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Raazi has been well received by audiences and is earning glowing reviews from everywhere. This superbly crafted spy-thriller also goes on to break a number of stereotypes.
Meghna Gulzar’s latest directorial venture Raazi has been earning rave reviews and is slowly but steadily heading towards the coveted 100 crore club. The espionage thriller, which is based on Harinder Sikka’s book, ‘Calling Sehmat’, is a true story of a Kashmiri girl who goes undercover for India, and marries a Pakistani army officer.
While the film firmly establishes Alia Bhatt’s acting prowess as the protagonist Sehmat Khan, it also goes on to shatter a number of stereotypes and leaves us pleasantly surprised, as it does not include any of the usual tropes that we are generally conditioned to expect in a Bollywood movie, as also in a patriotic thriller.
Let us see how how Raazi broke a number of stereotypes and stood apart:
It would have been easy to make Raazi an aggressively nationalist, anti-Pakistani film. But, the filmmakers avoided this trope, creating well-rounded Pakistani characters who were not inherently bad because of their nationality, and instead have emotions, beliefs, and interests like any character would have.
The protagonist, Sehmat Khan, is a strong woman who can keep her nerve in a crisis and take tough decisions, and is smart and resourceful to boot. However, she also has emotions and shows them freely. It’s only too common for creators to write cold-hearted women of steel (or at least women who pretend to be) when trying to write a strong female character.
The premise of this film is that Sehmat Khan marries into a Pakistani family so that she can relay inside information to the Indian Intelligence from there. You’d except there to be some amount of saas-bahu drama, or rivalry between her and her sister-in-law.
There is none of that. There is no saas in the picture at all, and Sehmat’s sister-in-law is the first friend she makes in her new family. Sehmat later helps her sister-in-law to get out of trouble for something she has not done – an expression of the healthy female friendship they have, the type which is hardly ever shown in popular media.
I had expected (and had hoped I would not see) some kind of abusive family, with maybe just one person being friendly towards Sehmat. But, the family accepts her completely, with only the cook being hostile towards her. Family drama plays no part in this story, even as a side plot, and I am thankful for that.
The man who Sehmat marries, Iqbal, is a shining example of how to ask for consent, even in a marriage.
On her first night in her new home, it is clear that she is fully expecting him to take advantage of his ‘marital right’ to her body. Instead, he says that it would be better if they got to know each other first, specifically saying that he would like to get to know her, acknowledging that she is a person in her own right, and worth getting to know. Even later, when they do get more intimate, he takes her consent before making any advances.
This film showed a romantic relationship that did not include dances or running around in fields of grass and flowers. There was no stealing of chunnis and no hiding and peeping out at the other. There was no stalking and no coyness, as is seen in so many Bollywood movies. The relationship was built on mutual trust and respect for each other’s likes, dislikes, personalities, and national sentiments. It is a deep and beautiful relationship and I was so happy to see it in a Bollywood movie.
In so many stories in which a woman does spy work, she uses her body to get favours or information from others. This movie has none of that. Sehmat does get into a situation in which she is able to spy on Pakistan by marrying into a Pakistani military family, but nothing more. All the actual spying involves the usual things you would expect a male spy to do.
Sehmat really falls in love with her husband, a Pakistani whom she is supposed to spy on. She is never shamed for these feelings, which are unrelated to her spy work in any practical sense. Her love for her husband instead shows the human cost of war.
By breaking these sterotypes, Raazi joins a league of classics as it refrains from the usual ‘larger than life’ portrayal of characters. Also, it does not not meander into the zone of ‘hyper nationalism’ and ‘jingoism’ to bring out the patriotic fervour in the audience.
Hats off to the entire caste and crew of Raazi for making a film that will be remembered for a long time to come.
Header image is a still from the movie Raazi
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Zefeni. A teenager curious about the world around her, a book lover, poet, and dreamer.
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