'Raazi' movie review: Powerful but deeply flawed

Sometimes a flawed diamond can sparkle and shine brighter than a polished one. Raazi is that triumphant film which leaves you with some serious misgivings.

Published: 12th May 2018 09:01 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th May 2018 02:00 PM   |  A+A-

Ali Bhatt in Meghna Gulzar's 'Raazi'.

By IANS

Raazi

Starring: Alia Bhatt, Vickey Kaushal

Director: Meghna Gulzar

Rating: 4/5

Sometimes a flawed diamond can sparkle and shine brighter than a polished one. Raazi is that triumphant film which leaves you with some serious misgivings. The story, as we all know by now, is based on the real events during the eve of the 1971 Indo-Pak war when a valorous young Muslim Indian girl Sehmat decided to cross the border to become wife in a Pakistani family of armymen to gather information for the Indian government.

It is an audacious tale, and one waiting to be filmed, as a work of cinematic art Raazi scores very highly, almost rivalling the director Meghna Gulzar's previous film Talvar in terms of the emotional ground the plot covers while uncovering the truth about the lies that we tell for the sake of "honour". In Talvar it was the family honour at stake, in Raazi it is "country".

"Mulk se aage kuch bhi nahin," is said in various permutations and combinations and you feel, Sehmat (played with an intuitive rather than an intellectual brilliance by Alia Bhatt) is trying more to convince herself than others around her.

Raazi is a film that gives us true female hero of her times and our times. Sehmat puts family, personal happiness and inter-personal relations behind her country and lets the mulkasorry milk of human kindness flow into the spirit of nationalism.

But the same dedicated fiercely patriotic child-woman happily betrays the people who trust her take her in as the daughter-in-law of their family in spite of her being from the hostile country.

Can a woman who betrays those who trust her blindly, really protect her country? Apparently she can and this courageous but misguided woman did exactly that. I don't know how much of the film actually happened in the real Sehmat's life.

But what transpires in the film is pretty much improbable, if not altogether bizarre, as one after the other Sehmat the Indian spy compromise the role of Sehmat the Pakistani Bahu.

Bravely director Meghna Gulzar and her co-writer Bhavani Iyer refuse to demonize the enemy. This is at once the film's biggest strength and its greatest failure. For, in humanizing the Pakistani family of Sehmat's husband Iqbal(played with unnerving quietude by Vickey Kaushal) the narrative takes the risk of seriously weakening the female hero's patriotic fervour.

Many times I was horrified by Sehmat's abuse of her in-laws' hospitality and trust the easy way would have been to simply show the Pakistani household as a villainous den of radical fanatics. But Sehmat's in-laws and specially husband are suave, gentle educated cultured people. This adds to Sahmat's dilemma of the conscience's dilemma that neither Sehmat not the film is fully able to resolve even till the end.

Alia Bhatt lets her performance merge in Sehmat's moral dilemma, we often see her break down in private. But her grief earns no sympathy from us, her imagined moral high-ground is not only patronizing to the people whom she betrays it is also unconvincing to us who watch in horrified silence as she murders and double-deals with a defiant impunity.

Speaking of silence there is plenty of it in the storytelling. Meghna Gulzar basks in the quietude that underscores the turmoil of a soul tormented by the guilt of her betrayal. The most memorable moments in the film are those between Indian wife and Pakistani husband, played with an empathy and wisdom by the two leads actors that the script doesn't always support.

The supporting cast specially Rajit Kapoor (as Alia's father) and Shishir Mishra (as her Pakistani father-in-law) is excellent.

No, I didn't come away from Raazi convinced that country comes ahead of familial allegiance. Neither, I felt, is the protagonist fully Sehmat with that line of thought. Worse still, Alia Bhatt fails to convey Sehmat's anguished repudiation of a spy's double life of deception in her end-speech. It is the only time Alia is unconvincing perhaps because she is unconvinced.

Finally she also seems to question the film's morality. Nation first is fine but what about the people you let down as you carry that flag up that mountain that takes you to the moral high-ground?

 

Comments(4)

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  • Prashu

    When we talk about Sehmat or her contribution during the Indo-Pak war, what we are concerned about is the role that the brave lady played by risking her life, sacrificing her dreams and leaving her parents just to become a spy who lived right under the nose of her enemies. No one here should be concerned whether her in-laws were as polite and concerned about Sehmat, as shown in the movie or whether her husband was so humble. The movie portraits a high level picture of how Sehmat played an integrated role of a spy, her unfailing attempts to gather information even without being a well-trained spy as well as maintaining her stature in the family, far away from her home, without any distinct help or support. A girl merely 20 years old enters a country which is entirely alien to her, knowing that if she is caught she will end up dead or into an even worse condition and still did well. There would have been various incidents where she had narrow escapes and still harnessed courage to try again, something we might not try even for the once. After knowing the story of this lady, portraited as "Sehmat", the first and last thing that should come from our side should be "A Bow in Respect" and not a post that argues whether Sehmat had betrayed her In-Laws or her country or whether she should have broke down in private or not. Dear author and Editor of this post, this comment is not targeted to you, what I just want to argue upon is, do such kind of posts from your side should not go through scrutiny ? Don't you think this post can end up creating a vague sentimental dilemma in minds of people who read it. Also request you to change the view angle, the way of writing the posts. This post seemingly proved that the author was unconditionally convinced from start that the story was deeply flawed, and instead of driving the readers minds to a position where they have to question themselves, has himself decided the fate of readers mind. These type of posts leave a very monotonous effect, causing the readers to move to the next post, even without reading it completely. Finally an urge to the author of post to make use simpler words that catch the interest of the readers instead of magnanimous words to show the vocabulary knowledge.
    2 years ago reply
    • vivek singh

      i absolutely agree with you..
      1 year ago reply
  • Sarang Khargonkar

    The author seems to be missing the point that Sehmat had taken up the task despite knowing that she would betray the in-laws no matter how good or bad they were. Yes, when in-laws are that good to you, you would incline towards them naturally but the steely patriotic resolve is what led you to take up this task in the first place. Also remember, in the end, her husband has also come to kill her as she is an enemy spy. Is he excused to keep family emotions aside? The story may be fiction but is handled very well and Kudos to Meghna Gulzar and Alia Bhatt for wonderful delivery of such a delicate story. Brilliant work.
    2 years ago reply
    • Sharon

      Perhaps it's not about the morality of the film. The film is about a spy operation and partly based on a true story
      2 years ago reply
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