Synopsis – A fearless income tax officer raids the mansion of the most powerful man in Lucknow after someone mysteriously draws his attention towards the evidence.
My Take – As citizens, we all know that one of the primary factors effecting India as country on a domestic level are corrupt politicians. As a result, there is something deviously satisfying in knowing that there are people who are out there sitting on pot loads of money and that there is a system in place to bring them to order isn’t it? But let’s face it; tax evasion is rampant all around us. Sure, not all of them are corrupt, but when the taxman casts his net, a few politicians are invariably snared. While we have seen many films over the decades which showcases this never ending battle, what sets this director Raj Kumar Gupta film apart is that it transpires in a single principal location and documents the longest raid in the history of India. Here is a film that is much more than a lesson against evading income tax. It is an insight into the truly remarkable and persistent work put in by honest government officers in bringing to book, corrupt and greedy businessmen who can go to any extent to evade tax. Returning to the screen after a five year hiatus, here, Raj Kumar Gupta, the man behind films like Aamir & No One Killed Jessica, manages to go through this taut drama with the requisite speed, with very real surprises, all the while inspiring great performances. Just when you think the Bollywood thriller is running out of steam there comes a film that is so taut and clenched, so caustic and brimming with political sarcasm that you wonder why haven’t we seen such kind of a film before. Unfolding over a few days in 1981 in Uttar Pradesh, the story follows Amay Patnaik (Ajay Devgn), an honest Indian Revenue Services officer, who’s been transferred 49 times in the past for his unbending honesty, who acting on a tip and a personal research launches an income tax raid against Rameshwar Singh (Saurabh Shukla) aka Tauji, a grassroots political operator in order to find the supposed 420 Crore rupees, he and his family have allegedly stashed. However, on arrival everything seems futile, as nothing is discovered. But Amey has the map of Tauji’s big premises, and, unwittingly, he is helped by one of the family members.
Yet when the stored loot begins to be discovered, Tauji will not take things lying down, from pulling strings to breaking the law in desperation, he will stop at nothing. However, standing like a rock behind Amey, who has been transferred for the 49th time, is his courageous wife, Malini (Ileana D’Cruz), who tells him that he has never made a mistake in his profession and not going to start now. Once Amay’s team enters the house that is the fulcrum of the film’s action, the film almost feels like a suspense thriller. Who is the informer who has given him such accurate information about a family with such clout? Will Amay manage to finish the task at hand or will he be disillusioned by how far the corrupt Tauji’s political allies will go to save him? And where on earth has Tauji hidden his ill-gotten riches? As riveting as these questions is the realization dawning on the viewer as the film rolls along, that income-tax officials operate in a very dangerous field. Inspired by a true story of the 1980s tax raid conducted in Lucknow by the then presiding IT officer, the two-hour film gives a chilling account of what was supposedly the longest-ever income tax raid in India. The film is minded as a tribute to the unsung officers who are the protectors of the economy despite the widespread curse of corruption, the film is all about the consequences a genuine income tax officer has to face being part of a completely corrupted and corroded system. Crisply edited, it is a no-nonsense portrayal of the reality which finds resonance even today. Potential transfers are nothing in comparison with the risk of actual physical harm that their targets could inflict upon them. The manner in which director Gupta leads up to this point is smooth and believable. It helps that he has picked a no-fuss cast who match his intent scene for scene, as does editor Bodhaditya Banerjee. Editor Bodhaditya Banerjee slices all through the huge canvas of characters to grab people of their most anxious moments. It’s a narrative of nice stress and nervous anxieties nonetheless on no account surrendering to a frenzied cutting-away of the material to play on the urgency of the second. The screenplay of the film is full of surprises from the very beginning. The film starts off quite well and thanks to the powerful editing apart from the engaging screenplay, one hour passes and you’re unable to realize it actually has, especially when the interval card hits you. The entire pre-interval sequence is excellently written, masterfully crafted and good enough to raise the expectations towards the second half. The efforts of director Raj Kumar Gupta and writer Ritesh Shah can be seen in every frame and the research they’ve done seems to come out well in the film, secondly, the powerful and intense confrontation between Amay and Tauji. The dialogues which come out like powerful chess moves ooze a sense of intelligence the characters have. For me personally, the main asset of the film is the relentless, uniform and undisturbed narration. There are no frills, like flashbacks or side-plots or item songs, no needless dances or fights, and even the sequences between the lead pair are minimalistic and to-the-point. On the other hand, the realism is riveting indeed, and the intrinsic wit in certain sequences that make us chuckle in the midst of an intense scene raises the film to great heights.
Director Raj Kumar Gupta’s film works, like a procedural drama as Amay Patnaik arrives at his new posting after being transferred from station to station as punishment for his integrity. Ritesh Shah’s writing largely mirrors this no-nonsense character, going about its business quietly and purposefully, and in the bargain throwing light on one of the least hailed of government departments. Amay’s sincerity is established within minutes of his arrival on the scene. It is clear too right from the start that the enemy is not confined to the homes of wealthy families with unaccounted incomes. The enemy within is as lethal a combatant as any outside. In fact, for someone who is far removed from the explosive world of tax evasion, it can be extremely shocking to find trunk-loads of bundles and biscuits being dunked in the most unassuming places inside the house, including cemented pillars and engraved walls, among other places. After his treasure trove comes to light, Singh hurls a challenge at Amay: Let me loose and see what I can do. What follows is a tribute to an honest officer’s decision to stand his ground amid all the pressure. At times, you feel how this could’ve happen in real life but that’s what writer Ritesh Shah does with his research, makes you believe. Screenplay by Ritesh and Raj Kumar Gupta is one of the best things about the film. To the point proceedings results this film to have a perfect run time. Despite the story based in just one house, director Gupta keeps it so intriguing you forget to check the watch on time. The film reveals all that’s wrong with modern India, where Crores are cornered by a few (by hook or crook), while the middle class gets harangued over its meager incomes. The same rich politicos—patriarchs for places they’re from—are in fact secretly admired by locals for being champs at bending the system. They become the system. Not much has changed since. Only what the crooks look like may have and the film does an honest job of showing it, almost as is. The only flaws that I could find in the absolute nail-biting first half are the brief romantic sequences and two completely unnecessary songs, apart from these ignorable parts, there was no sagging moment what so ever. The robust screenplay is backed by stellar performances led by the underrated Saurab Shukla. As the patriarch Rameshwar Singh, he throws his weight around in the family, not sparing even his aged mother in his anger, shoving a jalebi down the toothless lady’s throat. He bowls you over with his intensity and is truly fearsome. His verbal volleys with Patnaik are entertaining, but as the intimidating patriarch he strikes awe in the audience. Ajay Devgn is in his zone throughout & we know how he plays on his home ground. The role of Amay is tailor made for Ajay and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else then him. His portrayal will make you wonder whether the real guy was as law-abiding as him. Ileana D’Cruz has nothing much to do – and does it well! Her sincerity is transparent. Amit Sial is excellent as we see him flawlessly etch completely logical and natural changes in his character as the story goes on, A special delight is Pushpa Joshi as Tauji’s feisty mother. Amit Bimrot and the South actress Gayathiri Iyer make a mark despite small roles, and Sulagna Panigrahi as Tara stands out within Tauji’s clan. On the whole, ‘Raid‘ is an excellent thriller which deserves a watch for its edge of the seat narration and first-class performances.
Directed – Raj Kumar Gupta
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 120 minutes