Lahore Confidential movie review: A spy romance that lacks tact
Richa Chadha turns circles in a by-the-book espionage story
Hindi cinema has a set track for its female spies: quit your life and dreams to infiltrate a hostile nation, feign coyness or overfamiliarity, fall in love and then sacrifice said love for your mission. The routine has become so banal that it takes a Raazi (2018), which at least tried to capture its protagonists’ emotional journey, to rescue it. Even then, that dull old question returns: is love beyond duty?
Lahore Confidential, a film by Kunal Kohli out on ZEE5, takes the most tiringly circuitous route to find that answer. The film is about Ananya (Richa Chadha), an Indian agent sent in to tail terror-funders in Pakistan. Her particular target is Rauf (Arunoday Singh), a charismatic socialite thick with Lahore’s diplomatic elite. In the spy cinema handbook, this can only mean one thing: even as Ananya courts her new acquaintance, sharing his love for Urdu poetry, she’s also setting herself up for a fall.
Cast: Richa Chadha, Arunoday Singh, Karishma Tanna
Director: Kunal Kohli
Streaming on: ZEE5
Lahore Confidential is written and created by Hussain Zaidi. The crime writer’s name made me expect some glimpses into the world of cross-border espionage. No dice. The spies in this film are an ordinary bunch, convening in the back of trucks and calling their target ‘ISI ka tattu’. "Our source has been compromised," informs one of them while speaking over an open network. They also speak in a low, furtive whisper, which makes dialogue hard to hear (I was using headphones and still found myself inching closer to the screen).
The romance is just as unexciting. Richa dials herself down to the point of invisibility. Arunoday — a stout, imposing actor — tackles the shayari well, his gentleness eventually lost in a shroud of intrigue. Rauf is a bit of a Batman: orphaned, multi-faceted, floating his private justice. He isn’t opposed to killing though, dressing up for sneaky hit jobs that look more Crime Patrol than Assassin’s Creed.
The city of Lahore is created through green screens and establishing shots; the effect isn’t perfect but does the job. It’s been an anxious few weeks for politically-minded cinema in India. Kunal and Zaidi try not to rock the boat — when Ananya briefly brings up Balochistan with her friend (Karishma Tanna), she’s curtly told to ‘stay out of it’. That’s how far female spies can get in our movies. Anything else is, sadly, off-limits.