ahlawat) as to what Pakistan is planning in order to cripple India and hold on to East Pakistan.
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The training sequences of Sehmat are some of the weaker sections of the film, which finally settles down once Sehmat marries Iqbal and moves to her marital home across the border. Gulzar is more in control of the proceedings here as on the one hand, Sehmat settles into a life of matrimony with the kindly Iqbal, while doing her national duty on the other. She has you empathizing with Sehmat and does create some moments of genuine suspense as Sehmat’s cat-and-mouse game begins in Pakistan. The film works best when we see Sehmat shift between fitting in with her new family as the ideal wife and daughter-in-law while passing on crucial information to Mir. Her relationship with her genuinely warm and caring new family and her graph with Iqbal leading to them getting close to each other and finally consummating their marriage provides the film with some of its best moments. The film nicely highlights how people both sides of the border are essentially the same and each shares a love for his or her motherland that is but natural. As Iqbal says later when Sehmat’s true identity has been discovered, she did what she had to for her country just as they do what they have to for theirs. In that sense, the film does not belittle one country at the cost of the other and Gulzar deserves some credit for that.
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However, the film, even if based on a real story, has you constantly doubting the plausibility of events. Ever so conveniently, the major military meetings seem to always take place at her marital home or that of another Major General rather then Army Headquarters. Sehmat’s wiring is obvious in the house but, of course, not spotted and in spite of the large number of staff in the house, she moves about without any obstacle – barring a suspicious old, faithful servant. Also, for her father-in-law being a Major General in the thick of events leading to the ’71 war, there is absolutely no security as would befit a top Military Officer outside his house as the faithful servant, on discovering Sehmat’s true mission, happily runs out to tell on her only to get run over by her – a rather clumsily executed sequence. And considering that two countries are going to war, the political class seems totally absent even as strategies are being planned out along with the Intelligence and the Defence forces of India and Pakistan. Since the bulk of the film depends on these scenes, it affects the scratchy narrative flow of the film as well.
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The best performances in the film come from Jaideep Ahlawat and Vicky Kausal, the latter giving his character a believable vulnerability. Alia Bhatt scores intermittently but overall the complexity and layering of the role seem to pass her by. Especially the portions of her dealing with her conflicting feelings between her two duties and after she has to resort to murder, not once but twice, to save herself. While it is good to see Bhatt’s real life mother, Soni Razdan, returning to the screen after a while, she is defeated by having to perpetually look tragic in a thankless role. Still, it has to be said that she does bring some dignity to her suffering mother role.
The technicalities are strictly average, its 140 minutes running length painfully telling on the film. And while one has to admit that Meghna Gulzar has managed a credibly human take on a tale that could have been bombastic, Raazi still leaves you yearning for more; in fact, much more.
Hindi, Urdu, Thriller, Drama