Saturday, August 11, 2018

Raazi—If The Heart Agrees

Meghna Gulzar's Raazi is the story of Sehmat (Alia Bhatt) who is a daughter, a wife, and a spy. The film is based on Harinder Sikka's novel Calling Sehmat which itself was inspired by real events. Sehmat is the twenty-year-old daughter of Hidayat Khan (Rajit Kapur) who dedicated his life to the service of his nation. He asks Sehmat to get married to a Pakistani major's son Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal) so that she can spy on the secret plans of the other nation's army and relay them to the Indian intelligence. Sehmat is raazi (in agreement) to do the same and becomes a raazi (keeper of secrets) for her nation.
Early in the film, there is a scene where Sehmat saves a squirrel from being run over by a car. She gets injured in the process and a shard of glass enters her into feet. She asks her friend to take it out as she cannot see blood. Her friend takes her to get a tetanus injection and Sehmat says that she is afraid of injections. Later, these same traits are shown as a contrast when Sehmat goes to Pakistan as a spy. The squirrel-saving Sehmat kills Abdul in the exact same way by running a car over him. The injection-fearing Sehmat injects poison in her brother-in-law. The blood-fearing Sehmat becomes the cold-blooded killer. A twenty-year-old clumsy girl who was called darpok displayed immense courage and successfully managed to scoop out extremely confidential information in a dangerous mission. 
There have been many films in the past where the female protagonist was a spy. Some of these films include Agent Vinod, The Hero: Love Story of a Spy, Aankhen, Don 2, Ek Tha Tiger, Naam Shabana, and Baby. However, the one movie that kept coming to my mind while watching Raazi was Ashutosh Gowariker's Jodhaa Akbar. Although the subject of the two films is different, there are similar themes in them. In both the films, there are fathers who fix the wedding of their daughters (without their consent) to men from a hostile state for furthering the national interest. For the two fathers, the interests of their nation are more important than the life of their respective daughters. In Raazi, Hidayat Khan wants Sehmat to get married to a Pakistani major's son so that she can spy on the secret plans of the other nation's army. In Jodhaa Akbar, the Rajput king, Raja Bharmal of Amer, proposes the marriage of his daughter Jodhaa to Akbar, the Mughal king, as a political alliance to stop the impending war between the Rajputs and the Mughals. In Raazi, Hidayat Khan tells Sehmat that for him, there is nothing that comes before the country. In Jodhaa Akbar, Raja Bharmal tells Jodhaa that to save the people of his kingdom, she will have to drink this poison (referring to her marriage). Sehmat and Jodhaa are hesitant initially but they agree to the marriage for the sake of their nation.
After their wedding, Sehmat and Jodhaa go to their new homes. Sehmat crosses the border to move to Pakistan; Jodhaa goes to stay in Agra, the seat of the Mughal kingdom. Both Sehmat and Jodhaa face suspicion of their respective husband's caretakers in their new homes. Abdul, the domestic servant, who brought up Iqbal, is suspicious of Sehmat and her motives as she is an Indian. He is possessive of Iqbal and is not able to trust Sehmat. Likewise, there is Maham Anga, Akbar's foster mother, who is suspicious of Jodhaa from the day she enters the Mughal court. She is also possessive of Akbar and thinks Jodhaa is a Rajput assassin. There is a similar scene involving food, too, in the two films. In Raazi, as a new daughter-in-law, Sehmat makes parathes for everyone in the house. However, Abdul questions her reasons for doing the same. He admonishes her that she does not know the eating preferences of the household members and she should have stayed out of the kitchen. In a similar scene in Jodhaa Akbar, Jodhaa enters the royal kitchen and wants to prepare delicacies from her Rajput heritage for Akbar. However, Maham Anga gets irritated by this as she thinks that Jodhaa is taking over the Mughal kingdom. She reminds Jodhaa that her marriage to Akbar is only a political alliance and it should be clear to her that she can never be the true empress of the Mughals. Jodhaa still makes food for Akbar and Maham Anga again plays a spoilsport by asking her to taste the food she prepared before everyone. Later, in Raazi, it is Abdul who finds the truth about Sehmat's motives and his suspicions were proved right. In Jodhaa Akbar, it is Maham Anga who finds some suspicious letters in Jodhaa's room that makes her think that she is not to be trusted but she was proved wrong. In addition, there is the appearance of poison as well in the two films. In Raazi, during her training, Khalid Mir gives a bottle of ricin to Sehmat in case she needs to eliminate someone. She uses that poison to kill her brother-in-law when he became suspicious of Abdul's death. In Jodhaa Akbar, Rani Padmavati, Jodhaa's mother, gives her a vial of poison in case she is made to do something that she does not want. Later, the vial of poison is found by Maham Anga who instigates Akbar that Jodhaa was planning to eliminate him.
We also see similar behavior in the two husbands—Iqbal and Akbar. In Raazi, after the wedding, Iqbal and Sehmat do not consummate their marriage and sleep separately for some time. Iqbal feels that their marriage was fixed by their fathers, and they do not know each other; therefore, they should wait before getting physically close. Likewise in Jodhaa Akbar, Akbar and Jodhaa also do not have sex after their wedding because Jodhaa is uncomfortable as she has still not been able to accept Akbar as her husband. Akbar respects her decision and they agree to not be physically intimate until Jodhaa is ready. Additionally, Iqbal and Akbar woo their respective wives by giving them the family heirloom. Thus, I felt that there are enough similar scenes and templates in the two films that warranted a comparison between the two films. 
Raazi has some great music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. Agar Dil Raazi Hai and Dilbaro are fantastic songs. There are some other lovely touches in the film. When Hidayat Khan informs Brigadier Syed about his lung tumor, he says he has never smoked a cigarette in life, but perhaps, he took a long drag on life. Shayad zindagi ke kash kuch lambe le liye. Later, when he dies, Sehmat is the only woman who goes to her father's funeral (worth mentioning because, in Islamic culture, women usually do not go to the funeral). The story of Hidayat and Teji would also be an interesting one as it can be inferred that they belonged to different religions. We never get to know more about Sehmat's mother Teji, but she was a Hindu as she wore the sindoor. In the film, we hear about loquats and see some finely embroidered costumes. The film rightly credits its embroiders as it should because those are beautiful.
In Dibakar Banerjee's short film in Lust Stories, Salman (Sanjay Kapoor) comments that films should have a message either related to patriotism or love. He says, "Picture toh entertaining honi chahiye ya message hona chahiye. Deshbhakti ho ya love ho." In Raazi, Sehmat's philosophy is that nothing is above the nation, not even self. She says, "Watan ke aage kuch nahi, khud bhi nahi." This sacrifice everything for the nation is in line with these politically-charged times as the world seems to be drifting towards patriotism and jingoism. At the same time, the underlying message of the film is quite contrary to this patriotic fervor. It does not try to disrepute patriotism but questions if giving everything up is really worth it. As Sehmat rhetorically asks Mir if relationships and life matter to him at all. He did hesitate to kill her even after all she did for them. In the nature of war, there is always collateral damage but then is there any other way. It is a difficult question with no clear answer but the film veers towards the side of conscience and humanism in the debate. The people on the other side are shown to be like the people on this side. There are no villains in the film. This is also reflected in the film's most interesting sequence which occurs on the annual day function in school. Sehmat teaches the song Ae Watan to a group of students. Sehmat and the students sing this patriotic song, both hoping the best for their nation. Perhaps, the existence of the two nations need not be a zero-sum game.
Overall, Raazi is predictable and bland. Some of the sequences of Sehmat spying in the house without anyone finding out are downright silly. Alia's performance is fine; it is just that her voice feels too rehearsed at many places. It is not a badly made film at all but still, I did not enjoy this film as much as I wanted. Meghna Gulzar's previous film Talvar was a superior and a much more nuanced film than Raazi. Here nothing is really surprising, which is unfortunate for a film that claims to call itself a thriller. However, the subliminal message of the film is something truly relevant and worth reflecting upon in these times.

