Directed by Meghna Gulzar, Razi is a spy thriller mixed with personal relationship drama. It is a fictitious adaptation of Harinder Sikka’s “Calling Sehmat”, a novel he was inspired to write after he tracked the woman who spied on Pakistan, during the 1971, Indo Pak war.
Sehmat (incredible Aliya Bhatt) was born to a Kashimiri Muslim father Idayat Khan (Rajit Kapur) and a Hindu mother Tej (Soni Razdan). From her parents from an early age, Sehmat not only imbibed the lessons of patriotism towards her mother nation India, but was also a devoted daughter and felt compelled to continue in her father’s legacy of intelligence gathering for India. She was unaware of the vital role her father had played in establishing a spy network and gaining trusted close relationship within Pakistani military’s inner circle. When she learned of her father’s activities, at the same time, she and her mother also learned about his illness and how it remained upto Sehmat to help her mother country and take her father’s place in the spy network.
Sehmat is young, determined, devotedly patriotic and unafraid to take on the challenges. Alia Bhat truly shines in her role and does full and complete justice to her character. She is at an age where she may be as yet unable to comprehend the deep and devastating impact of what she was about to do on herself and others, embedding herself with the enemy in a much deeper way than her father. Also other characters including her Pakistani husband Iqbal Syed (Vicky Kaushal) and father in law Brigadier Syed (Shishir Sharma) are fantastic and give a memorable performance to make this a gripping film.
My dissatisfaction is not with superb performance of the cast and Gulzar’s direction to bring the story to life. It is undeniable that the indispensable information received from a young woman, at great risk to her own life, helped India save lives, and ultimately control seas around both sides of Pakistan and save INS Vikrant, that was Indian pride. In the end, Indian Navy’s superiority on the seas allowed a naval blockade that was vital and led to the liberation of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.
So why does the storyline and Sehmat’s role and character as they are portrayed gnaw at me? Here are all the reasons. This is a conflicting film and I have conflicting perspectives. See below.
- First of all, I cannot come to terms that her own father enabled his innocent young daughter to put herself in such perilous harm and that her mother would not put up a strong fight against it. As Sikka himself had once said in an interview, “I am yet to fathom how Sehmat’s father, a rich businessman in Kashmir then, could push his daughter to do such a dangerous thing”. Remember it was not the same goal as gaining independence and throwing the enemy out of the country, this was done to gain military superiority in a war.
- Secondly, I feel this is a human story with multiple perspectives but this is not primarily a patriotism story. This movie is different from movies like Chak De! India, Bhag Milkha Bhag, Lagaan, Mary Kom etc. where we don’t know anything about characters on the other side. In this movie, we see characters on the Pakistani side and learn about them and are touched by their own dedication for their country and their extreme kindness to Sehmat. Once a director does that then there is a responsibility to make it a human story where audience walks away with compassion for all, not just for one side. After all everyone was doing what was best for their country.
- Crucially, while intelligence gathering is a significant mission for any country, it is one thing to establish some trusted relationships to get the intelligence from. The complexity of this business of trust building and then crushing is goes up when it is between two trusted friends but it multiples when a person gets involved in an intimate relationship, gains access and lives within the family and spies on the members who shower the individual with infinite kindness and love. The best dialog I liked was a simple one. When General Syed learned of his own daughter-in-law’s role, he was berating her and his son said one simple sentence that whatever she did, she was doing for her country. If he can try to understand her, we have the same responsibility to feel empathy for them.
- And that brings me to my most important point. While as an Indian, I am proud and grateful for Sehmat’s role in the war, as a character in the movie, it is the character of her husband Iqbal Syed that I admire most. He was infinitely kind to her, respectful to her, was mindful of the different circumstance she grew up in, made efforts to make her feel at home, tried to understand her ties to her birth place and understood that she could be hurt if anything negative was mentioned about her birth place. He was a patriotic man who was also a good husband and son to his parents. Sehmat, on the other hand, like a snake, destroyed the lives and happiness of those most kind and closest to her and yet at the end, she audaciously engaged in a tirade accusing her mentor of doing unscrupulous things while beseeching him to take her back to India, before she became like them. Really? Her character had already proven to be worse.
- Lastly, this is infact a human story with great significance. And anyone who is put in a position or chooses to do what Sehmat did, does take an enormous toll. In real life, she suffered from severe PTSD.