Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

Review: 'Romeo Akbar Walter' has all the heat and flavour of day-old biryani

The film was poised to be a comeback for John Abraham, but the Bollywood star gives a wooden performance

John Abraham as Akbar in Romeo Akbar Walter. Courtesy Viacom18 Media
John Abraham as Akbar in Romeo Akbar Walter. Courtesy Viacom18 Media

Describing Romeo Akbar Walter as a spy thriller would be misleading, because the film offers ridiculously little by way of thrills and chills. Or expressions, given that it rests on the shoulders of the patently wooden John Abraham, who plays not one, but three characters: Romeo Ali, Akbar Malik, and Walter Khan.

Even so, the film’s failure to impress cannot be attributed to Abraham’s lacklustre performance alone. Romeo Akbar Walter fails spectacularly on multiple levels in its 141-minute run time.

Director Robbie Grewal’s Romeo Akbar Walter is set in 1971, when India and Pakistan were poised to go to war over East Pakistan’s attempt to secede from West Pakistan and form a new country — Bangladesh.

“Wars are lost or won on the strength of information,” announces Shrikant Rai (Jackie Shroff), the chief of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), early in the film.

He then promptly decides that Romeo Ali, a bank employee by day and theatre artist by night with no prior experience in spy-craft, is the best person to send to Pakistan on a highly sensitive information-gathering mission as the two countries stand a hair’s breadth away from war.

After a crash course in intel-gathering, Romeo is packed off to Pakistan-administered Kashmir with a new identity, Akbar Malik, on a mission to infiltrate the network of Isaq Afridi (Anil George), an arms dealer with close connections to the Pakistani military.

Malik manages to ingratiate himself with Afridi with childlike ease within three short months. He doesn’t even have to expend too much effort or cunning to succeed — confidential information simply falls into his lap. Providing some relief from the characterisation of Pakistani intelligence officers as amateurish and inefficient is Colonel Khudabaksh Khan (Sikander Kher), who finally starts tugging at the many loose ends in Akbar’s story. But all hopes of a more thrilling second half are destroyed as the screenplay wobbles and crumbles. One can see the climax coming from a mile away, by the time it finally rolls around.

Romeo Akbar Walter offers some interesting moments that had the potential to be built into arresting sub-plots. Blessedly, it also steers clear of the jingoistic chest-thumping and enemy-bashing tropes that most Bollywood films with a nationalistic flavour tend to indulge in. But these sensitive considerations are abandoned in favour of shoehorning a romantic track that feels out of place and unnecessary.

It’s tough to say whether Romeo Akbar Walter, with more plot holes than a block of Swiss cheese, lets Abraham down; or if it is Abraham, who, with his resolutely pinched expression, pulls the rug from under a film that was standing on shaky legs to begin with.

John Abraham and Mouni Roy in a scene from 'Romeo Akbar Walter'.
John Abraham and Mouni Roy in a scene from 'Romeo Akbar Walter'.

Either way, try as it might, an otherwise competent support cast is unable to save the film. Shroff’s Rai is saddled with dialogues so bloated with metaphors, one can’t help but wince when he utters them. Mouni Roy, an intelligence agent masquerading as a diplomat, and Abraham’s sudden love interest, has little to do, and she does it with forgettable nonchalance. The film’s only redeeming part is Kher’s Colonel Khudabaksh.

Kher portrays the part of the watchful, suspicious army officer with escalating ominousness, and he nails his Punjabi-speaking West Pakistani character’s linguistic nuances, never once slipping in his delivery of the dialect.

All in all, Romeo Akbar Walter, despite a promising premise, has all the heat and flavour of day-old, refrigerated biryani. Who wants to eat that? Sit this one out, I’d say.

Updated: April 7, 2019 05:20 PM

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