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.
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.
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.
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.
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.