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Spy drama falls short of thrills

Rashmi Vasudeva

Khufiya

Hindi (Netflix)

Director: Vishal Bhardwaj

Cast: Tabu, Ali Fazal, Wamiqa Gabbi, Azmeri Haque Badhon

Rating: 2.5/5

This is director Vishal Bhardwaj’s second outing in quick succession after his recent adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel for a series on SonyLiv. Khufiya, inspired by the book ‘Escape to Nowhere’ by a former R&AW official, is very Bhardwaj in the beginning — a seeping darkness, ghostly figures, haunting music, gripping cinematography and rain. What follows is a punchy half-an-hour of straightforward espionage without chest-beating and Bharat-Mata-ki-Jai patriotism. The sly references to Shakespeare add to the charm and genuinely got me excited — are we finally getting a full-fledged Indian spy movie without any dose of silliness?

Alas, after an hour or so of tight plotting, when the story has a major shift, the movie stumbles. Along come a series of rather implausible occurrences, which the audience is expected to swallow and play along. The pace sustains, but the story falls short of the initial excitement it creates. The long Satsang clap-along songs by bass guitarist and social activist Rahul Ram make one chafe in impatience, though the songs are not too bad on the ears. The climax is not the satisfying comeuppance you are led to expect though quite a lot of blood is spilled. One gets the feeling Bhardwaj quickly wanted to wrap it up and move on to the (more familiar?) poetic aesthetic of the last frame.

Wamiqa Gabbi, after a star turn in Jubilee (Amazon Prime), shines here too, even when pitted against the formidable Tabu. Catch her utterly uninhibited ‘Ye Jawani’ jig when she thinks no one’s watching! But it is Tabu, who holds the movie together, warts and all, with just a sardonic glance sometimes, and a lopsided smile at other times.

The movie comes alive in her intense weariness as well as her genuine love for her khufiya (hidden) work.

This is perhaps why her codename is Cactus, a plant of contrasts — beautiful but prickly. And a loner. A hardy one.

(Published 07 October 2023, 03:51 IST)

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