Income Tax department officer Amey Patnaik’s halo and wings are revealed early on in Raid. Amey (Ajay Devgn) refuses to enter an elite club that insists on closed shoes rather than open footwear (the rulebook must be followed, after all). When his host buys him a pair to enable his entry, he pays for the purchase.

Inside the club, Amey concedes to a drink – but from his own stash. I only consume what I can afford to buy, he declares. The halo twinkles, and the wings wobble in noble glee.

Despite – or actually because of – his heavily underlined heroism, the Ray-Ban sporting Amey turns out to be the least interesting character in Raj Kumar Gupta’s movie, his first after the disappointing comedy Ghanchakkar (2013). Raid tries too hard to push Amey’s case, and gives him many aphoristic lines that enlist him as a life-time member of the movie club of honest government officials who knock heads with corrupt politicians. Amey’s character doesn’t take a single step forward from when we first meet him, but other twists and tensions in Ritesh Shah’s screenplay work better.

The opening scenes have several close-ups of a wristwatch, but the movie doesn’t stick to its own promised deadline, stretching events out over an indefinable time period. The premise proves too slim for the 121-minute duration, and the frequent cutaways to Amey’s impossibly glamorous and simpering wife Malini (Ileana D’Cruz) have no place in the plot. Perhaps no other income tax raid has taken a pause or two for a song, and Malini’s presence, which is meant to exemplify Amey’s belief that the wives of honest government officials need to be equally brave, only interrupt the momentum.

Yet, Raid coasts along on some smart ideas, among which is the suggestion that compared to the present-day rampaging corruption and brazen looting of public sector banks, the 1980s were a better place to be. The movie is set in 1981, before multi-crore scams became weekly occurrences. Acting on a tip-off that Rameshwar Singh (Saurabh Shukla) has tonnes of black money stashed in his sprawling mansion, Amey assembles his team for an early morning raid that runs into the next day. The raiding team finds nothing despite ripping up mattresses and upturning idols, but luck begins to smile on Amey as the interval sets in.

Gupta works hard to inject a thriller quality to a cinema-unfriendly plot. Dark hints are dropped about a mole in Rameshwar Singh’s household, and his attempts to lobby for succor with former prime minister Indira Gandhi move the action out of the mansion, where much of the movie is set.

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Raid.

As Rameshwar abuses the landline in an attempt to enlist support, a few other characters make their mark. Amit Sial is quietly effective as Lallan, a greasy-palmed member of the raiding party. Pushpa Joshi memorably portrays Rameshwar’s toothless mother, who inadvertently gives Amey clues to the household that help him in his crusade.

Ajay Devgn’s dead-eyed performance barely registers, but the movie’s best character is its villain, a Lalu Prasad Yadav-like figure who has lost control over his brood. Saurabh Shukla’s superbly judged performance steers clear of the cliches associated with the venal heartland politician. His villainy and ability to stir up trouble are never in doubt, and when he protests that he has no idea what his family has been up to in his name, you almost feel for him.

Almost, but not quite – this movie’s moral compass is in the right place. Raid is clear on its rights and wrongs. Once upon a time in India, but not too long ago, it was conceivable that principled officers could do what they had signed up for, Gupta suggests. Political interference had already seeped in – the proof lies in Amey’s frequent job transfers – but it was still possible to thump the rulebook and hope to get somewhere.

As Amey says, I am an atheist who believes only in Bharat Mata, and I am now going to meet her.

Even Indira Gandhi seems touched by Amey’s crusade. In a laugh-out-loud moment, she praises his actions, scoring a not-so-subtle goal for detractors of the current regime.

Gupta’s allusions to present times are unmistakable. “No mob has ever been punished till now,” remarks a member of Rameshwar’s household as his constituents are recruited to discourage Amey’s efforts. The emphasis on punishing black money hoarders has resonance beyond the plot’s events, and the images of stapled packets of rupee notes and gold biscuits that tumble out of Rameshwar’s household create vivid metaphors for the insidious nature of corruption. Undeclared income is all around, and all it needs is a bit of digging, Raid says. That turns out to be its most enduring idea.

Saurabh Shukla in Raid. Image credit: T-Series.
Saurabh Shukla in Raid. Image credit: T-Series.