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A spy without a conscience shouldn’t be glorified, even by Bollywood

Can a person who betrays and kills truly serve as a heroine for our times? If so, how different is she from those who betray and kill us in the name of their country, or their religion?

analysis Updated: May 21, 2018 17:53 IST
Nandita Patel
Nandita Patel
Alia Bhatt,Raazi,Meghna Gulzar
Actress Alia Bhatt at a promotional event for the film Raazi, directed by Meghna Gulzar. (AFP)

Ranbir Kapoor has called Raazi one of the greatest films to be made in Hindi cinema. Is it? What makes a film great is, of course, arguable, but beyond a good-looking lead with fantastic acting chops, or technical finesse, or even nice music, what elevates stories is their inner worth: does Raazi embody a principle or ideal — or the lack thereof— that elevates it in the eyes of its audience even as it entertains?

In the context of the film, Raazi means not only the keeper of secrets, of a raaz, but also the one who acquiesces to do something for the sake of the nation. Ostensibly, the principle that Raazi stands for is that “watan ke aagey kuch nahi, khud bhi nahi” ( Nothing is more important than the motherland, not even one’s own self). Granted. But is betraying and killing the Other the best way to serve this motherland? Is everything truly fair in love and war?

The biggest problem with Raazi is that Sehmat, the protagonist, has few ethical dilemmas about betraying and killing — that she does so to the very people who treat her with love and respect makes it worse. The presumed reason for her lack of compunction is that the people she kills are enemies of her nation and, so, deserving of no sympathy. Still, her moderated inner voice, her lack of inner turmoil, ought to leave any right-minded audience in turmoil. Can a person who betrays and kills truly serve as a heroine for our times? If so, how different is she from those who betray and kill us in the name of their country, or their religion? And how different are we, the people, from those who permit their leaders to cleanse ethnic communities or to terrorise women and children simply because they are the Other?

Perhaps Sehmat’s lack of conscience and introspection is a sign of the times we live in. It is not too far-fetched to think that one of the main reasons this film is being applauded in India is that it is being seen primarily as a tale about minority communities proving their commitment to the nation. If Sehmat, being Muslim and Kashmiri, would be shown to have mixed emotions about her life choices and actions, she would be called as a traitor. The real question then is this: does Sehmat truly do what she does for the love of her nation? Or does she do it out of hatred for the Other’s nation? After all, she points a gun at her Pakistani husband and abducts a Pakistani child who trusted her as his teacher, so that she can save her own life. That is neither service to the nation nor self-sacrifice. It is self-interest.

All countries have spies, and all of them do terrible things in times of war. But that does not make it right. The movie could have reflected this struggle of morality if it had showed its protagonist to be a tragic hero, or even dying in the course of duty. Instead, Raazi wipes out doubts and contesting viewpoints to endorse Sehmat as a heroine. What’s lacking is an understanding of that past affecting her present, of her wrongness despite her duties to the nation, and of her innate humanity that would push her to self-correct through real service and sacrifice, and to acknowledge that to love one’s own country one does not have to hate another’s.

Nandita Patel is a Mumbai-based writerThe views expressed are personal

First Published: May 21, 2018 17:41 IST