Synopsis – During the India-Pakistan war of 1971, an Indian banker is recruited by RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) for a covert operation deep inside Pakistan.
My Take – While the success of Kesari has confirmed that Akshay Kumar is going to continue his recent yet successful streak of appearing mainly in patriotic films for now, it seems like John Abraham, an actor, who has been dabbling in various genres for years (mostly unsuccessfully), has also found comfort in the same genre. With success of recent films like Satyamev Jayate and Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran, Abraham is on a new path to tell his own successful tales of cinema that celebrates patriotism without the jingoism.
While initially set to star Sushant Singh Rajput, who had to bow out due to prior commitments, here, John Abraham is once again (earlier in Madras Cafe) send to a neighboring country to act an agent of Indian intelligence to unmask a conspiracy while juggling his own sense of patriotism. In Bollywood, when it comes to spy films, one usually thinks of the big-budget action flicks like Baby (2014), Bang Bang (2014), Agent Vinod (2012), Phantom (2015), Ek Tha Tiger (2012) and its sequel, Tiger Zinda Hai (2017), mainly due to the James Bond inspired suave portrayed by its leading men. However, a film like the underrated D Day (2013), also makes us realize that being a spy is quite thankless job too.
Operating in the same vein as last year’s Meghna Gulzar directed Raazi, this Robbie Grewal (Samay, MP3, Aloo Chaat) written and directed film, brings us the true tale of an Indian spy, Ravindra Kaushik, who was also called “Black Tiger” due to his dedication towards serving India. As a film, there is no doubt that director Grewal‘s film is going to suffer due to its comparisons to the well mounted Raazi, mainly due to a similar premise and the period both are set in. Nevertheless, this film manages to be at least a decent watch.
The film is constantly gripping and frequently gives up tension throughout its duration, however, where it suffers is its lack of pace, especially in the second half. Like Raazi, this film too is devoid of big action sequences, but what affects the final product the most is the presence of predictable twists (except a few) and lackluster suspenseful moments. Which is quite unfortunate as the film has quite the stellar cast backing its proceedings, but at the end of its 141 minute run time, it feels mostly like a passable affair made mainly for John Abraham fans.
Set in 1971, the story follows Rehmat Ali aka Romeo (John Abraham), a young Indian who works in a local bank in New Delhi and lives with his over-protective mother. While growing up Romeo too desired to join the military and serve his nation like his deceased father, but ended up submitting to his mother’s apprehensions.
Seeming to be leading a contend life by using his skill in disguises to play out in office parties and wooing his co-worker, Parul (Mouni Roy), Romeo’s life changes when he is summoned by RAW Director Shrikant Rai (Jackie Shroff) himself to act as a spy in West Pakistan. As Shrikant enrolls him into the RAW roster, Romeo lies to his mother that he has been promoted in the bank and enters Pakistan as Akbar Malik to win the trust of arms dealer Isaq Afridi (Anil George), who’s very close to General Zorawar (Purnendu Bhattacharya).
While eavesdropping on their conversations, Akbar learns that Pakistani forces plan to strike the Badlipur region in order to counter militant activities in in East Pakistan that are being held with support from Indian forces. As he continues to transmit his findings back to RAW, he unknowingly alerts his status which thrusts him into a cat and mouse game with Colonel Khan (Sikandar Kher), an ISI agent.
Set like a John le Carré tale, this film is a slow burner, filled with many mysteries. While watching this film, one will immediately come across the plight of people who were residing in East Pakistan during 1971 currently known as Bangladesh. It would majorly evoke the feelings of patriotism and would show how an Indian spy choose his motherland for his own mother. And how in order to fulfill his roles and responsibilities towards his country, he got too much engaged in his work that he was not even able to bury his own mother.
The film also manages to offer quite some thrills, for example the scene where Akbar gets into the good books of Afridi and him meeting a master spy called ‘Joker’ are interesting and a few of the dialogues are effective. Like when Afridi asks about ‘Akbar’s properties in Hindustan, and the latter corrects him by saying ‘Kashmir’. Impactful without taking a dramatic turn! The scenes between Romeo and his helper Salim (Raghubir Yadav) are quite nicely done, without getting too melodramatic. Like the scene where Romeo questions himself for being treacherous to Afridi, his friend, a Pakistani, reminds him of who he really is.
But why isn’t the film as gripping as Raazi? Besides the gender of its protagonist, both films are quite dissimilar in terms of where they stand. While Raazi focused on the cost of war and empathy towards people from the other side of the Line of Control, this film hammers home the point that interpersonal relations only make spies weaker and derail them from their path to serve their country.
Though the story by Robbie Grewal is decent in intention, the weak screenplay which runs for about 141 minutes, feels about 40-45 minutes too long, and wastes too much time on sappy side-plots like Romeo’s relationship with his mother and his yearning for his motherland. There is also a romantic track imposed on the narrative for the sake of token emotions, which only serves as a distraction from the central narrative.
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. But the final twist, like some major plot points, seem implausible given how heavily the film is invested in the accuracy of a procedural rather than a Tiger Zinda Hai-like spy thriller steeped in suspension of disbelief.
However, John Abraham gives his hundred per cent here. The film might disappoint but he won’t. His portrayal of a conflicted man is earnest and the actor stays committed to his part. His deadpan expressions work very well for his character. Jackie Shroff gives a restrained performance and is one of the strongest links which makes the film watchable.
Mouni Roy lets her eyes do most of the talking, since the screenplay barely allows her any dialogues. Sikandar Kher is terrific as the ISI agent, nailing his Karachi accent and the mannerisms so right. Raghubir Yadav wins your heart as Romeo’s aide with a sad tale of his own. In supporting roles, Suchitra Krishnamoorthy, Anil George, Rajesh Shringarpure, Alka Amin and Shadaab Amjad Khan also give good performances. On the whole, ‘Romeo Akbar Walter’ is a watchable espionage thriller which despite a few effective thrills, underplays its potential overall.
Directed – Robbie Grewal
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 141 minutes