Ask not what the country has done for you..

“Ask not what the country has done for you…..ask what you can do for the country”

Immortal words, that still send a shiver down the spine of all but the most jaded!

That you give all and more in service of our nation seems fantastical, especially in a time when most of us are so wrapped up in our needs, our wishes, our wants and our desires above all else. Patriotism is not for the ordinary and everyday person.

Harinder Sikka’s 2008 novel “Calling Sehmat” chronicles the story of a young Kashmiri girl, whose  father asks her to spy for India, in Pakistan by marrying the son of a powerful military family. The father, himself a spy, is dying and wants to make sure his work does not go to waste. The girl, Sehmat unquestioningly acquiesces and at the tender age of 20, trains in basic spycraft and at great personal cost provides valuable intelligence that changes the course of the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

Raazi_-_PosterRaazi, follows the Sikka storyline faithfully. Unlike many other novel to film adaptations, there are very few props added to “bling” up the film. Meghna Gulzar, who both directed and wrote the screenplay brings the tautness to the film that is spectacular.
The scenes are not rushed, but the film is paced perfectly a super tough thing to achieve. Very few scenes were stretched and both halves of the film are evenly matched.

Alia Bhatt as Sehmat is awe-inspiring.  Mostly make-up free, she looks the fresh 20-year-old and her face is cameo like. The emotions are played pitch perfect especially impressed with the attention to detail the blinking as she shoots at target practice, the holding of breath under stress and the raw fear after she has a narrow escape are done so well. The realism of a person killing another so many movies show a lay person killing effortlessly, showing little emotion. Here she kills the servant who catches her spying and is distraught afterwards and the emotional decision to kill her brother-in-law is done well. She looks the age and carries herself against a very talented co-star so well. She is truly one of our most gifted actresses…..dare say better than Deepika and PC!

Vicky Kaushal as her husband is a study on how to be a good supporting actor, complementing her performance and holding his own. He does not falter as the innately good man and husband. His restrained performance in last few scenes keeps the film grounded.

Shishir Sharma and Jaideep Ahlawat are their usual good selves in the role of the Pakistani General and RAW commander who trains Sehemat.

The standout superstar of the film however are the screenplay and dialogues neither is bombastic or artificially loud. The movie stays on track and creates both drama and suspense, without beating you on the head. There are just a couple of falters – A scene where Alia’s FIL, finding out that there are spys, gets angry it seemed silly, since none of them are actually in his close circle. Another scene that was off the final scene where Sehmat holds an officer’s son hostage it is never shown how he came to be in the house?

Meghna Gulzar has directed this in the same vein as her earlier movie Talvar, keeping the scenes short and uncluttered so the movie looks and feels like a small budget film.

There are few songs and the Ae Watan song is particularly uplifting and the wedding song is heartfelt.

In the end, the movie shows the disintegration emotionally of the accidental spy. Sehmat’s life spirals out of control and she makes several difficult decisions to keep to her mission. The idea of quitting and leaving does not occur to her perhaps a sign of the times it was set in.  One can almost imagine a current day recruit, throwing the towel, claiming stress and walking away to save their own sanity. But this is set in a more selfless time, where the service to the country takes precedence over all else.

While Sehmat chooses to come back to India and then raise a son who too serves the country but not as a shadowy spy, but as a soldier the movie comes a full circle.

Raazi leaves me thinking is it ever right for one person to carry so much burden? To have to choose between life and a life of living a lie? Is it fair that she had to make decisions in a flash to take a life, because she was ordered to? Was it right for her to have cheated and lied to a family that were in all honesty, loving and affectionate to her?

Don’t have the answers, yet…..but food for thought!

Verdict: 3.5/5 (.5 for the Ae Watan song)