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Khufiya review: Tabu's spy act keeps you hooked, yet the Vishal Bhardwaj film struggles to stay covert

Like a secret agent's coded message, Khufiya, also starring Ali Fazal and Wamiqa Gabbi, tries too hard to be unique and ends up sounding like every other spy thriller ever made.

Khufiya review: Tabu's spy act keeps you hooked, yet the Vishal Bhardwaj film struggles to stay covert
Tabu in a still from Khufiya

Last Updated: 12.38 PM, Oct 05, 2023

Khufiya Story:

Khufiya follows R&AW operator Krishna Mehra (Tabu) as she undertakes a task of critical importance while also balancing her identities as a spy and a lover. It is based on the novel Escape to Nowhere by Amar Bhushan, R&AW's former Chief of the Counter-Espionage Unit. In the film, one hardened agent is on an unrelenting pursuit of the mole (Ali Fazal) responsible for the killing of an undercover spy.

Khufiya Review:

Vishal Bhardwaj, known for his impeccable Shakespeare adaptation, has adapted an espionage book, this time Escape to Nowhere by Amar Bhushan. The book's title means that one is attempting to get away from something difficult but is ultimately not finding a better place. The ace filmmaker titled his film Khufiya, which means secret. So, somewhere, both have the same underlying meaning. In the film, the secret is the identities of the leading characters, Tabu and Ali Fazal.


Bhardwaj leaves no time to establish their secrets in the first 20 minutes of the film. We get to know what they are battling and who they are fighting against. The film starts with Bangladeshi actor Azmeri Haque Badhon's character, an undercover spy Octopus, getting killed in Dhaka, and the shockwaves are sent to Delhi at the R&AW office. This leads them to the mole Ravi (Ali Fazal), who is leaking sensitive information about India to other countries for his own benefit. Thus, Ashish Vidyarthi, who plays the head of the agency, hires Krishna Mehra (Tabu) to avenge the death of Octopus (Azmeri), as there's a personal connection too. Thus begins a new mission, Operation Brutus, to nab the enemies of the country, and there's no limit to it.

In Khufiya, there are no secrets for the viewers on how things are going to unfold; we are spectators in an open book where there are thrills at regular intervals. The film takes a smooth ride in the first half, where there are brilliant turns that take place while trying to keep tabs on Ravi and how he is bravely and casually leaking sensitive information about the country. On the other hand, his wife seems to be clean, but the agency believes she is an accomplice in it, too. Then comes a twist, which is actually quite interesting and something you must have hardly witnessed. Taking that cue, until the film reaches halfway through, Khufiya makes for an interesting watch, especially due to Tabu's power-packed performance.

However, like the 2013 film Ek Thi Daayan, which Bhardwaj wrote, Khufiya also suffers from a bad second half. The film, which was built high in the first half, just comes crumbling down like it's a different film altogether. New film? No. But something we have seen before is already on the screen. The film is two hours and 37 minutes long, which is a rarity for an OTT release. However, the first half seems to be a complete film with the right amount of thrills and great performances.

There are several engrossing and highly emotionally valued sequences. For example, there's a scene between Tabu and her onscreen son, who questions her about the reason behind her divorce from his father, Atul Kulkarni. The scene strikes the right chord with talking about how her secret life as an agent and also in her personal life are battling to make her tell the truth to the only important person in her life.

Tabu makes it top-notch, and it only seems like a cakewalk for her to look the part perfectly while also performing it like no one else can. Well, it's Tabu's show altogether, and Bhardwaj, along with Rohan Narula, invests rightly in writing her part the best.

However, all that drips down when the film changes its location from India to the US, and I wonder how it just crashed and landed so badly. Khufiya strongly reminded me of the scene in Kurbaan (2009) where Kareena Kapoor Khan learns that terrorists, including her husband, Saif Ali Khan, are all around her. Here also, Wamiqa Gabbi's character becomes similar to taking down her husband and becoming a spy altogether. However, the slow-burn narrative works in the first half, and the film just refuses to extinguish it in the second half.

Moreover, the climax sequence is so weak that it reminds me of Uri: The Surgical Strike, where Rukhsar Rehman and Ujjwal Chopra's characters spike a Pakistani politician and try to uncover the secrets of their attacks. The secret of the film is that it reaches a conclusion but just loses its path so badly that it will make you check the rest of the runtime constantly.

However, credit where credit is due, the cinematography by Farhad Ahmed Dehlvi is incredible, as he captures the remotest parts of India and Bangladesh and also posh locations fabulously. Even the sequences in the US are great, as they give the setting of an area of refugees. Meanwhile, the veteran editor A. Sreekar Prasad has attempted to cut the film rightly, but it just doesn't add up to the overall output.

In terms of performance, as mentioned above, Tabu is definitely the hero of the film, and she is the one who makes the film worth watching. The actor shoulders the film well, and her sequences with Azmeri are too palpable. Azmeri, in a brief role, also does a great job and leaves an impact on her performance.

Ali Fazal also does a decent job of playing a mole in the agency, but in the second half, the character becomes so weak that the actor fails to shine. So does Wamiqa Gabbi, who just a week ago delivered an impressive performance in Charlie Chopra and the Mystery of Solang Valley, again by Bhardwaj. The first half shows her as that vibrant character who smokes cigarettes secretively and dances in front of the mirror; that's her secret. But in front of the world, she is a doting wife, mother, and daughter-in-law.

The one actor that will definitely leave you surprised is Navnindra Behl, as Ali Fazal's onscreen mother. Do watch out for her!

Khufiya gets off to a promising start, but the Vishal Bhardwaj film is an escape to nowhere.

Khufiya Verdict:

Khufiya, akin to a spy's coded message, struggles to maintain its originality, leading to a lacklustre climax that echoes of other espionage thrillers.


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