Khufiya is an intelligent spy thriller

Tabu in the espionage drama Khufiya, adapted and modified from a book that part-dramatized a real story. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

Never thought I would get to watch not one, but two thrillers from composer-filmmaker-writer Vishal Bhardwaj back-to-back. Did not imagine either, that I would find them to be skilled and audience-friendly examples of their respective genres of crime whodunit and espionage thriller. After Charlie Chopra & The Solang Mystery adapted from an Agatha Christie story as a series, we find the filmmaker basing this film on the book, Escape to Nowhere. Again, the film is an adaptation, and thus the differences are cerebral, quite grippingly conceived and there is the wry humor that is often a key ingredient of a good thriller.

There is only one hitch as I see it: Vishal also falls prey to that “trendy” gimmick of making two key characters homosexual, and we are talking of a cynical, ruthless yet emotionally fragile agent, Krishna Mehra (Tabu), the protagonist of sorts, and Heena Rehman (Bangladeshi actress Azmeri Haque Badhon), who is a double agent with R&AW as well as ISI. She is murdered by the Bangaldeshi Brigadier Mirza (Shataf Figar) because her truth is leaked out by a traitor in our intelligence wing and the issue becomes personal for KM, as Krishna Mehra is known. There is also the involvement of the CIA in the mess.

Blended here are other, deep, interpersonal relationships—a Vishal hallmark in every film of his. A divorced couple (KM and her ex-husband Shashank, played by Atul Kulkarni), their son, Vikram (Meet Vohra) for whose stage performances KM always fails to make it due to work pressure—the boy also wants to know why she divorced his father.

Then there is the bad coin who has been selling India’s secrets and is also responsible for Heena’s murder, Ravi (Ali Fazal), an army-man’s son gone wrong. He loves his seemingly-frivolous wife, Charu (Wamiqa Gabbi), who is also under the scanner, and the couple lives with their son and Ravi’s mother (Navnindra Behl).

R&AW is shown as an organization where individuals have both foibles and weaknesses along with the steely resolve and the hardcore desire for the greater good even if at a heavy price. As Charu puts it, human beings for them are eminently dispensable masses of meat and bone. KM’s boss, Jeev (Ashish Vidyarthi) and the Home Secretary (Lalit Parimoo, also repeated like Wamiqa from Charlie Chopra…) also have their own agendas, albeit for the country’s future.

The intense attempt to trap Ravi with evidence leads to KM and team bugging his home and garage and finding to their surprise that Charu is innocent, but not so his seemingly innocuous mother. What happens next?

Like Charlie Chopra…, this film too could easily have been shorter, but to its credit, we don’t get restive at all. Vishal spins an engaging web of twists and interesting turns like when Ravi’s mother shoots Charu accidentally and what happens with Mirza in the climax. And does Ravi get caught?

Tabu as KM dominates the screen as always in the last few years: it’s truly amazing how this actress has suddenly grown in the last six or seven years, far above the levels for which she was once hyped as a great performer. Wamiqa Gabbi is a dream actor again, this time especially as the anguished mother and wife. Ali Fazal is correctly cocksure yet affectionate and is very effective. Navnindra Behl storms the screen with a surprisingly chameleon-like turn as the sweet old mater and the diabolical vixen. And Azmeri Haque Badhon is a delight—any good Indian actress, if cast in this rather stereotypical role, would not have come out half as fresh. The rest of the cast is adequate.

Vishal Bhardwaj brings in his core forte—music—through the character of the mystic. His Holiness Yaara ji (singer-composer Rahul Ram) who makes a delightful cameo, linked very much to the plot. There are other background numbers too, none memorable, but his background score is impactful. As a director, Vishal now seems to be in a caring mode for audiences: as he had confessed a few years ago at a Mumbai film-fest, none of his films, including those touted as hits, had really connected with the audience and made money.

Let us hope then Charlie Chopra… and Khufiya, though not theatrical experiences, are his welcome (and fulfilling) experiments towards true evolution as a filmmaker in the Indian sense of the term. Because, for me, non-mainstream cinema falls into two clear categories—the offbeat movies that are usually loved by the audiences and become mainstream in that sense, like English Vinglish, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, 3 Idiots, Pad Man and more, or the arty / pseudo / deliberately viewer-unfriendly stuff like Raman Raghav 2.0, Pari and their ilk.

And Khufiya definitely is a good watch.

Rating: ***1/2

Netflix presents VB Productions’ Khufiya  Produced by: Vishal Bhardwaj & Rekha Bhardwaj  Directed by: Vishal Bhardwaj  Written by: Amar Bhushan, Rahul Nanda & Vishal Bhardwaj  Music: Vishal Bhardwaj  Starring: Tabu, Ali Fazal, Wamiqa Gabbi, Ashish Vidyarthi, Lalit Parimoo, Azmeri Haque Badhon, Shataf Figar, Navnindra Behl, Atul Kulkarni, Meet Vohra, Rahul Vohra, Alexx O’Nell, Disney James, Jan Graveson, Shashi Bhushan, Monica Rae, Rosabelle Folk, Rahul Ram & others




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