What’s not to love in a well-crafted, edgy spy thriller, especially if the cast headlines Irrfan and Rishi Kapoor and Arjun Rampal smoulders from the screen.
Director Nikhil Advani takes a ‘what if’ scenario and builds a focused thriller that is what it is: the story of four R&AW agents on a mission to extricate India’s most wanted man out of Pakistan.
The situation is plausible, the antagonist relatable. Even when Kapoor as Iqbal, codename Goldman, says he is a businessman but the authorities have spoilt his name by labeling him a terrorist.
Against advice from the Pakistani authorities, Goldman is determined to attend his son’s wedding. This is the perfect opportunity for the Indian spies to get close to Iqbal. Advani’s film begins with the sangeet ceremony and intercuts Rajpal Yadav’s qawwali with the build up to the attack. Do the agents succeed? That’s answer is reserved for when you watch the film.
Using a flashback device pre-interval, we are now given a diary style recounting of the events and preparation that led to this attack. Advani also builds back-stories for his agents – more so for Rampal as ‘fauji’ Rudra, a man of few words, many brooding looks and an intense relationship with a prostitute (Shruti Haasan). Too much time is wasted on this track and on showing lingering moments between these two damaged individuals. There is also an unnecessary sequence of Rudra exacting revenge for atrocities against his paramour. Blood flows on the streets of Pakistan with alarming openness and without raising many eyebrows.
Irrfan as Wali is emotionally vulnerable to his wife and son, leading him to appear a liability for the operation. Huma Qureshi’s Zoya, the weapons expert in the team, must sever ties with her husband (voice of Raj Kumar Yadav) in London. Aakash Dahiya plays Aslam, the fourth member of the team — a criminal who has cut a deal to work with R&AW. It’s clear that the each of them has an Achilles Heel, reserved for exploitation at an opportune time.
The performances on the other side are rather weaker, barring Kapoor who plays Iqbal in a lip-smacking tongue-in-cheek style, and his right hand man, the brutal and arrogant nephew played with relish by Chandan Roy Sanyal. While the ensemble mostly works, Shruti Haasan and RAW headman Nasser’s performances are the most jarring. Kapoor, Irrfan and Rampal compensate for these chinks in the armour. It is the latter’s performance that surprises and lingers long after. Qureshi does her best to enhance a relatively squat part.
Some of the songs also niggle, but Advani and his editor keep the narrative ticking along with montages and cutaways just as the songs become tedious. Brevity, as one says week after week, is a virtue our films are yet to embrace.
But then the slick action scenes, the attention to detail, art direction, production design and camerawork transport you to Advani’s milieu, engaging you. As a director, he is sure-footed and in control of his material.
Most importantly, while the film might resort to stereotypes, it does not lean on cheap manipulation and jingoism. It has a point to make, and even it takes it time doing so, that point is made.