Trivia:
Billie Holiday and Bebop
 Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan
In an interview, Gulzar, the lyricist, says that he paid tribute to the poet Iqbal in the song Ae Watan by adding "Lab pe aati hai dua ban ke tamanna meri, zindagi shamma ki surat ho khudaya meri" from one of his prayers.
The intelligence related to submarines that Sehmat uncovers was also shown in Sankalp Reddy's The Ghazi Attack.
Completely random nonsensical trivia—In one scene, a collection of books titled 'The Second World' is seen in the film. The same set of books were also seen in Abhay Chopra's Ittefaq. Based on available information, this book was not written in the 1970s.
Balendra Singh who played Budhan in Shoojit Sircar's Piku is in Raazi, too.
The film created Pakistan in Malerkotla, Punjab. It is worth mentioning some Pakistani films from that era that are shown here. Shaheed can be seen many times (which is also the story of an outsider who comes to a nation with an ulterior motive).
Shaheed
Yaarana and Shaheed
Barsaat and Anarkali
Nagin
Shikaai(?)
Embroiders
Dialogue of the Day:
"Khali pet iraade nahi bharte."
—Teji, Raazi

2 comments:

  1. I personally found this movie very much gripping and interest building. It has both contents, art wise as well as masala wise. The training sequences of Alia and the climax were very much gripping. Pankaj, I would like to hear something on milestone "Sholay" and few of the TVF series such as - Pitchers, Permanent Roommates & Tripling. TVF has given some of the worth entertaining web series to Bollywood loving Youth. You can find thos eon Youtube and TVF website.

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    1. Thanks, Ashwin. I take your feedback :) The film did not work much for me, but I am glad you liked it. Also, I have watched TVF Pitchers and Permanent Roommates, but I don't know if I can write on them. There is a very limited audience for that anyway, so, I did not write on them, but let me see if I can find something to write if I watch another web series. Thanks, again, for reading and commenting. :)

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