There is something charming about an era unencumbered by internet and smart phones. It can be a charming theatre for a thriller when hiding in plain sight is relatively easy. Authentically creating the 1970s, Raazi makes for an engaging viewing. The film wastes little time in coming to the point. Daughter of a double agent (Rajit Kapur), Sehmat (Aliya Bhatt) is pulled out of college by her own father to marry a Pakistani Officer (Vicky Kaushal) to spy for India. Although she is provided a quick training in the art of intelligence gathering, Sehmat is no seasoned operative.
Meghna Gulzar is interested in telling a story, not taking sides in the war between India and Pakistan. Her husband’s family in Pakistan is not very different from an army family in India. Well educated and polite, they welcome Sehmat into their world. Their sentiment towards India is perhaps not very different from that of an Indian family towards Pakistan. On a human level, and divorced from the politics of war and government, they are regular people. Sehmat’s husband, in particular, is a kind and soft-hearted man who is ever sensitive to Sehmat’s Indian origin.
Most of the film is devoted to how Sehmat achieves her mission, keeping a step ahead of prying eyes who are growing suspicious about the incidents that have occurred since her arrival in the household. The portrayal is simplistic, making it look easy to get sensitive information out from Pakistan. Save for a lowly servant, there is hardly anybody in the house of a senior army officer who is watching the household. Sehmat is able to set up a whole communication apparatus with ease and go far as bugging the officer’s study.
Gulzar scores in character development, most have been provided enough meat to make them real. Sehmat is a reluctant assassin. Killing strictly for her own survival, she is remorseful and fearful. And she almost always has a breakdown every time she has to bump somebody off. Her handler admires her and respects her, but he is very clear where his loyalties are were Sehmat to become a liability. Even smaller roles in the Sehmat’s family in Pakistan have proper characterization.
The director has also tried to keep it understated as much as a Bollywood film can be. Some of the dialogues do tend to play to the gallery but they are few and far in between. Pacing of the film is a drawback. The film is styled as a thriller but it is a tad slow to be a riveting thriller. For that reason the film seems to drag in parts.
The film rests on Alia Bhatt’s young shoulder and she has worked hard in the film. That said, she hasn’t been able to imbue her character with the depth that would have made this film a treat to watch. Jaideep Ahlawat as Sehmat’s handler is a treat to watch. Vicky Kaushal, Rajit Kapur, Shishir Sharma, Amruta Khanvilkar, Soni Razdan have all given solid performance.
With Talvar and now Raazi, Gulzar has shown her deftness at drama. She also has an eye on the box office appeal. The climax in the film feels more in sync with a regular masala potboiler. But that is a small transgression in an otherwise highly engaging film.