Saturday, May 19, 2018

Raazi [dir. Meghna Gulzar]

If such a thing were possible, I would like to place a bucket in front of every Indian director set to make a movie on sports / espionage / war and say, "Here, throw up every bit of patriotic fervor you have inside of you into this bucket and THEN go make your movie."
Meghna 'Talvar' Gulzar's film about a young girl from Kashmir (Alia Bhatt) arranged to be married into a Pakistani military family with the agenda of functioning as a spy for her home nation in the period leading up to the 1971 war is not as jingoistic as some of the worst offenders in the genre (there is no hyper-macho posturing and I don't recall any scene where either of the national flags are flying), but that's about the only good thing I can say about it. The idea had potential but it needed to be done well. Look at the level of tension a Quentin Tarantino can raise through simple dialog scenes in Inglourious Basterds purely by suggesting or implying possibilities. A wartime spy drama unable to generate any real sense of urgency is a tragedy.
In a time where all kinds of movies ill-advisedly attempt non-linear narratives with timeline jumps, Raazi is one film that could have actually benefited by such a treatment. They could have started the film with the marriage, and the girl going alone into foreign territory, vulnerable and beset by fears. Then as she gradually starts her mission they could have given brief glimpses of the training she received and is now putting into practice in the face of real danger. But no, after an eye-rolling "your daughter will do your patriotism proud, daddy" speech (to a Rajit Kapur bandying Rahim Chacha level stuffed shirt nobility, and that old Bollywood standby, CANCER) Alia gets an entire Rocky-style training montage with rah-rah song backdrop. At the end of the montage she asks her hardass trainer (Jaideep Ahlawat, an actor that deserves better) if he thinks she can do the mission, and he replies that he is confident in her. That moment pretty much deflates any possible tension for the massive chunk of movie-time that is yet to come.

The other aspect is the emotional conflict of the girl "betraying" her new relations. To the script's credit they are always shown as a progressive loving family, whose only difference of interest is in the nation they owe allegiance to. However, there is never a true sense of bond-building. These are the people Alia's character must come to rely on as emotional anchor in a strange place. It is the sense of familial belonging with these Pakistanis that must generate the turbulence in her mind about her actions. But almost always she seems to be playing the spy role, and her actions, even when she wins hearts by training schoolkids to perform a patriotic song, are viewed purely from that perspective. More disastrous is the casting of Vickey Kaushal as her Paki husband. The marital relationship between the nubile girl and a chivalrous military gentleman should have been a lynch-pin of romantic passion and emotional turbulence powering this whole enterprise. Alas Kaushal's military man is a modern day Bharat Bhushan, a pitiable wallflower. The chemistry between them is colder than an ice-lolly in an Antarctic winter. When the moment of open conflict comes, you feel little empathy for either one.

Alia Bhatt's performance falls victim to bad writing and direction, consisting in large measure of breathing heavily against latched doors. Nonetheless she gets a fine climactic outburst in which the young girl inside of her spy wants desperately to go home. Of course they have to spoil that moment too with a soggy epilogue no one asked for. Give this Raazi a Razzie.

No comments:

Post a Comment