Based on a real-life female spy immortalised in Harinder Sikka’s spy thriller, Calling Sehmat, Raazi was a real treat to watch.
Set in the months before the India-Pakistan war of 1971 and the liberation of Bangladesh, this film is all about Sehmat (Alia Bhat), a young 20-year-old Kashmiri Delhi University student. She comes from a family who believes in the adage, ‘country before self’ and whose father Hidayat Khan (Ranjit Kapoor), is a double agent for the Indian intelligence community whose close friend is Brigadier Syed (Shishir Sharma) from the Pakistan Armed Forces to whom he feeds carefully curated information.
Since Hidayat has been diagnosed with cancer, he decides to send his untrained daughter into the enemy camp in an audacious plan, get her married to Syed’s son Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal) and plant her into the home of the enemy to glean information and pass it to the Indian intelligence. The film is then all about how Sehmat tries to win over her in-laws and how she gathers information from their home and from that of the homes of their friends and colleagues and how she is almost caught every time.
She is never suspected by anyone, except an old family retainer, Abdul (Arif Zakaria) who came over from India at Partition and one day is caught by him. She then kills him by crushing him under a vehicle, her first murder in this operation. Her brother-in-law (Ashwath Bhatt) then starts suspecting her because the retainer tries to use her name when he is found and hospitalised, and she then kills him too.
The Pakistani intelligence then suspects that someone from the Syed household is leaking secrets and when Sehmat fears that she will get caught, she hides all her spying equipment in Abdul’s room. When the cache is found out, Iqbal realises it’s his wife and not Abdul who is the real spy. Sehmat also realises that Iqbal knows her secret and she flees from the home using the grandson of a senior officer as a shield and when Iqbal confronts her with the authorities, the Indian spymaster and her handler, Khalid Mir (Jaideep Alhawat) decide to eliminate both of them, only to realise that Sehmat had tricked everyone and she was safe. She returns back to India only to find out that she is pregnant. She refuses to abort the child and moves away from everything. It is shown that the child is now an officer in the Indian Armed Forces.
I found the casting absolutely spot on! The actors portraying the Pakistani characters seemed so authentic that it seemed to me I was watching a Hum TV drama (a Pakistani television channel).
With every movie that I see, Alia Bhat impresses me even more. I feel she has come a long way since her debut and her fresh-faced innocence as Sehmat is wonderful. She owns the movie and you find yourself rooting for her at every turn (even though you kind of know she will triumph in the end, this being a Bollywood film). The film also stars Alia’s mum Soni Razdan and when you see the two of them in the same shot, you realise how much Alia resembles her mum.
Jaideep Alhawat as Khalid Mir, the Indian spymaster and Sehmat’s handler was very impressive as the cold-blooded, ruthless spy for whom it is country before everything else. Vicky Kaushal as Iqbal was fantastic and the chemistry between him and Alia was superb!
The music in the film was evocative of the seventies and was fairly unobtrusive, never really becoming a focus of attention, but blended beautifully in the background. I loved both the rendering of Ae Watan.
Meghna Gulzar really deserves each and every award that she is sure to get when the awards season starts.
My verdict – please do go and watch the film, it’s worth it!