Raazi (2018): Raazi is that triumphant film that leaves you with some serious misgivings. The story, as we all know by now, is based on the real events during the eve of the 1971 Indo-Pak war when a valorous young Muslim Indian girl Sehmat decided to cross the border to become a wife in a Pakistani family of army men to gather information for the Indian government. It is an audacious tale. And one waiting to be filmed. As a work of cinematic art Raazi scores very highly, almost rivalling the director Meghna Gulzar’s previous film Talvar in terms of the emotional ground the plot covers while uncovering the truth about the lies that we tell for the sake of “honour” In Talvar it was the family honour at stake. In Raazi it is “country”. “Mulk se aage kuch bhi nahin,” is said in various permutations and combinations. And you feel, Sehmat (played with an intuitive rather than an intellectual brilliance by Alia Bhatt) is trying more to convince herself than others around her. Raazi is the film that gives us a true female hero of her times, and our times. Sehmat puts family, personal happiness and interpersonal relations behind her country and lets the mulk…sorry milk of human kindness flow into the spirit of nationalism. But the same dedicated fiercely patriotic child-woman happily betrays the people who trust her. take her in as the daughter-in-law of their family despite her being from a hostile country.
Can a woman who betrays those who trust her blindly, really protect her country? Apparently, she can. And this courageous but misguided woman did exactly that. I don’t know how much of the film actually happened in the real Sehmat’s life. But what transpires in the film is pretty much improbable, if not altogether bizarre, as one after the other Sehmat the Indian spy compromise the role of Sehmat the Pakistani Bahu. Bravely director Meghna Gulzar and her co-writer Bhavani Iyer refuse to demonize the enemy. This is at once the film’s biggest strength and its greatest failure. For, in humanizing the Pakistani family of Sehmat’s husband Iqbal(played with unnerving quietude by Vickey Kaushal) the narrative takes the risk of seriously weakening the female hero’s patriotic fervour. Many times I was horrified by Sehmat’s abuse of her in-laws’ hospitality and trust. The easy way would have been to simply show the Pakistani household as a villainous den of radical fanatics. But Sehmat’s in-laws and especially husband are suave, gentle educated cultured people. This adds to Sahmat’s dilemma of the conscience—a dilemma that neither Sehmat nor the film is fully able to resolve even till the end. Alia Bhatt lets her performance merge in Sehmat’s moral dilemma. We often see her break down in private. But her grief earns no sympathy from us. Her imagined moral high ground is not only patronizing to the people whom she betrays it is also unconvincing to us who watch in horrified silence as she murders and double-deals with a defiant impunity.
Speaking of silence there is plenty of it in the storytelling. Meghna Gulzar basks in the quietude that underscores the turmoil of a soul tormented by the guilt of her betrayal. The most memorable moments in the film are those between Indian Wife and Pakistani Husband, played with an empathy and wisdom by the two leads actors that the script doesn’t always support. The supporting cast specially Rajit Kapoor(as Alia’s father) and Shishir Mishra(as her Pakistani father-in-law) is excellent. No, I didn’t come away from Raazi convinced that country comes ahead of familial allegiance. Neither, I felt, is the protagonist fully Sehmat(sympathetic) with that line of thought. Worse still, Alia Bhatt fails to convey Sehmat’s anguished repudiation of a spy’s double life of deception in her end-speech. It is the only time Alia is unconvincing. Perhaps because she is unconvinced. Finally, she also seems to question the film’s morality. Nation first is fine. But what about the people you let down as you carry that flag up that mountain that takes you to the moral high ground?
Lust Stories (2016): Barely had Swara Bhaskar finished her business in Veere Di Wedding than the very pretty Kiara Advani playing a sexually repressed wife shocks her in-laws by getting her own pleasure without the help of a man. The man of the house is damned. But oops, I am jumping the loaded gun. This orgasmic omnibus opens with the weakest story Anurag Kashyap’s ploughs through the sexual escapades of one of the most unlikeable female heroines I’ve seen in recent times. Radhika Apte plays the sexually active Kalindi, a college lecturer with the hots for her virgin student Akash Thosar who remains virgin no more after she finishes with him. Frankly, Kalinda leaves us the audience feeling soiled and used to. She’s brash brassy over-sexed and filled with intellectual pretensions that border on delusional megalomania. The part is perfect for Apte who now owns the space allotted to sexually savvy libidinous and empowered women in our films. Kashyap gives Apte a free rein. She bullies her lovers(there are three of them, one of who is invisible and another who much to the script’s amusement, asks Apte if she would like to “fornicate”) has her way with everyone and thinks she is so cool engaging in Brechtian dialogues with the camera.
Kashyap probably wanted us to hate Kalinda. He succeeds. Lamentably the storytelling also appears unhinged and self-indulgent. After hearing Apte’s yak-yak on cerebral fornicating it is s blessed relief to come to Zoya Akhtar’s story where Bhumi Pedneker blossoms into an actress of substance. Playing a house-help who is helping her unmarried single employer(Neil Bhoopalan) with his bucket-‘lust’ Bhumi hardly speaks. Zoya tracks her unspoken movement through the apartment which she knows intimately but can never own, as her employer-lover’s prospective bride descends on the ‘1 BKH’ apartment with her folks, reminding her of her place in the domestic hierarchy. There is a kind of unvarnished elegance in Zoya’s delineation of domesticity. And in the way she makes the tea and serves her master Pedneker shows us the complex dynamics of the household. If God lies in the details this segment is a temple of titillation. It is a heartbreaking piece and probably Zoya’s gentlest work to date. Dibakar Bannerjee does an Ingmar Bergman-Basu Bhattacharya portrait-from-a-fractured-marriage in the third story where lust is not a predominant impulse. Desolation is. And who better equipped than Manisha Koirala to project the hurt and wounded pride of a wife who has found comfort in her husband’s best friend’s arms? Bannerjee uses a lot of words to heal wounds in the fractured relationship.No, make that two fractured relationships where somehow the hurt never comes across strongly.
Dibakar builds a bewildering wall around the triangular relationship. The three-way conversation is fraught with unspoken accusations and unexplored hurt. It all boils up to a simmer of discontent that just stops short of brimming over. Doing scenes from a crumbling marriage is a new domain for Dibakar Bannerjee. He does it with much empathy and some amount of self-consciousness. I found the fourth story in this Lust-omnibus to be the hardest to define. Clearly, Karan Johar enjoys the orgasmic beat much more than the other three directors. His story is an unabashed ode to the Big O, though a little broad and tactless in the way it makes the self-pleasuring vibrator seem like a tool of sexual liberation. Sending the warrior queen to the battlefield with a sword….It is really not that simple. Kiara Advani is strikingly beautiful and wholly likeable as the repressed wife while Vicky Kaushal as her nerdy self-righteous sanskari husband who gives the ‘quickie’ a bad name, is outstanding in making his annoying character endearing. But much of Karan’s pontification on ‘aurat ki khwashein’and ‘mardon ke chal-chalan’ is laboured n their bumper-sticker wisdom. And the sequence where Kiara lets it all hang out in front of her in-laws is just a lot of sexed-up hamming pretending to shock. Still, full credit to Karan Johar and all the other three directors of Lust Stories for opening that door into the Indian middle class's sexual consciousness where there lurks a lust for self-fulfilment, seldom explored, scarcely realized. For exploring what goes on behind those doors of middle-class bedrooms this omnibus deserves an ovation. Standing, of course.
Image Source: Imdb, youtube/jungleepictures/netflix
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