In Meghna Gulzar’s “Raazi” (Willing), espionage is treated very differently than what we see in most spy movies. It is not a cloak-and-daggers game but more like a family vocation, passed on from generation to generation and played out in living rooms and schools – in everyday situations that lend it an air of domesticity, rather than a sense of thrill.
Sehmat’s (Alia Bhatt) family has been in the espionage ‘business’ for at least two generations. Her father, Hidayat (Rajit Kapur) uses his frequent business trips to Pakistan to build a rapport with a top army officer there and then pass on crucial information to India in a time fraught with tension.
Sehmat is studying in a Delhi college, unaware that her father has chosen for her to carry forward his legacy, marrying her off into one of Pakistan’s top army families so that she may have better access than he did. Khalid Mir (Jaideep Ahlawat), the head of India’s intelligence agency, is initially skeptical of Sehmat’s ability, but is impressed by the girl’s fortitude and perseverance.
In one of the film’s best scenes, Mir asks Sehmat why she agreed to her father’s plan, and she says that her father and grandfather always put the nation first. “Their blood runs in my veins”. Bhatt is all firepower in this scene, as she is in the rest of the film. “Raazi” is entirely about Sehmat, and Bhatt actualises this character to a T – her conviction, conflict and emotions.
The same cannot be said of the film, which seems to skim over many details that are needed to make a thriller about espionage believable. If you go by “Raazi”, it would seem the Pakistani army never held any important meetings at its headquarters, but in officers’ homes. Their top brass leaves important files lying around, helpfully marked “confidential”, and Sehmat is able to sneak in and out of the house at will.
It all seems a little improbable, and both Gulzar and co-writer Bhavani Iyer make no attempt to explain away these discrepancies. At 140 minutes, “Raazi” lumbers towards its inevitable climax, held together by its impeccable cast. As Mir, Ahlawat is effective, and Vicky Kaushal makes the most of a small role as Iqbal, Sehmat’s husband.
Despite its shortcomings, “Raazi” has a lot going for it, especially its leading lady. If you are willing to suspend your imagination a bit, it can make for a fulfilling watch.