Film: RAW (Romeo Akbar Walter)
Cast: John Abraham, Jackie Shroff, Mouni Roy and Sikander Kher
Director: Robbie Grewal
Rating: 3 Moons
It’s a bit raw, this Robbie Grewal-directed spy drama that believably is based on true events our Research & Analysis Wing (the real RAW) went through during the Indo-Pak War of 1971. In Robbie’s film, the ‘RAW’ pun is on John Abraham (looking suitably grim if not macho) who starts off in India as Romeo, goes to Pakistan as Akbar and then presumably returns home as Walter. The characters of Romeo and Akbar are well defined, but over Walter you’re in suspense till the end. It’s a kind of twist in the plot that won’t last a day in real espionage but survives for 10 years in a Bollywood film.
Rehmat Ali aka Romeo is a simple cashier chosen by RAW chief Srikant Rai (Jackie Shroff giving paisa vasool) to serve the country like his father and be an Indian spy in Pakistan. His world revolves around his mother (Alka Amin), a war widow, and Romeo is loathe to leave her. But the motherland comes above mother. And Romeo becomes Akbar Malik and migrates to Pakistan to join its ISI. RAW takes you through a number of twists and turns then as Akbar provides info back home of what’s being plotted in Pakistan for the 1971 war and paves his journey to becoming the indispensable Walter.
It’s not that easy, of course, because a suspicious Pakistani Army officer Khudabaksh Khan (Sikander Kher, looking fierce) puts Akbar under surveillance and then things start getting hot for the Indian spy and he starts wondering whether this derring-do and sacrifice for the country is worth it at all. There are moments in RAW (like there were in Parmanu, earlier) when you almost wish that John would throw off the restrained performance of the spy and stop playing mind games and resort to his brawn and raw fighting skills of Dishoom and Force. But there’s no place for machismo or even jingoism in this spy’s life in Robbie’s script.
The film drags in the first half and makes you weary and wondering where it’s headed even though Robbie’s script is well-researched and takes its own sweet time to build up before it starts galloping. Does RAW leave you feeling patriotic? Hmnn, perhaps. But not the flag waving, chest thumping kind, because it’s a spy film anyway that’s told subtly. With an impressive background score and among all the unnecessary songs, one that stands out – Sonu Nigam’s Vande Mataram. But that’s not enough in a run time of almost two-and-half-hours to make RAW a great film, unfortunately.
Jackie Shroff is damned good as the suave RAW chief, he’s Mentor and Mastermind with swag. John Abraham, too, is good as the spy, it’s a role that requires little talking but lot of emoting with the eyes and facial expressions. His best scenes, however, are with his mother played by good old Alka Amin. Sikander Kher is a surprise, he plays the Pakistani officer with conviction and helps hasten the pace of the film every time it dawdles. Who is completely lost here is Mouni Roy in her second Bollywood film. Her character should not have been written in the first place because it does nothing for the artist or the script. There’s also Raghubir Yadav in a small but brilliant role and Anil George who looks like he came straight from the sets of his last film, URI: The Surgical Strike. Plus Shadab Khan who returns to the screen after long.
The plus point in RAW is that, for once, Bollywood has conveyed to some degree that officers of the Research & Analysis Wing are not a combination of Jason Bourne, Ethan Hawke and James Bond whose lives are one round of exciting gun fights, death-defying car chases, and sizzling sexual chemistry. This film won’t see a rush in recruitment to the foreign intelligence agency of India.