13 May 2018

Raazi: An Engrossing Spy Drama with a Humane Touch

A Daughter. A Wife. A Spy. The Raazi movie posters capture the film's theme in a nutshell.

Based on the novel Calling Sehmat by Harinder Sikka, Raazi is "inspired" by true events surrounding the 1971 Indo-Pak war and the birth of Bangladesh.

The Raazi Storyline 
Hidayat Khan (Rajit Kapur) is a dying Indian spy operating from Srinagar while acting as a pseudo-spy and friend for the Pakistani Brigadier Syed (Shishir Sharma). Meanwhile, a revolutionary movement to free East Pakistan begins. Syed mentions to Khan of a plan to obstruct India's support for East Pakistan's liberation. With a tumor in his lungs, Khan has little time to discover what the plan is.

A staunch traditional patriot, Khan calls up his Delhi University studying 20-year-old daughter Sehmat (Alia Bhatt) to perform the ultimate sacrifice. Khan wants Sehmat to marry Brigadier Syed's son Iqbal Syed (Vicky Kaushal). Sehmat would thus move to the Syed household. She would then spy and transmit back vital information. As tough preparation for the mission, Sehmat is trained mercilessly by the passive-faced Indian agent Khalid Mir (Jaideep Ahlawat).

Soon Sehmat realizes what she will have to become to serve her country.

Straight-Forward Narration
Director Meghna Gulzar's follow-up to the impressive investigative crime drama Talvar (2015) is nicely built without stylish fast cuts or the self-conscious pace of a commercial spy thriller.

Like her father Gulzar's films, Meghna goes for the humane touch. She tells the story minus lather and patriotic jingoism, with an anti-war stance. This objective approach works in the film's favor. The film is consistently engaging, delivering its message in a non-preachy, effective manner.

Gritty Performances    
Alia Bhatt is at Raazi's core as Sehmat. Her transformation from a caring, sensitive student to a murderous spy is skilfully done. Vicky Kaushal is aptly understated as the good, unsuspecting husband. Jaideep Ahlawat is particularly striking as the dry, stone-hearted Indian agent.

Good Soundtrack 
The criminally underrated music composer trio Shankar–Ehsaan–Loy impress again with a four-track Gulzar's verse-adorned soundtrack that merges well with the movie's tone. Ae Watani especially stands out as reverential and ironic to the film's plot. Listen to both the Sunidhi Chauhan and Arijit Singh versions. The title song Raazi is Gulzar in his masterful element. Dilbaro is another worthy song, the lyrics tenderly matching the traditional ethos of its times.

Loose Ends, High Points    
Sehmat sets up a long transmission wire from the terrace to her room and nobody discovers her doing so. The wire is clearly not hidden unless we are to believe that nobody visits the terrace. When Sehmat kills off a servant who has caught her red-handed, there is not a single eyewitness around. No security personnel at wartime or a single servant around and everybody else conveniently away that too at an Army Brigadier's house? A glaring loophole.

That said, there are many impressive touches to how Sehmat spies and gets the information across. The umbrella episode is tightly done, as is the discovery, getaway and the grenade-exploding twist. The Bhavani Iyer-Meghna Gulzar screenplay cuts away from cliches. The result is a strong message against the futility of war and a note on its living casualties.

Raazi Verdict 
Constantly watchable, Raazi could have hit harder with its deaths, betrayals, and heartbreak. It needed tenser, adventurous writing and tough questions asked on the Indo-Pak conflict. But this is a story of a young girl and her frightening dark choices, and in that aspect, Raazi succeeds like few films do.

It will be interesting to know what Meghna Gulzar will attempt next.

11 May 2018

The New Big SS Rajamouli Movie Announced

Rajamouli's recent tweet on his upcoming film with  Ram Charan and Jr.NTR 

After the mega mass audience Pan India success of Bahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, we can't wait for SS Rajamouli's next. Well, the wait for the next Rajamouli movie did not end with a recent announcement. By the likes of it, it will be a long time before the film will be shot and released. Basically, the wait has just begun.

The New SS Rajamouli Movie Teaser 
The cast for SS Rajamouli's next features Telugu stars Jr. NTR and Ram Charan. The teaser trailer calls it the RRR movie. This is not the movie title. The temporary title denotes the alphabet R common to the names of the director and the two lead stars. The movie budget is rumored to be 300 crores.

In a recent interview, Ram Charan revealed that shooting for the movie will begin in post-October 2018. It is a confirmed fact that Charan and NTR traveled to Los Angeles for some profile tests, possibly for the film's CGI. There is nothing more known about the film. Charan insisted that he will be hearing the film story narration only by May-end. Charan admitted that he said yes to the Rajamouli project without hearing the story, as it was fun to work with the director previously on Magadheera (2009).


A Long Wait Indeed

Going by the scale and detailing Rajamouli conjures in his movies, we must expect a tentative late 2019 release, or sometime in 2020. But this is coming from a purely optimistic fan. Post-production and special effects add to the long movie-making periods that Rajamouli is now famous for. The two Baahubali movies took five years to make. We are not complaining, as most Rajamouli movies have been worth the wait.

Rajamouli's Best Movie Yet
My favorite Rajamouli movie is still Eega (2012), later dubbed in Hindi as Makkhi. I recall how a colleague of mine had recommended the trailer. The premise was bizarre and unbelievable. An animated fly (previously human) was depicted as avenging his death. This promised to be a laughable and unintentionally spoof-filled experience. It was when I saw the movie at a city theatre that I was pleasantly surprised.

Eega is an out-and-out modern cliched fantasy that played out convincingly as a mass audience entertainer with almost no loose ends. The animated fly needed no language to reach out to any world audience. In comparison, the storyline of the Bahubali movies disappointed me. It was familiar territory for the director and the audience. The treatment was creatively fuelled though, with strong characters, awesome action sequences and believable special effects.

Revisit this blog for the latest updates on the new "RRR" Rajamouli movie.