Based on the book Finding Sehmat, Raazi is the real-life inspired story of an Indian college-going girl who becomes a spy and marries across the border for her mission.
We’ve seen several spy films over time. Most of them are overtly nationalistic with over- the-top dialogue, car chases, and physical combats. We often get to know our spy character’s mission, but rarely get to know the person behind the title.
Raazi is special like that. For we know Sehmat Khan’s character well, travel with her on her arduous journey, and hold our breath each time she escapes being found out by a hair.
As compared to other spy characters that will face guns and bombs, Sehmat’s challenges are far more complex, for they are emotional.
From saving squirrels and hanging with friends to a life of violence and deceit, Sehmat turns from a college kid to being a spy, or as her boss explains it as being “India’s aankh aur kaan” (India’s eyes and ears), within a few weeks. When she encounters her new genial family, she feels torn between duty and emotions, but in the end, does what she feels is right.
And at the end of her journey, she questions the very reasons she agreed on the life- threatening mission. This portion (spoilers ahead) is when the character realizes that she’s been a part of a war strategy. ‘In any kind of war, innocent people lose their lives,’ her boss says in a matter-of-fact manner. His cold acceptance of the situation riles her to the core. And that leads to some questions and self-introspection– ‘Is this who she is? Does she want to be like him?’
It’s interesting that while the film is nationalistic with dialogue like ‘watan ke aage kuch nahin’ (nothing is more important than the nation), it is ironically exactly this sentiment that brings out the worst in both the countries, the backdrop being the 1971 Indo- Pakistan war.
Which is why Sehmat’s character says towards the end—“Nahin samajh mein aati hai aapki duniya” (I don’t understand your world) referring to the cold-blooded and indiscriminate killing of people for one’s goal whether it’s an attack or a mission to attain information. In that sense, the film does make a pretty strong statement about the futility of war, while also recognizing the bravery of people like Sehmat who put their lives on the line. The film shows the importance of Sehmat’s information in India winning the war.
This column is as much about Alia Bhatt who plays Sehmat Khan, as it about the film. We are with Sehmat’s character all through her tribulations, thanks to Bhatt’s incredibly authentic performance that doesn’t miss a beat.
Throughout the film, writer-director Meghna Gulzar maintains a balance between respecting the sacrifice of brave-hearts like Sehmat, while also pointing out that the emptiness and brutality of the exercise.
And so, the film leaves one with mixed feelings— a sense of pride and gratitude for Sehmat Khan and all those serving the country, while also sharing in Sehmat’s disillusionment with violence as a war tool—because, inevitably, no one wins.
Sonia Chopra is a critic, columnist and screenwriter with over 15 years of experience. She tweets on @soniachopra2