Banners: Viacom18 Motion Pictures, Kyta Productions, VA Film Company, Red Ice Productions
Producers: Viacom18 Motion Pictures, Dheeraj Wadhawan, Ajay Kapoor, Vanessa Walia, Gary Grewal
Director: Robbie Grewal
Cast: John Abraham, Mouni Roy, Jackie Shroff, Raghubir Yadav, Suchitra Krishnamoorthi, Rajesh Shringarpure, Anil George, Alka Amin, Shadaab Amjad Khan, Mushtaq Kak
Writers: Robbie Grewal (Story, Screenplay & Dialogue), Rahul Sen Gupta (Additional Screenplay), Ishraq Eba, Shreyansh Pandey (Dialogue)
Music: Shabbir Ahmed, Sohail Sen, Raaj Aashoo, Ankit Tiwari
It is not very often that we get to watch a spy thriller without any trace of jingoism, something that could so easily taint films that touch upon Indo-Pakistan politics. Robbie Grewal, however, sensitively weaves an Indo-Pak espionage thriller with RAW – Romeo Akbar Walter. He makes a bold statement by centring the story on an Indian Muslim who treads a thorny path and goes all out to make sure that his country is safe. And, mind you, there are no slogans of ‘Hindustan zindabad!’ and ‘Pakistan murdabad!’
The film is set in the period prior to the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971 and the formation of Bangladesh. Rehmat Ali, known as Romeo, is an employee at Indian National Bank. He is in love with Parul, his colleague. One day, following a hoax heist, Romeo is hired by the Director of Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), Shrikant Rai, to become part of an undercover mission to unearth a secret conspiracy being hatched by Pakistan to annihilate Mukti Bahini, the East Pakistani army actively aided by India. Romeo rechristens himself as Akbar Malik and moves to Kotli in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and meets Isaq Afridi, a Pakistani arms supplier who is to help carry out an airstrike on Badlipur, a hamlet in East Pakistan. What happens next forms the crux of the plot.
Grewal’s screenplay may not be novel but it is his treatment that makes this film an experience, even though most of the twists, turns and cliffhangers are predictable. This thriller, unfortunately, lacks a thrill quotient. The film has an unhurried and indulgent pace and the film’s editor Nilesh Girdhar makes sure you are drawn into this world. The love story between the lead characters, which serves as a sub-plot, and the song sequences could have been avoided as they do not add anything to the essence of the narrative.
Tapan Tushar Basu’s stylized and edgy cinematography deserves a special mention. He diligently captures the intrinsic spirit of Karachi. The authenticity of the city has been retained through frames constituting cramped market places, narrow thoroughfares and shabby tea stalls. Most of the film takes place during the gloomy monsoon. Cloudy skies and the use of mellow lighting create an atmosphere of doubt and suspicion.
RAW is bolstered by meticulous research. Before the film dives into the focus of the narrative, we are given a history of the political dynamics between India, East Pakistan and West Pakistan. Every pivotal character is given an introduction to help us understand the train of thought that will dictate the course of events. The makers have made sure that the authenticity of the era is intact. We see it in the form of something as simple as hairstyles and vintage cars to important elements such as the lack of high-tech gadgets to communicate secret information across the border.
While the opponent might be the antagonist in the tale, Grewal makes sure they are humanised. That is why we get a glimpse of a personal and professional rift between a father and a son, and a high-profile officer reprimanding his subordinate for inflicting third-degree torture on a captive who is yet to be proved guilty.
Credit goes to sound designer Subash Sahoo for giving us ample nail-biting moments. It amplifies the drama and, to a large extent, compensates for the lack of thrill in the writing.
Performance-wise, John Abraham plays Romeo, Akbar and Walter with solemn restraint. He lets his eyes do most of the talking. Mouni Roy as Parul/Shraddha suffers from a poorly written role and is expressionless. But the strongest links in the film are Jackie Shroff as Shrikant Rai and Sikandar Kher as Colonel Khudabaksh Khan. Shroff is charming and delivers a solid performance. Kher slips under the skin of his character with aplomb. His diction and body language full of angst are superb.
Raghubir Yadav plays Mudassar and creates an impact in the limited screen time that he has. It is a delight to watch Suchitra Krishnamoorthi on the big screen after so many years. However, her Rehana Kazmi is underwritten. Rajesh Shringarpure as Awasthi is earnest and brave. Anil George as Isaq Afridi delivers a good performance. Alka Amin, Shadaab Amjad Khan and Mushtaq Kak do not have much to do and are decent.
Verdict: Worth a dekho!