Movie- RAW -Romeo Akbar Walter
Directed by- Robbie Grewal
Produced by- Ajay Kapoor
Cast- John Abraham, Jackie Shroff, Mouni Roy, Sikander Kher
Spy movies are speaking their own language. British spies have confidential conversations in public parks in the movies, spilling secrets while feeding ducks. Our spy films, mostly set between India and Pakistan, feature agents and double agents chatting at qawwali performances, presumably thinking the wails will drown them out. Romeo Akbar Walter dutifully follows spy clichés and drowns us in minutiae, but never feels immediate or exciting. It’s a slow film, and the qawwali spies are played by John Abraham and Mouni Roy.
Abraham, possibly a poker shark, uses expressions sparingly as if scared of running out of a restricted repertoire. We meet him as Romeo, a young-ish man with Arjun Rampal’s hair and a pocket-marked face, rougher than we’re used to seeing him, but tone and performance flatness remain steadfast. Unfortunately, blankness and inscrutability are not the same, and the stiff actor threatens to blend into the traditionally wood-paneling walls, given that the film is set in Pakistan.
Set in 1971, there is interesting ground: the Indian army training rebels in East Pakistan, Indian intelligence trying to outsource Pakistanis through diplomatic misdirection, and Pakistani intelligence that, for once, looks efficient enough to be a threat. There’s even some third-act skulduggery that might have been clever. Unfortunately, the film drags on for too long, and— despite RAW chief Jackie Shroff insisting “Nothing will be told directly to you” — every little bit is tediously spelt out.
The Indian intelligence network functions as a classroom full of children passing elaborately hidden notes inside oranges and padlocks. Grewal appears so pleased with these hiding places that their logic is forsaken: an old man gives a well-dressed woman a box containing a saree covering a gun, yet the sight of these people together is so anachronistic that he could hand her a cello case with a machine gun.
Some of the details are good. Handbills on the wall advertise the once-popular Turkish television brand, Arcelik, we hear about Prakash Padukone winning badminton tournaments in Kuala Lumpur, and a radio cruelly taunts a Pakistani colonel with a classic, happy (although racist) Hindi movie song. This Colonel is played by a terrific Sikandar Kher, a threatening figure who gets the right dialect, credibly swallowing English syllables: “police” becomes “pulce,” “lie detector” becomes “lie tector.” Yet this is an Abraham show, and as he takes on three characters with three names, the film buckles under the effort.
There are pages in the James Bond novels where Bond reads a dossier. These are highly detailed pages, letting us know what Bond knows — before turning to action and thrills. Romeo Akbar Walter is all dossier, no thrill, and it’s a dossier that Jackie Shroff reads aloud. Excuse me, really. No point in pouring a drink that’s so dry that it forgets that it wanted to be a martini.