'Abhinav', the first love of Alia Bhatt's Sehmat in Raazi, is still alive
In Meghna Gulzar's Raazi, Alia Bhatt plays a young Kashmiri woman who married into a Pakistani Army family in 1971 - the year of Bangladesh's liberation - and relayed military secrets back home.
The critically acclaimed spy thriller is based on a true story, told in Harinder Sikka's 2008 novel Calling Sehmat, and reconstructs the perilous world the young spy (whose real name was not Sehmat) entered.
The theme of love is central to Raazi -- love for country, of course, but also -- as India Today's review notes -- the "gradually blossoming marital bond" between Sehmat and her Pakistani husband.
But the film leaves out another story of love, one that finds mention in the novel. It's the tale of Sehmat's first flame, a "tall, young, athletic" young man she knew during her time at Delhi University - Abhinav.
While the real Sehmat died recently, Abhinav (again, not the real name), who is now a senior citizen, still lives in Delhi.
THE QUESTION OF SEHMAT'S IDENTITY
Harinder Sikka has kept Sehmat's true identity hidden for years, but he recently hinted he would release a photograph of her.
Abhinav has refused to let him to that, and he's not alone. Sikka's attempts to convince close friends and associates of Sehmat's that the veil on her identity can finally be lifted have - so far - been in vain.
Even Farooq Abdullah, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, has urged Sikka to keep the secret. "There are millions who work and pray for one Hindustan. Kashmiris are wonderful, simple and peace-loving people. And those who visit the Valley will vouch for their integrity," he wrote to Sikka in a brief missive.
Yet, the author holds on to hope that he'll soon be able to introduce Indians to the woman he considers a hero. And he thinks Abhinav's approval is significant.
"He is presently well-settled in Delhi and feels I am intruding into their privacy," Sikka says. "I am simply trying to ask him, does Sehmat belong to one person? She is now a national property (figure). She is a hero."
Abhinav's love for Sehmat stood the test of time. "Sehmat never went back to him," Sikka explains. "But he went to her. He, in fact, took care of all her issues when she returned to India."
"She was drowning in heavy depression, and pregnant with a child. She had a reason not to return to [her] earlier life. Sehmat felt she had blood on her hands."
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Sikka may not have Abhinav's go-ahead, but he says he's waiting for the green light ("to release at least some portions of her identity") to come from other people who were close to Sehmat.
"If they approve", he says, "I will be more than happy to release [them] in June. The fact is, [it's] only a matter of time before someone opens her identity."
WHY LIFT THE VEIL?
Despite the arguments against Sikka's wish to reveal Sehmat's identity, the author has his reasons for wanting to do so.
"Can I set a new trend that we recognise these soldiers, [who were] not in uniform but took dangerous risks?" he asks.
"Why should our brave agents die unsung and unknown?"
Sehmat, he says, deserves a "farewell."
"Sehmat took this journey for India, showing courage [which] not many can even imagine. She was brave beyond a soldier in uniform."
Harinder Sikka, himself a former naval officer, tracked down Sehmat when her son revealed her existence.
She's claimed to have procured information which appeared to save an attack on the Indian warship INS Vikrant. But there was another, more tragic, consequence: The mission resulted in murders, including that of Sehmat's husband.
Sikka's book highlights the dangers faced by unacknowledged agents during wartime. It took him seven years to write.
WATCH | The official trailer of Alia Bhatt's Raazi (YouTube/Dharma Productions)