Raazi: A Different Patriotic Gaze

Raazi, featuring a masterclass from Alia Bhatt, is that rare anti-war, patriotic film that we deserve as a nation
Raazi: A Different Patriotic Gaze

Of all the patriotic movies that I've watched, Raazi captures its own separate spot easily. It is subtle, never excessively preachy and above everything, very much about humanity. In the course of telling a story of courage, patriotism and dedication, it touches on the humanitarian aspects of a war and the direct casualties that happen with it. Raazi follows the story of a young college girl, who takes up her family legacy of dedicating her life to the nation. Sehmat is "raazi" to shoulder the responsibilities of her ailing father, that seem kind of heavy for her rather pliable shoulders in the bigger picture. But, for Sehmat, nothing comes before her nation and thanks to Meghna Gulzar, the director, Sehmat doesn't really have to shout or go berserk to portray it. She's instantly lovable, soft-hearted and sharp-witted. She's a perfect bride and an even better spy.  

Meghna Gulzar literally brings a feminine gaze to patriotism. I absolutely loved this take because it was a breath of fresh air. Growing up, I have always associated patriotism to a very masculine, very loud emotion. Women in movies like LOC-Kargil and Border were just the daughters, mothers, wives who lived praying, weeping and worrying for the valiant men who went out on wars. Even in movies like Naam Shabana, the female protagonist, finally needs a man to her aide in her mission. But, Raazi is nothing of the sort. Sehmat asks Khalid Mir, the RAW officer in charge of her training, very innocently, whether he thinks she'd be good enough for the mission. It shows her determination and vulnerability in the extraordinary circumstance she's in. She's alone in a house that is hers, within a country that is not.

In an outstanding Annual Day scene, the students of an Army School in Pakistan sing a patriotic song for their nation with a lot of passion. Their music instructor Sehmat, who stands back stage, is singing the song too – but for her own motherland. The lyric "Main jahan rahun, jahan mein yaad rahe tu" comes alive through Sehmat's portrayal. Sehmat's spy-training montage involving all of the physical training and Morse Code learning is still one of my favourite motivational videos. "Lagan ki baazi hai, chot bhi taazi hai. Laga de daav par baazi, agar dil raazi hai" hits differently. The songs in Raazi have the most beautiful lyrics to some very thoughtful compositions. Music directors Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy set up a soothing tapestry which is culturally appropriate to the time and place the story is set in. The beautiful lyrics of the legendary Gulzar are done absolute justice.

Sehmat's in-laws in Pakistan are people with the most humane hearts. They aren't bloodthirsty, hungry for revenge, brutes. The language, landscape and lives on either sides of the border are so similar that one naturally starts pondering over the meaninglessness of the wars. Unlike movies such as Gadar: Ek Prem Katha, the commonality in the lives of both Indians and Pakistanis highlights that it's just because of the failure of the people in power, that the tension between the countries exists. The army men of both the nations have been shown to carry the same virtues and spirits, striving for safe-guarding their respective nations, following the orders and sometimes eyeing promotions. It is in this backdrop that Sehmat has to go out of her way – even take a couple of lives – for the success of her mission. She accepts the Syed family whole-heartedly. Her grief, disgust and shock at the turn of events make her a relatable character. She decides to raise Iqbal's child for she cannot murder another member from a family that she called her own. With a gun in her hand pointed towards Iqbal when he finally discovers her secret, Sehmat tries telling him for just one last time, that she never intended to go on to this extent and loved him all this while. The scene shows the patriotism of two people in love with one another, for two different nations. With the acting prowess of Alia and Vicky, the scene stands out for me.

In the concluding scenes, when in Arijit Singh's melancholic and melodious voice sings "Main rahun ya na rahe koi nishaan mera, mehefooz haathon mein rahega ye watan mera. Aye watan, watan mere watan", my eyes well up each time. The movie is a story of the grit of an unsung hero, and the glory that she brings to a country of 1.3 billion people, who can be proud of a daughter and spy like Sehmat. But, more than that, it's the story of the casualties of wars who go on to live and remind us that nothing justifies the loss and humanitarian crisis that wars cause. Raazi is that rare anti-war, patriotic film that we deserve as a nation. We need like never before, considering the times that we live in now. Humanity and empathy ought to guide the spirit of nationalism, and that's the subtle but powerful message Meghna Gulzar stood for.

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