Twenty-year-old Sehmat, a student of the Delhi University, is innocent and delicate. She will jump in front of a car to save a squirrel, but squeal in pain when a shard of glass pricks her skin. Her stomach churns at the sight of blood, and she is casual about having a photographic memory. What she is not aware of is that her father, a wealthy businessman in Kashmir, uses his trade links to spy on Pakistan and pass on information to Indian intelligence.
Call it bad parenting or a fierce sense of duty, Hidayat Khan passes on the spying baton to his daughter Sehmat, after, of course, getting her ‘raazi’ (agreement). The plan is to get Sehmat married to Pakistani Brigadier Syed’s youngest son, Iqbal Syed (played by the ever-so-dashing Vicky Kaushal), thus bringing her closer to Pakistan’s military establishment.
After the superb and clinically perfect Talvar, Meghna Gulzar dons the director’s cap again. While Talvar was based on the Aarushi murder case, Raazi is an adaptation of Harinder Sikka’s novel ‘Calling Sehmat’. It is based on the true story of a Kashmiri spy during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war – a turbulent time for both India and Pakistan.
Raazi could easily have been jingoistic and high on nationalism, something common in many films these days that hopelessly pander to the existing rhetorical climate. A film that is largely based in Pakistan never demonises the country. Sure, Iqbal’s family – an Army family – talk about dushmans across the borders and crushing India on the dinner table – but they are also incredibly warm people who embrace and make Indian-born Sehmat feel at home. Why aren’t they suspicious of Sehmat? May be, because she is a woman, a Kashmiri and the daughter of a spy (The Pakistanis were under the impression that Sehmat’s father was on their side).
Of course, there are the usual tropes – dialogues punctuated with words such as mulk and watan, and Kashmiris repeatedly emphasising that they are Indians first. Considering that the cries for azaadi in the Kashmir Valley have only gotten louder in recent times, this politically-safe approach in not polarising the audience is understandable. While the pace of the film is edgy, you rarely get a view of the situation outside of Sehmat’s household.
Credit goes to Alia Bhatt for perfectly capturing Sehmat’s ethical and moral dilemma without giving away too much. On the one side, she has the burden of the entire nation, and on the other, the young 20-year-old in her can’t help but get attracted to her loving, handsome and extremely sensitive husband. She has been fed with lessons on country coming before anyone else but nobody told her that this kind of love is mostly one-sided. Sehmat’s relationship with her handler and intelligence officer Khalid Mir (played by the superbly understated Jaideep Ahlawat) is beautifully explored. While Khalid Mir toughens her up, he becomes Sehmat’s mentor and last resort. Khalid gives her purpose while Sehmat makes her mentor proud with her grit and determination.
Alia Bhatt is superb, switching between the determined, eye-on-the-mission spy and the vulnerable young woman caught unaware of the emotional baggage that comes with the job. As the work gets murkier, Sehmat gets more disillusioned about the mission. Sehmat’s catharsis at the end is heartbreaking to watch.
The film doesn’t leave you with answers. Was Sehmat a stone-cold spy who believes that the end justifies the means? Or, was she a misguided daughter carrying on a foolhardy mission set by her father? Even when a heartbroken Iqbal asks her if any part of their relationship was true, she doesn’t offer any closure. The only thing that she leaves with the audience is the realisation that loving your country comes at a huge personal cost, but the same cannot be expected of the country.