Box office

Behind Rs 100-crore success of ‘Raazi’, soft patriotism and a tough heroine

Alia Bhatt is the biggest benefactor of Meghna Gulzar’s spy thriller.

Espionage thriller Raazi has crossed the Rs 100 crore-mark at the box office – an occasion for celebration for its producers, Junglee Pictures and Dharma Films. Raazi cost an estimated Rs 37 crores to make, and was released in approximately 1,250 theatres across India on May 11. It is not the first production to cross the figure that is considered the gold standard for success in the Hindi film trade. But the milestone is significant for several reasons.

Raazi has been directed by a woman and driven by another. In an industry in which female directors are few and actresses rarely headline projects, the movie’s box-office haul will be cited as proof that the glass ceiling has cracked, even if it hasn’t given way completely. For Meghna Gulzar, the superlative performance of Raazi, which follows the widely appreciated Talvar (2015), burnishes her credentials as a reliable director who can handle material that is not traditionally considered women-centric.

The most powerful engine of Raazi, however, is its 25-year-old heroine. Ever since she made her debut with Student of the Year in 2012, Alia Bhatt has been a bona fide star. She has steadily charmed audiences and critics by astutely choosing a mix of roles that allow her to show off her acting range.

Bhatt’s hits include Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014), 2 States (2014) and Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017), successes that can be attributed to a host of factors other than Bhatt (the casting of Varun Dhawan and the popular soundtracks in the case of the Dulhania films; the adaptation from a bestselling Chetan Bhagat novel in the case of 2 States).

With Raazi, Bhatt has proven her ability to steer what the Hindi film trade calls a “solo-heroine project”. Filmmakers do not trust actresses to shoulder movie plots because they believe that the women do not have the ability to “command an opening” – lure in audiences within the first few days of the release. There are notable exceptions, such as Kangana Ranaut and Vidya Balan.

In Raazi, Bhatt is present in nearly every scene. The movie’s popularity can be attributed to her ability to command the screen and take audiences along on the emotional journey of her character.

Raazi (2018).

Other factors have propelled Raazi towards the Rs 100-crore mark. The movie is a good example of a kind of soft nationalism that is more acceptable than its boisterous and blood-thirsty variant. Raazi is an adaptation of Harinder Sikka’s novel Calling Sehmat, which is set before the second India-Pakistan war of 1971. Calling Sehmat begins with the story of Kashmiri businessman Hidayat Khan, who uses his contacts in Pakistan to spy for the Indian government. Khan is portrayed as an exemplary and patriotic Kashmiri who is willing to risk his life – and his kin – for his country. When Khan is diagnosed with a life-threatening ailment, he orders his 20-year-old daughter Sehmat to take his place. Hidayat offers up Sehmat’s body as bait – she gets married to the son of a Pakistani Army officer who trusts Hidayat. Sehmat unquestioningly takes up the mission.

Gulzar and Bhatt have been at pains to assert that Raazi isn’t anti-Pakistani, and that the characters behave the way they do because of the situation (the impending war). The movie’s release, at a time when the political situation in Kashmir has descended into ugliness and ties with Pakistan are frayed, seems to have boosted its prospects. Raazi humanises the Pakistani characters a bit more than the novel, but takes equal care to give Indian viewers the satisfaction of seeing an Indian – and a Kashmiri – getting the better of our estranged neighbours.

Raazi makes the case that Indians too can be adept at stealth warfare, an art that the movies have thus far presented as being the special talent of Pakistani agents and Indian terrorists and traitors. Sehmat Khan’s obedient nature on screen is in stark contrast to the reality of Kashmiris pelting stones and participating in rallies in the harsher present. In her unflinching willingness to perform her duty to the nation, Sehmat emerges as the ideal Indian citizen. I have no self before the nation, Sehmat declares, but goes about her mission quietly, without too much drama and fuss – a variation on the honest bureaucrat or the selfless social worker, and the ideal heroine for less than ideal times.

Dilbaro, Raazi (2018).
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”


“Like what?”


A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”




“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:


This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.