Romeo Akbar Walter: Why so serious? (Reviews)

Deepa Gahlot
Friday, 5 April 2019

ROMEO AKBAR WALTER
Director: Robbie Grewal
Starring: John Abraham, Jackie Shroff, Raghuvir Yadav, Sikandar Kher, Mouni Roy and others
Rating: * * *

Does India’s intelligence network have talent scouts in banks? That’s where an amateur actor Rehmat ‘Romeo’ Ali (John Abraham), the timid mamma’s boy with a nerdy hairdo, is recruited by the Reseach & Analysis Wing in Robbie Grewal’s convoluted and not too plausible, spy thriller, Romeo Akbar Walter. Coming as it does after the gut-twisting Raazi, set during the same period — the Bangladesh War of 1971 — also about an Indian Muslim going deep undercover in Pakistan, RAW comes across as a boy’s night out in comparison. Still, the film is gripping in parts, even though it is sluggishly paced.

Romeo is trained in subterfuge by the enigmatic RAW chief Shrikant Rai (Jackie Shroff — suits the part), renamed Akbar Malik and sent off to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as a hotel employee. His primary task is to infiltrate the inner circle of arms dealer Isaq Afridi (Anil George), which he does with amazing ease — are criminals with connections in high places so gullible? Only the briskly efficient Pakistani Colonel Khudabaksh Khan (Sikandar Kher — surprisingly good) has the common sense to wonder.

This was the era before cell phones and computers, but telephone bugs, miniature cameras, notes concealed everyday objects and bulky transmission equipment are used to great effect, as Akbar sends crucial intel to help India prepare for Pakistan’s war moves. And, in the PM’s (“Madam” remains off screen) office, a man has the gumption to ask if it is wise to send a Muslim to Pakistan.

Akbar has to remain constantly vigilant, and to help, he has a network of street spies run by a man called Joker, and a loyal helper (an excellent Raghuvir Yadav). More than using action, RAW tends to be a spy procedural, which can get dull, more so, since Grewal insists on songs, a stereotyped sweater-knitting mother (Alka Amin), a pointless romance (Mouni Roy) and that eye-watering, flag-saluting patriotism that is really not required. A man should be considered nationalistic enough if he is willing to risk his life for his country.

John Abraham with his inscrutable look is perfectly cast as a spy. Top notch in the tech department, the film gives a nod to Govind Nihalani’s underrated Drohkaal, and uses several spy movie staples; in the end, it suffers from too much earnestness. Spy movies can also be fun!

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