Review: 'Khufiya' is a Vishal Bhardwaj experiment that is successful at times but a drag otherwise

It is 'khufiya' as to just why did Vishal Bhardwaj not choose his signature style of filmmaking and instead rely on tropes.

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Kunal Kothari

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A professional marriage that has reaped fruits to its maximum - actor Tabu and filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj. After Maqbool and Haider, Tabur reunites with a man who has done wonders with her acting prowess, this time in a mystery thriller, Khufiya. There is always a sense of Bhardwaj-ness in his films that is peculiar, unique and refreshing, which is why we have almost always loved the world he is presenting to us. 

With Khufiya, Bhardwaj isn't choosing contemporary storytelling but instead focusing on a mystery thriller with linear treatment. Does this shift in gears work, and do we see yet another masterstroke with Tabu and Bhardwaj assisted by Wamiqa Gabbi and Ali Fazal? Having had the chance to see the film beforehand, here is what I thought about it-

The Vishal Bhardwaj Factor

It cannot be a Vishal Bhardwaj film without having nuances and references in abundance. Khufiya has them, but not as many as you would anticipate. Even then, the obsession Bhardwaj has with Shakespeare is at display again where agent operations are called Brutus, and people are called Julius Caesar and Portia - you cannot remove the Shakespearean love from Bhardwaj even if it's in small amounts. And I am not complaining. This is definitely what we associate the man with, and he makes sure to give us those nuggets. 

And as we are talking about nuggets, you cannot miss out on the attention to detail that is a certainty with being time appropriate. As the saga is set from 2000 to 2004, we see a character watching Main Hoon Na in the theatre, using an old phone to contact someone and surveillance technology that was fitting for that time. Apart from that, Bhardwaj's writing showcases the tribulations that R&AW agents go through, even if it isn't that subtle but is moving.

The Performances

How can you not have anything but perfection when you assemble a stalwart like Tabu! Even though her character is given some bizarre developments, the actor makes sure to give her best, as always. One fine detail that might be missed by many is how the actor's demeanor is different from the time she was in time with Agent Octopus and then a part of Operation Brutus. SPOILER ALERT - I don't give away spoilers, but this detail was too brilliant not to be mentioned. The decision of Tabu to have a bindi on in the flashback scenes with Agent Octopus and not having a bindi in the latter period with Operation Brutus almost showcases how she is a widow in her mind, having lost her love.

Ali Fazal, also a fine talent, surprisingly doesn't get much to do here in spite of the fact that it is all centred around him. Apart from the chilling, manic laughter we saw in the first glimpse of the film, Fazal does his best with what he is provided with.

It is Wamiqa Gabbi, though, who impresses yet again. The actor has such a fine range and can be brilliant with her portrayal, which is at full display here as well. From being a doting, playful, yet patriotic wife to a troubled yet loving mother - Gabbi is absolutely fantastic and especially her scenes with the kid move you.

The rest of the supporting cast is as good as they can be, with a surprise cameo from Atul Kulkarni.

The Gaps & Question Marks

It is rare you see such incomplete writing and execution associated with Bhardwaj. In an attempt to link two timelines and catch a traitor, the storytelling fumbles to a large extent, especially in the second half. The logic behind several situations remains questionable, and, in fact, the climax leaves you pondering. The intention is never entirely clear, and neither is the messaging; the outcome of an apparently long and important mission becomes rather convenient and underwhelming. The decisions taken by characters in the realm of the story also feel forced rather than organic.

The Music & Runtime

Just like you associate Vishal Bhardwaj with fine storytelling, you also associate him with music to cherish. A couple of tracks from the Khufiya album are fantastic, including 'Mat Aana', sung by the mesmerising Rekha Bhardwaj and also 'Dil Dushman', sung by the ever-amazing Arijit Singh. However, it is the scintillating background score that once again acts as a huge savior for some scenes that falter otherwise. I don't know if it is just me or a key moment in the film which involved the screeching noise of a garage door formed the basis of Khufiya's theme tune.

Coming to yet another factor that became the culprit of Khufiya being what is - the runtime. Clocking over 2 hours and 35 minutes, there are long gaps that might seem like they aid the story, but they actually don't. The surveillance camera scenes of spying on Fazal and Gabbi's house are stretched, and then somehow, the flashback scenes make it seem longer. The entire track of Tabu's Krishna Mehra and Octopus in the 2000 timeline is an almost entire dud, and the intended emotion doesn't land as it should have.

The Verdict

Khufiya lives up to its title, but not in a good way. It will be khufiya as to just why did Vishal Bhardwaj not choose his signature style of filmmaking and instead rely on tropes; it will be khufiya as to what even happened in the climax, and most importantly, it will be khufiya if we will get to see a better Vishal-Tabu collaboration. Interestingly, though, even an underwhelming Vishal Bhardwaj film is better than so many other films we end up watching.

Rating - *** (3/5)

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Vishal Bhardwaj Thumbnail

Vishal Bhardwaj

Ali Fazal Thumbnail

Ali Fazal

Wamiqa Gabbi Thumbnail

Wamiqa Gabbi

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