Romeo Akbar Walter
Director: Robbie Grewal
Cast: John Abraham, Jackie Shroff, Raghuveer Yadav, Sikander Kher and Mouni Roy
The film starts with a chilling torture scene. A prisoner’s nails are being pulled out in order to make him spill some state secrets during the Indian-Pakistan of 1971. But, just as one settles down to enjoy a tough as nails yet palatable spy story, what is served up instead is a smorgasbord of under-done contrivances. Director Robbie Grewal has stated that his film was inspired by conversations with his father, an Army officer, who had at one time even worked for the Indian military intelligence. Grewal’s familiarity with the subject does surface occasionally in certain scenes – for example, the one in which the trick to passing a lie-detector test is explained. However, Grewal’s Romeo Akbar Walter ends up fighting a losing battle with realism.
Romeo (John Abraham) a bank teller is handpicked by the RAW chief Srikant Rai (Jackie Shroff) to serve the nation on foreign soil because of two significant capabilities—his enviable ability to alter himself into aliases and expertise in the art of defense. Two separate unrelated anecdotes are clumsily strung together to establish Romeo’s qualifications for the enviable job of defending the nation. But doing one’s duty is never quite enough in a Hindi film. There must be heartbreaking sacrifice involved too and in this one, the son abandons one mother for the well-being of the motherland. That Romeo’s father had served in the army is trotted out as proof of his natural proclivity for the job thus conveniently paving the way for an almost instant transformation into a spy.
Cinema, we all agree is a lot about the suspension of disbelief, about the audience buying into the illusion or fantasy created by the film-maker. But, this, unfortunately, proves to be the biggest stumbling block for the film.
The leading man John Abraham, known for picking his roles smartly is in familiar territory. He likes films about politics especially that delve into terrorism and geopolitical issues—RAW is his fifth film of the kind after Kabul Express, New York, Madras Café and Parmanu: The Story of Pokharan. Abraham is in form with this one too; his demeanour well suited to playing a part that requires impenetrability. Although not entirely convincing as, Romeo, the actor, in the time that he goes to being Akbar and then Walter, does find his groove.
The men accompanying him –Jackie Shroff, Raghuveer Yadav, and Sikander Kher lend able support; Shroff in particular. Kher who is seen after a long time is impeccable as the Pakistani officer complete with his Punjabi accent and a sinister stare. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of Mouni Roy wasted in an unsubstantial role. Suchitra Krishnamoorthi, who plays a senior political columnist, suffers a similar fate.
On the upside, RAW, fortunately, is not a particularly lengthy film and once the protagonist gets into enemy territory, the thriller elements do kick in. The second half picks up pace building on the intrigue and gives us a satisfying ending.
The silver lining is that with a relatively more serious No Fathers in Kashmir as the only other release in theatres combined with the mood of the nation veering towards the patriotic, RAW, despite its flaws, could well have a smooth run.
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