Raazi: Why are we still stuck on histories past?
I had been counting minutes for the release of Raazi since I first watched its trailer. I am a Trueblood Alia fan and sometimes I find myself apologizing for “student of the year” but we need to agree to the fact that the girl has since worked hard. Harder than a lot of senior actresses.
It would be wrong to say that I was clueless about the movie’s context (1971 Indo-Pak war) but my enthusiasm to see my favorite girl in a new movie overpowered my ability to see the context of the film. 5 minutes past its opening, I caught myself in another movie glorifying hatred and deepening the “divide and rule” mindset that the Brits once played with.
I kept asking myself the question, how long? How long are we going to play out the same story repeatedly? How long are we going to keep watching movies that desperately try to patronize war for the sake of land that we have no power over. How long are we going to watch movies of a history that is a result of all of the mistakes our first generation of politicians committed?
The opening act shows us an innocent Sehmat (Alia Bhatt) running across saving squirrels in Miranda House, DU, classic martyr syndrome but watching which made me swell with pride and reminiscing the days when I chased those very same squirrels. Till she received a call from her father summoning her to leave for her home in Srinagar. A great move in giving us a patriotic Kashmiri. Finally! I was slowly getting tired of watching Kashmiris portrayed by the Indian media as anti-national. I wondered where they drowned their Kashmiri Hindi accent though. Maybe the few months of education in Delhi rubbed its effect. And then suddenly, we see the Intelligence Bureau recruiting her. No tough examinations, no field training. Nothing. Boom- introducing Sehmat the spy, she can learn the rest on the job.
What best way to make her a spy and send her over to another country? Marry her off to her father’s best friend’s youngest son who, along with his entire family serve the Pakistan army. No questions raised about her father’s occupation, her nationality, nothing. She is married.
Then starts her honeymoon period with a husband (Vicky Kaushal) who is clearly smitten about her and would do anything to treat her with respect and kindness but she has bigger things to achieve after her pretty atrocious training with the Indian agents. But she is a quick learner and well she can memorize numbers- so send her to be a spy, shall we?
In her household, Abdul, the housekeeper won’t allow her any kitchen duty, watches her every move with hawk eyes and keeps questioning her, but well, she is the bahu after all and if there’s no mother – in – law to harass her, why shouldn’t Abdul (who himself is from India) carry the tradition forward instead.
Sehmat being super hardworking and diligent about her job, begins duties immediately, she starts taking note of timings of people entering and leaving the house, meetings held, bugs her father- in- law’s office, sends him gifts as bait, gets him promoted and managing to escape the house, slip a burqa overall and pass messages through the other agents placed casually all around Lahore?
The entire movie was spent sitting at the edge of our seats, waiting for Sehmat, to slip, to make one mistake, to get caught, and she does, royally, throughout every scene of the movie. Poor training skills? Plotholes? well thought out script? We will never know. The bathroom from where she sent her morse codes from had an open window, the wires went around the house and nobody ever spotted her displaying her acrobatic skills, her daily disappearance, her walking around in the house wearing a payal that was lovingly gifted to her by her husband. Nope. But then finally when she gets over ambitious and decides to sneak into her FIL’s office minutes after he leaves the house, she finally gets caught by Abdul and then she rams a truck from the Pak Army Cant on him and runs him over and reaches back home staggering- all without once even thinking about her fingerprints because she probably had invisibility gloves on. She also makes the blunder of not checking Abdul’s hand for the key she made for herself and guess what? Even after all that Abdul miraculously survives (GOT anyone?) to give a slight bit clue to Mehboob Syed, her brother- in- law.
Things start going downhill for Sehmat since, and time and again we are repeatedly reminded of her lack of brain and her spirit of nationalism. All of which, even if they were well thought out, lacked conviction. She goes on to kill Mehboob and then gets caught by none other than her husband.
The last bit turned out to be a complete Bollywood drama, where she flees and escapes to her side of the team in a market area, in broad daylight where she finds herself in the middle of the encounter that kills her husband, a woman she sent as bait. This is where the movie should have ended. But no.
We see her in some countryside haven for Indian agents, reaching them to tell the tale of her escape and finally questioning the reason for all this after losing her husband. I thought, well, there we have a filmmaker at least attempting to show that war is useless and maybe we should stop doing it. But plot twist, she reaches home in Kashmir, does a weird penguin walk and falls to the ground. No Pakistani spies following her. Nobody trying to kill her for killing well-known people in Pakistani circuit. Just a small glimpse and connection with the INS Vikrant mission.
The last bit was too much to take. She finds that she is pregnant, raises her son to serve in the Indian army, once again, a contradiction. After she does her classic ” Alia screams” before fleeing Pakistan, I thought it would be safe to assume that she is all in support of unison of both the countries torn apart. In the end, the camera shows an old Sehmat, who’s not gained an iota of weight or aged the conventional way despite having a son of Sanjay Suri’s age, looking outside the window, living in utmost poverty.
Leaving the technicalities aside, I sincerely didn’t think Meghna Gulzar tried anything new. It is the same story repeated over and over again, a million times and honestly, now it is starting to get boring. We definitely don’t need another Bajrangi Bhaijaan, but is it too much to ask for some advocacy of love and peace and leave the history exactly where it is, in the past.
Raazi is a movie based on the book “Calling Sehmat” written by Harinder Sikka (You can pre-order it on Amazon). Sehmat seems to have lived her last days in Abdul’s birthplace- Punjab, India out of the guilt of killing him. It took the author 8 years to research. But the authenticity of a subaltern story always remains unknown. This movie was made to pay respect to thousand of unknown warriors of the nation like her.
Image sourced from www.india.com