Starring Tabu, Ali Fazal, Wamiqa Gabbi, Atul Kulkarni , Azmeri Haque Badhon
Directed by Vishal Bhardwaj
Cutting through the acres of ambiguity and symbolisms that run through his work, Vishal Bhardwaj delivers his most coherent cogent and compelling film in years.
Khufiya is many things at the same time. It is on the topmost layer an espionage thriller about a spy at RAW selling confidential information to the neighbouring country (you know, the ‘P’ factor). Ali Fazal plays this character with such straggling imprecision that I thought we would lose focus on the spy’s brazen antics (how did he get away with it for so long?!).
But no. Bhardwaj, fully in charge for once wastes no time in exploring hazy characters played by lazy actors. His focus is the ever-resplendent Tabu who has earlier created enduring magic for Vishal in Maqbool and Haider. In Khufiya, Tabu plays a number of roles, and I don’t mean that as disguises. Tabu’s spy with a secret Krishna Mehra is a sum-total of so many elusive emotions that I shudder to think what she would have been in lesser hands.
Tabu is not short of extraordinary in this brilliant study of masks and disguises, and it’s not just her workplace where Krishna leads a double life. It is also her personal space where she is not what she seems to be.Tabu makes Krishna Mehra’s messy chaotic life tenable and sorted….sort of!
Khufiya is not a film with accessible soluble solutions to labyrinthine problems like loving the enemy,leading a dual life and stealing your child back from fugitive traiter. The diligently penned screenplay (by Rohan Narula, Vishal Bhardwaj) creates scintillating space for ambiguities: not only Tabu’s Krishna (who is at once a vixen and a victim, admittedly more the former) but also the other Bharadwaj favourite Wamiqa Gabbi who blossoms in this winged work into an unpredictable gamine.
In the film’s most memorable interlude, Tabu spies on Gabbi in her home as she dances to Kishore Kumar’s Yeh jawani hai deewani while doing her house work. Tabu’s half-smirky half-smiling expressions give away faint erotic hints. Catch them if you can.
The women in Khufiya give away nothing, even as they control the numbers on this predominantly masculine scoreboard. Not only Tabu and Wamiqa but a third generation of womanhood represented by Navnindra Behl, simply known as ‘Maaji’ will blow your brain. Then there is the Bangladeshi femme fatale Heena Rehman (Azmeri Haque Badhon). She has a profound effect on Krishna Mehra’s life.
In the second- half which moves to the US, it is just Tabu and Wamiqa coming together as sisters in arms in ways that are both empowering and enrapturing. Except for that ridiculously filmy climax where a Bangladeshi politician meets his nemesis, Khufiya is every bit that breathless whistleblower’s tale that will make you whistle and clap and cheer and also persuade you to shed a tear.