“Jo Desh Ke Liye Ladte Hain.. Unki Maut Ka Countdown Toh Pehli Saans Se Shuru Ho Jaata Hai.. Gaur Se Dekh In Aankhon Mein; Inmein Naa Marne Ka Darr Hai, Naa Maut Ka Khauf!”
Those who fight for their country have limited time on them. Yet, go deep in those eyes and you’ll find there’s neither any fear of death nor regret for dying!
The above isn’t from a James Bond flick.
I can’t for the life of me remember Ethan Hunt saying that to the White Widow in Mission Impossible- Fallout’s Hindi version.
Interestingly, it’s not even a line from John Abraham’s Romeo Akbar Walter either.
Let’s just say, at times, it’s important to read between the lines.
Does that ring a bell?
How would it!?
Because Hrithik Roshan’s so-called spy flick of 2014- the one where Katrina looked hot yet again and Hrithik even went as far as driving an F1 car (or something like it)- would not appeal to those Intellectuals among us who take seconds to rip apart anything from India that doesn’t seem to carry a detailing of Spielberg’s Munich-like or the incisiveness of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
And this is interesting.
It’s simply because those assessing are a well-informed breed- of critics.
While our critics’ thirst for “cinematic experience” lies in Gangs of Wasseypur, they also doesn’t say much to quarrel with those who consider “blockbusters” like Ek Tha Tiger a resounding success in the spy-thriller genre even as Mr. Khan’s presence reduces the film to a beauty contest between his agelessness and Katrina’s sparkling thunder.
But well, who are we to judge?
But let’s cut the bullshit.
And more so when it comes to a not-so-sassy and not your regular high voltage “edge-of-the-seat-thriller” such as Robbie Grewal’s Romeo Akbar Walter.
To be frank, lovers of gossipy, glossy uber- cool shows may not enjoy this movie.
Nor will those who spend hours on social media blabbering about things such as a red velvet cake.
And definitely not those who can binge watch Koffee With Karan season number 92, episode number 111, whilst debating endlessly a simple need to stand up for the national anthem.
But well, shit happens.
And there’s a lot of it that happens in Romeo Akbar Walter- inspired by, as they say, from the legendary albeit less-known life of our man in Pakistan- a film that stands in as stark a contrast to Hrithik Roshan’s Bang-Bang as is the CIA to ASIS (Australia Secret Intelligent Service).
But I tell you what, lovers of patriotism, debaters of nationalism, and spreaders of much-needed campaigns such as “give a free hug”… yes all of you.. take off some time of that phone of urs; let the unanswered WhatsApp’s be, skip the gym or Zumba for a day and hit the theatre.
Go watch Romeo Akbar Walter. It’s not the greatest movie ever made. Yet it’s one that’s needed to applaud those who put their lives at stake so that we- you, me, our besties, families, lost lovers, new friends- can have ours.
John Abraham, not nearly in the same league as those who seem keen to promote the Hon’ble Indian government’s policies and programs through “mega-successes” such as Toilet-Ek Prem Katha or the “Narendra Modi- biopic” does provoke a reaction one too many from the audience.
This is, perhaps in the form of a loud grunt as his nails are being ripped remorselessly by an ISI wannabe-supremo. And this could also be in the form of a gentle tear-drop that may just roll down your cheek as you find a defenseless Romeo running pillar to post (and thankfully, not literally from a part of Pakistan to another) with memories of his mother well behind him, who he hasn’t seen for ages.
But John, a man who seems to be on this mission to participate in patriotic movies does all he can to depict the trials, tribulations and the so-often neglected any of it ever seeming too dramatized or desperate for attention albeit with a sincerity that makes him go level with Tom Cruise’s uncontrollable urge to do death-defying stunts as seen in most Mission Impossible-series.
Of course, John as a banker-turned-spy for India’s noted R&AW (Research and Analysis Wing) performs amazing duties covertly as Romeo, a simpleton from India who goes deep inside the enemy line with one main purpose- to give every ounce of sweat, every drop of his blood in the service of his motherland- but without any “swag!”
Yet, John’s melancholic eyes convey a lot. They say just enough to make the viewer feel both- a boxer who can be a thespian at the Olympics as well as an amateurish pugilist, depending on a script that oscillates between Romeo’s (inspired from Ravindra Kaushik) thrill, daring and a sense of purity that tops him above any other secret agent we may have come to see in a long time.
This is not to say that movies based on covert missions and intelligence gathering haven’t happened from India.
Over the years, we’ve seen Baby. There’s the much-acclaimed Naam Shabana. Did you see D-Day? Of late, there’s been stuff like Aiyaary. These films have truly uplifted the standard of a genre the world keeps coming back to.
Need proof? History would serve an answer. Remember to not forget that espionage happens to be the world’s second-oldest profession.
But none of the above had gone as deep in weaving something incredible, despite balancing its weight against a true-story as this John Abraham- Robbie Grewal actor-director alliance.
Now what the plot truly is and how sharp does its narrative cut the viewer whilst enforcing on the ‘hero’ of the story a few blows one too many is why you’ve got to watch it.
But it must be said, what Romeo Akbar Walter does really well is that it assembles a finely gathered acting repository of sorts alongside the driver of the race, John Abraham, who takes a nearly two and a half hour narrative to the finish line.
Thankfully, this is a race that’s being contested with a gloss-free, subject-focused intention.
There’s no item song.
No firang bounces in suddenly out of nowhere to kick butt.
There’s no-one wearing a shiny red bespoke suit perhaps much to the chagrin of those who can’t explore life in black and white or minus the wonderful Instagram or filters our pictures are drenched in.
There’s Raghuveer Yadav and Rajesh Shringarpore, both in tiny but key parts contributing their talent to a plot that doesn’t waver despite having a sensitive-plot at the background, one that’s spectacularly refurbished- because well, it can’t be a tell it all, can it?
With India versus Pakistan spy-game playing out at the background, you know there’s enough tension to be hitting your head each time you’d lose your cool that a needless number (thankfully, no item-song, no jazzy dimwit stuff) will keep bugging you with.
One of 1971’s noted events, playing out well in a biopic that pays tribute to Ravindra Kaushik tells you- at times in exasperation and on others, in immense pride- the rarely acknowledged but thankless life of spies.
And for as long as that chord isn’t tampered with despite John Abraham’s Romeo, a devout son of the soil willing to even romance Mouni Roy’s charming ‘diplomat’ Shraddha especially at the time where an outbreak of war between India and Pakistan is at its peak, will perhaps dissuade you a bit to undergo what eventually turns out to be a span of little over 2 hours and 21 minutes.
But these, it must be said, are spent well albeit riding a topsy turvy, occasionally slow but mostly thrilling road. Nonetheless, it’s one that’s championed well by John Abraham in a saga based loosely but told magnificently, thanks to a climax you can’t afford to miss.
Trust us on that.
That told, thanks to the film’s story-line and the gravitas of someone like Jackie Shroff – perhaps in a role of a lifetime, yes you read it right- adds the fourth star to what might have just been a three-star ride.