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RAW Movie Review: It Is A Step-Up For The Espionage Genre!

Subhash K . Jha

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Romeo Akbar Walter(RAW)

Starring: John Abraham, Mouni Roy, Jackie Shroff,  Sikandar Kher

Directed by: Robby Grewal

Rating: ****(4 stars)

What  makes them  do it? No, I don’t mean  the bravehearts like  Meghna  Gulzar and  now Robby Grewal  who dare  to  make   films  about  those daredevils who risk their  lives to  act as Indian  spies  in Pakistan.  But those unsung daredevils who  sneak  into  Pakistan  to  glean  information  for  their beloved  motherland.

And  what  do they get for  it finally?

Towards  the end  of  this intelligently-written well-crafted espionage drama,  our spy-hero’s boss, played with wizened aplomb by Jackie Shroff mumbles, “He  gave  preference  to  his  motherland  over his  own mother.”

Did he, now?

And just a  while  back  John Abraham’s   Romeo/Akbar/Walter  had made  Shroff promise,  “No  matter what  happens myAmmi  must be looked after.”

So much for  promises.

RAW  hits those raw nerves  that all patriotic cinema avoids. This time we go beyond the  flag-waving  to  look at  the  anguished solitude  of  a  man who has chosen to give up his normal life to  infiltrate  Pakistan.  John is  very  good at portraying a loner.  His face  suggests the stoicism  and  unspoken grief of a  man who has zero expectations from life.

 Which is  why I found  the  whole angle of a love interest  for  John’s  character  highly distasteful In the  only outrageously improbable sequence of this film of  urgent  austerity   , our spy-hero and the female diplomat who has  followed  him to Karachi ,are shown making out in car in the middle of  the most dangerous situation possible  for an Indian spy in Pakistan.

 It’s tragic that a film which shows such sensibleness  and wisdom  must still make space for the hero to coochiecoo while he gleans  classified  information from hardboiled Pakistani generals  and arms dealer.

 This is 1971 when Pakistan  is  about to split into two halves.  The birth of  Bangladesh silhouettes  much  of  the action in  RAW. And when I say  ‘action’ I don’t mean the  kind of stylized fights that we expect  we would expect  John Abraham  to undertake  under  the  shadow of  the  flying flag.

 The  action is  visceral swift and  decisive. After seeing  a torture scene you will never be able to listen to the beloved Naniteri morni ko more le gayi  as a children’s song. Most of   the  brutality  converges  on  the  character  of  the  Pakistani colonel  played  by Sikander Kher who exudes a kind of unfettered  sadism that  can  come into  play anytime. Kher plays the dangerous  man with a snide swagger. He is  just brilliant.

There are other very effective performances  from Jackie Shroff as the  RAW chief who  often speaks in metaphors that are meant to hide  the sheer helplessness of an organization when faced with real danger. Rajesh Shringarpure as  Shroff’s right-hand man  displays  the  intuitive  confidence  of  an off-field soldier while Suchitra Krishanmoorthy is interesting  as a double-dealing newspaper  editor. Anil George as  the powerful Pakistani  arms dealer who takes the  Indian spy under his wings and Alka Ameen as  John Abraham’s  abandoned mother, leave  a lingering impact.So does  Raghuveer Yadav as a Pakistani spying for India.

But this  film with its tightly wound structure that tends to go loose-limbed when necessary and gets back into shape when done with the  run, belongs to John Abraham.As  Romeo Akbar Walter and  all the aliases that  an Indian spy must assume to  get his way  in  enemy territory, John plays  the misfit with instinctive  empathy. He is at once  the vulnerable  spy and  the invincible patriot.

Robby Garewal’s direction exercises  a commanding but  flexible  hold over the material. The narrative is  never in a hurry to get anywhere just to  make sure it doesn’t lose the  audience. The  film movies  at  its own  volition. It is  crafted with care and shot by cinematographer Tapan Tushar Basu with grainy intensity.It invites us  into a world of  politics and  betrayal  .

 Some  of the  sequences  are  unexpectedly heartwarming.  But I wish the  film  could have avoided the clichéd depiction of Pakistan  with paper  green flags strung on threads across streets. Pakistan, as we all know,  is a state  of  mind created to infuse an  unreal level of patriotism in Indians. Given that volatile situation RAW  reveals  a remarkable restrain.

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