Espionage as a subject has attracted a lot of interest from Bollywood recently. From D-Day to Baby to Ek Tha Tiger and the recent blockbuster Raazi, makers have stumbled upon a formula of interlacing patriotism with rampaging action sequences backed by a pulsating score. As a kid, the first such ‘Spy’ movie I remember was the Dev Anand starrer Jewel Thief. Dev Anand impersonated a notorious thief, in the process getting framed himself due to a case of mistaken identity. The movie is often referred to as India’s first successful spy thriller and catapulted Dev Saab in the public consciousness as an action superstar from his hitherto romantic persona on screen. What lies common to all the movies named above, across decades, is that an espionage movie inherently, is a play on human trust. Plot intricacies aside, the trust building in enemy territory is where the script either shines or fizzes out.And the success or failure of such movies depend on how strongly the audience connects with the protagonist and how much they twitch when he/she is in danger.
Spies have played the role of an unsung hero in protecting India’s interest and keeping us ahead of the enemy’s stratagem. Eulogising those brave soldiers is an easy recipe for a hit movie. And that seems to have captured the collective consciousness of directors who are calling all these movies ‘Inspired from real life’.
Romeo Akbar Walter is another such movie directed by Robbie Grewal. John Abraham plays the eponymous role of a spy who is sent on the most covert mission at that time to gather intelligence on the Pakistani army’s plan of action on East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The movie starts off strongly, establishing the existing squirmish in the region and how the Mukti Bahini is fighting the sovereign battle with the backing of the Indian forces. But typical to Bollywood, the scripts starts meandering into a story of one-upmanship of a wooden faced hero. The 2018 movie, Raazi worked because we cared for the protagonist. Here was a simple girl, thrown into the enemy’s den with the solemn swear of her motherland in her heart. With every event our hearts thumped faster for the well-being of Sehmat (Alia Bhatt). Also, Alia acts her heart out for the movie. John on the other hand lacks the dexterity to portray vulnerable and resilient effortlessly. The actions sequences are well shot and the entire 70s era is captured with minute detailing (you will see Gold Spot cold drinks, old car models plying on the roads) .
The biggest disappointment of Romeo Akbar Walter is the predictable climax and the gimmicky name. Throughout the movie you will expect to see the individual stories of how John becomes Akbar and Walter, but in the end, those are simply convenient names formed with the initials of the RAW department of Intelligence. If you have seen even half a dozen spy films, you can write the ending well in advance and bet with your friend who hasn’t watched as much. The movie is all about John Abraham along with Jackie Shroff playing the RAW director who masterminds the entire operation. Other than these two, no other character makes any mark or drives the story ahead. Sikander Kher is watchable as the Pakistani officer who smells foul in the entire Romeo Akbar story.
If you are really bored and willing to suspend logic for a couple of hours, then you may enjoy the movie. But if you, like me, question the fact that how does a person rise up the ranks of Pakistani diplomacy without ever being questioned about his past, then you are in for a long stay inside the hall. Also, planning a fake murder attempt and swooping in to save a leader in order to gain his unflinching trust, is stretching too much and cliched. John Abraham has tried to make his mark with movies about nationalistic cause like Akshay Kumar, however the execution has much to be desired and also the limitation of the actor to emote on cue is slightly exposed with this movie.