Alia Bhatt is one of Bollywood’s prodigies. Although her talent is often under question for nepotism and being a ‘star kid’, her choices to do films like Highway, Udta Punjab and now Raazi somewhat absolve her from the path to sequentially easy stardom that Bollywood royalty mostly choose. Even some of Bhatt’s choices to do ‘masala’ films have come in the package of positive messaging and enforcing better gender stereotypes. In Raazi, Bhatt becomes Sehmat Syed, a twenty-year-old demure girl who is chosen by her Indian-Kashmiri father to spy on a Pakistani army officer’s family in the time of war. In 1971, when Pakistani forces and Indian forces had locked horns as the fall of Dacca was imminent, espionage was dangerous game, one that required skill, intelligence, precision and as Raazi constantly hammered into the audiences’ skulls: patriotism. Directed by Meghna Gulzaar and based on the book “Calling Sehmat” by Hardinder Sikka, the film opens to a jingoistic statement about war and loyalty and goes back to the year Bangladesh separated from Pakistan. Sehmat’s father, Hidayat Khan (Rajit Kapur), a spy for the Indian agencies in Kashmir, has a friendly relationship with Brigadier Syed (Shishir Sharma). Hidayat manages to fix his daughter Sehmat’s (Alia Bhatt) wedding to Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal) who is Brigadier Syed’s second son and is also a major in Pakistan Army. Sehmat, shown to be a compassionate, young, loving girl is trained to be a heartless, merciless, combat-savvy spy and uses her access to Pakistani Army’s leading commanders to pass information to Indian agencies Sehmat, shown to be a compassionate, young, loving girl is trained to be a heartless, merciless, combat-savvy spy and uses her access to Pakistani Army’s leading commanders to pass information to Indian agencies. Mir (Jaideep Ahlawat) trains Sehmat to be wary, be prepared for emergencies and kill, if need be. Young and wide-eyed Sehmat tries to do the best she can. While the historical accuracies of the events of 1971 may be shown to a close truth in Raazi but to imagine that a Pakistani Army officer, one in very high ranks, married off his uniformed son to a family that had not been vetted, that identified more with Indian held Kashmir, is what makes a Pakistani viewer such as myself uncomfortable with the depiction of Sehmat’s story. Sikka claims to have met this woman who died recently and writes in his book that Sehmat’s spy mission helped derail Pakistan’s plans to attack INS Vikrant – and this account matched to those shared in the intelligence archives of the Indian Army. Conjecture and speculation as to the extent of truth provided in the film about INS Vikrant and Pakistani Army officers convening meetings in their drawing rooms – the film is written well and follows Sehmat’s story in thrilling, nail-biting detail. Gulzar’s attention to accents and names may not have been perfect but her ability to string a powerful series of events and emotions into one very watchable tale is uncontested. Bhatt carries the film on her shoulders almost effortlessly. She lowers her voice, heightens her pitch and truly becomes a doe-eyed youngster who is shoved into the face of war and trickery. Bhatt’s powerful performance as Sehmat brings the film to its peaks and highs. The mundanities of interaction and typical emotional breakdowns are made complex by Bhatt’s childlike vulnerability. She employs a certain wispy quality that disarms you as she completes difficult maneuvers, taking complicated decisions to complete her mission. Jaideep Ahlawat stuns as her trainer in chief, his brief role in the Shahrukh-Mahira starrer Raees was wonderful and he amazes as Mir again in Raazi. Vicky Kaushal’s moments in the film are few but he holds his part up well and proves, when it really matters, he ties the film strongly and capably. The first half of the film is often jingoistic and overly dramatic even as ‘Dilbaro’ paints a pretty picture of sacrifice and nostalgia. The second half of the film provides a better argument for patriotism and the ugliness of war – but ends up serving and peddling the dangerous agenda that patriotism and nationalism are worth living and dying for. In an age when two nuclear armed states are often at the brink of conflict and war, where they are currently fighting over Kashmir, an area that has a complicated history with both states, films like Haider may serve a higher purpose for peace and goodwill but films like Raazi only half-hearted attempt to say that humanity comes before borders. I’ll give the movie 3 out of 5 stars. Published in Daily Times, May 12th 2018.