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Vishal Bhardwaj’s espionage thriller Khufiya is not a bad film, it is just boring

The Netflix film stars Tabu as a top spy alongside Ali Fazal, Wamiqa Gabbi, Ashish Vidyarthi, Atul Kulkarni and Azmeri Haque Badhon

Chandreyee Chatterjee Calcutta Published 12.10.23, 04:46 PM
A moment from Khufiya

A moment from Khufiya

An espionage thriller doesn’t need to have big bangs. What it needs is atmosphere and no one does it better than Vishal Bhardwaj. What it needs is intriguing characters, and Bhardwaj almost does that. What it also needs is tension that keeps you on the edge and engaged; unfortunately, that is where Bhardwaj fails with his Netflix film Khufiya.

An adaptation of Amar Bhushan’s book Escape to Nowhere, a fictionalised account of a true espionage incident, Khufiya is not a bad film. It is just one of the worst things an espionage film can be: boring. And it is not the mundane tasks of espionage shown in the film — the stakeouts, the house-bugging, relay tagging of suspects — that make it boring. It is the lack of a stake that’s high enough, despite political underpinnings, or a character one can be invested in enough.

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Central to the film is Krishna Mehra aka KM, a R&AW agent played by an always in-form Tabu, and a mission that goes south in Bangladesh and jeopardises spy-turned-KM’s lover Heena (Azmeri Haque Badhon), thanks to a mole in the agency. KM is given the opportunity of nabbing the mole, who her boss Jeev (Ashish Vidyarthi) has already identified as a junior agent, Ravi Mohan (Ali Fazal), whose lifestyle doesn’t seem to match his income.

The theme of duality runs through Khufiya — KM’s dual role as lover and spy; her dual life as a bisexual/lesbian that she keeps hidden from her teenage son; Ravi’s role as a dual agent; Ravi’s wife Charu’s (Wamiqa Gabbi) wholesome daughter-in-law/mother/wife persona that hides a doobie-loving, old Bollywood song aficionado; Ravi’s mother Lalita (Navnindra Behl) doubling as an agent. But this duality is never fully explored.

Why does Ravi’s mother have such a hold on him? How and why does she support her son being a double agent? Is the marriage a front for Ravi? How does he negotiate that? What really is the reason behind Ravi defecting (the reason given is an excuse of a motive)? How did KM handle being a lover and a handler? There are so many layers to explore that this might just have worked better as a series than a feature-length film.

The timelines in Khufiya are also confusing and often ask the audience for willing suspension of disbelief. Charu gets shot in the head (presumably, given her post-shooting haircut), but within six months she is able to not only easily locate a R&AW agent but also land a job as a spy in nabbing her husband? Really? It takes that little time for a homemaker to become a top spy? Also, the spies, both Indian and American, seem rather sloppy, taking unnecessary risks that would have lost them their jobs. Which electricity company sends six people to check one meter box?!

Tabu is on point as the workaholic, rum-drinking, emotional wreck of an agent who gets easily swayed by a pretty female face. Her fraught relation with her teenage son and her friendship with her ex-husband (Atul Kulkarni) are great additions to her character arc.

Ali Fazal is underwhelming as the double agent, seeming neither threatening nor vulnerable enough to get the audience to care. Navnindra Behl, Ashish Vidyarthi and Atul Kulkarni do a good job of their roles, though Behl deserved far more attention than was given to her.

Wamiqa Gabbi is charming and fresh. But the standout among the supporting cast is probably Badhon, a wide-eyed beauty who plays the Mata Hari-like character with ease and sensuality. We wouldn’t have minded seeing a little more of her and Tabu on screen.

There is not much that is wrong with Khufiya; it is just that it never really comes together well enough to keep the audience engaged. One can actually be watching cat videos on Instagram parallelly and not miss out much action on screen.

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