Patriotic films are shrill. You walk into the theatre and expect chest thumping, heavy dialogues, and perhaps even find a muscular gentleman pulling out a hand pump with his bare hands. And so when I heard that a sensitive film-maker like Meghna Gulzar was making a spy-thriller based during the times of the 1971 India-Pakistan war, it sounded very incongruous to me. I needn’t have worried at all.
Raazi- directed by Meghna Gulzar, is a film adaptation of Harinder Sikka’s book Calling Sehmat. The script revolves around a young Kashmiri girl, who is called back from college and married off to a Pakistani army man. The real intent behind this alliance is to get her to work as an undercover operative from the house of a prominent Pakistani army officer. Alia Bhatt essays the role of the young spy, Sehmat, competently. Her transition on screen, from a naive college girl to the trained spy is remarkable. The supporting cast of Vicky Kaushal (who plays her sensitive husband), Rajit Kapur (who plays her father), Shishir Sharma (Alia’s father-in-law) and Arif Zakaria (as the servant) do justice to their parts. It was endearing to see Soni Razdan, Alia Bhatt’s mother, play the same role on screen as well. The gentle relationship between Alia and Vicky has been depicted beautifully. But I also enjoyed the mentor-protegee moments between Jaideep Ahlawat (who gives Alia a crash course in espionage and warfare techniques) and Alia. Much is left unsaid, and yet the bond and respect for each other is visible.
I must mention the contributions of the genius Gulzar and the trio of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy whose lyrics and music go a long way in lending authenticity to the film. My personal favourite is the traditional Kashmiri ‘Dilbaro‘ where Gulzar’s lyrics “Dehleez oonchi hai ye, paar kara de” lends so much dignity to a bidaai song, as the protagonist is stepping not just outside her house, but into a new country. The other song “Ae watan aabad rahe tu” is a tender patriotic song which works perfectly well for both the countries. The uniqueness of this song is that Gulzar has managed to blend Allama Iqbal’s Lab pe aatihai in the first verse with his own lyrics. This is a song usually sung in school assemblies in Pakistan.
But the hero of the film is the screenplay. There are no good guys and bad guys. Each person acts according to their conscience, and does their duty. And yet everyone’s final destination is different. It was brave to steer clear of all jingoism and stick to the emotions behind actions. The film makes you question your notion of patriotism. In serving your country, do you lose humanity within you? When duty compels you to act at loggerheads with your own human values, which voice do you listen to?
Raazi uses a different approach in dealing with the theme of patriotism. The journey you undertake, is entirely your own decision. Yes, other lives are entangled with the decisions you take. But the onus of living with those decisions will remain with you. And ultimately, a spy walks alone.