Well, this was a shockingly good movie! I highly highly highly recommend it. Also, I am now in love with Vicky Kaushal.
This is a very small story, a very human level story. We don’t see the big troop movements, the explosions, any of that. We just see the household and the people within it. And our heroine. And when you keep the story on that human level, suddenly all those big speeches about the country and nationalism and all that start to seem empty. What does some abstract concept of country matter versus the person in front of you?
It’s a bit of a bait and switch, the trailer and the songs and the promos emphasized the patriotism of the story, how even a fragile young girl was emboldened by the love for India and so on and so on. And then you watch the movie, and it’s not that at all! There are patriotic speeches, sure. But there is also a love story, and a story of a family, and a community, and a father and daughter, and a mother and daughter, and just generally A LOT. Patriotism is just one part of a person.
The most important lesson is that everyone is patriotic, no one country is necessarily better than another, but you have to choose simply because it is your country and it is right to be loyal to it. The Pakistanis aren’t terrible villains, they are simply being loyal to their country. And the Indians aren’t perfect heroes, they are just doing the same.
This is a film that resists the emotional moment at almost every turn. Not that their are no emotions, but rather than building the audience up to a peak of hatred, or despair, or fear, the camera keeps us a little at a distance. We can enjoy the story and the puzzle and the pretty house and the clever moments, without feeling over-whelmed by them. Until the very end, when, finally, our heroine lets herself break down and suddenly it all comes out.
But until then, the other interesting thing about this film is that it is a bit of a female fantasy. At least as much as spy movies are usually male fantasies. Our heroine’s love interest, Vicky Kaushal, is the perfect man. He is handsome and kind and thoughtful, a wonderful reward in the middle of all her fears and struggles. And our heroine always wins, she is so smart and quick witted, she shows up everyone who doubts her always, it’s a great adventure for little girls to watch and fantasize about being a part of. Or for older woman to watch, I enjoyed it too!
Oh, and Alia does a predictably wonderful job. She is a perfect lead for this film, although I am beginning to get a bit tired of the “Alia sobs as her life falls apart around her” scenes. Let the poor girl smile sometimes!
But while Alia is good, it is the two male leads around her who steal the film. Vicky Kaushal as a new kind of perfect quiet laidback hero, and Jaideep Ahlawat as the unpredictable spymaster who trains Alia. And now that I see that, I realize that isn’t a coincidence. In India, Alia has the withholding complicated amoral spy master, and in Pakistan she has the perfect kind generous husband. She may love India more, but that doesn’t mean it treats her right.
This film was sold as a patriotic film, but it is not that at all. It is a female fantasy of being an awesome spy, and a subtle contradiction to patriotism. There is a reason that the patriotic song in the film is called “Ae Watan”, it simply means “country”, the word “India” is never mentioned. It is a plea of love for your country, whatever country that is.