Direction: Meghna Gulzar Produced by: Vineet Jain, Karan Johar, Apoorva Mehta Cast: Alia Bhatt, Vicky Kaushal, Jaideep Ahlawat, Rajit Kapur, Shishir Sharma, Arif Zakaria, Amruta Khanvilkar, Ashwatt Bhatt Cinematography: Jai I. Patel;
Editing: Nitin Baid Music: Shankar Ehsaan Loy Language: Hindi / Action, Crime, Thriller / 140 mins / India / 2018
And the diminutive, petite Alia Bhatt stands the tallest amongst all the others in Raazi – a film that revolves around her and appears as though it was woven only to showcase her prowess as a brilliant actor. Make no mistake: Raazi may be an adaptation of Calling Sehmat by Harinder Sikka and a true story of an unsung Indian spy - trained impromptu, just ahead of the Indo-Pak war of 1971 but the film is constructed to serve as a vehicle for Bhatt. Perhaps that is incorrect. More appropriately said, she owns it from the minute she walks into the frame and every other artist, no matter how commanding, bows to this five-foot nothing powerhouse of acting.
Any film is essentially an amalgamation of images – there is more of course that contributes to it becoming cinema. Think sound, dialogue, action, editing, music and so much more. But first - it’s the images that crave your attention. And in Raazi’s case that is what you walk away with. Images. Visuals of a 20-something college kid who is sold the idea of a ‘nation being more important than the self’ and she buys it. Lock, stock and barrel. Vulnerable to the core; unsure of her next step; careful but alert; cautious but hungry to bite more than she can chew; lonely but strong; a spy who cries wholeheartedly; does things she never imagined; fights guilt but never loses focus; someone who believes in the cause and her tutors and bears a steely resolve to do what is right… She moves from strength to strength, from scene to scene and move to move till the end. Flawlessly. And there is more.
So much more… like when she sets up little bugs all over the house; when she realizes that sweet-talking to the oldest servant of the house is not the wisest move forward; when she signs up to tutor some kids for a school function but really she wants to enter their homes; when she thinks of some ideas to hoodwink her family to reach out to her handlers back home; when despite herself she falls in love… and you catch yourself on the edge of your seat hoping she wouldn’t get caught!
There are others like Jaideep Ahlawat (as Khalid Mir); Vicky Kaushal (as Iqbal her husband); Shishir Sharma (as Brigadier Syed and her father-in-law), Rajit Kapur (as Hidyayat Khan, her father) and a whole string of espionage players who surround Bhatt as she works her way through the plot, sending out one morse code after another. But at no point does Bhatt allow you to forget that Sehmat is but this young, beautiful woman on the cusp of womanhood who is growing up faster than is needed. Ahlawat deserves a special mention. He is the secret sauce that enhances the flavour in the film.
That is what brings poignancy to the story of Sehmat. You want her to win but without losing her innocence. You believe in her idea of serving the nation but not at the cost of being found out; you want to reach out and protect her but egg her on silently. And that is the director’s credit.
Yes, Meghna Gulzar has come unto her own as a complete filmmaker with Raazi. She keeps you engrossed through 140 minutes, building up nuances and drawing subtlest of expressions, movement and just the right inflections in dialogue from her cast. She never allows any of them to tip over into drama, maintaining her grip throughout. Jai I. Patel - her cinematographer keeps the tension alive through his lighting and camera settings while Shankar Ehsaan Loy have come up with a score so rich you want to listen to it and hum it all day long.
Raazi is a film that commands you to watch it for it makes an important point. In these days of mindless intolerance and severe tension – with just about everyone trying to outshout each other in the name of religion and community and politics, the film takes you back to an era when the country was indeed more important than you or me. When serving my nation was so much more important than feeling victimized 24x7 - when we all were still One. When hearts actually bled for your ‘watan’, ‘mulq’, ‘desh’ - call it what you will, and it had not become just another word to be bandied about by politicians and news anchors.