Romeo Akbar Walter director says John Abraham-starrer explores RAW's role in 1971 India, Pakistan war

Romeo Akbar Walter director says John Abraham-starrer explores RAW's role in 1971 India, Pakistan war

India has typically been a gentle giant in South Asian geo-politics. When poked, it responds swiftly and decisively, like the retaliatory air strikes on terrorist camps in Pakistan after the heinous Pulwama terror attack. Historically, India and Pakistan have fought three wars, of which the 1971 War was the swiftest with the Indian Army defeating Pakistan’s military in just 13 days, the shortest war in military history. Romeo Akbar Walter, the curious acronym of RAW, John Abraham’s upcoming film, focuses on the story behind this war from the point of view of India’s intelligence agency.

Espionage movies do not pop up in our minds easily when we think of Hindi cinema. Raazi, Alia Bhatt’s roaring hit, is a rare one, about a lone agent and her achievements. Romeo Akbar Walter highlights the unsung contributions of RAW in shaping post-Independence Indian history, drawing from a true story of one patriotic RAW officer. Writer-director Robbie Grewal explains, “Nobody has really seen the world of espionage in 1971 which dealt with with human intelligence (referred to as humanint). It’s a fascinating world and a great visual piece. Aside from the intrigue that this world brings, RAW, in the '70s, was on par with other intelligence and analysis agencies like the KGB and Mossad. Today, it’s considered to have considerably slipped in its stature. Why did that happen? My father was part of the defense forces and has worked in military intelligence for some years. My understanding of intelligence is first hand, and the film looks at RAW’s contribution at its prime.”

Ad man Robbie has previously directed Samay, a police procedural with Sushmita Sen, and Aloo Chaat, a family comedy. He has been mulling over the idea of Romeo Akbar Walter for quite some years, while researching the contributions of RAW. He found that that RAW’s structure, while independent, was partially modeled on Mossad. The agency trains its agents in Krav Maga till date. “I began reading up on the internet and tried to find agents who had worked with the agency at that time. I had a research team that met with field agents. I wanted to understand how a spy was recruited and trained. You get to see the change in dynamics between RAW, our intelligence agency and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Back in the day, there was no bureaucracy. There was a point in time when the RAW chief would directly call Mrs (Indira) Gandhi, the Prime Minister. Crucial decisions were taken very quickly and effectively. Both shared a relationship of professional respect. These days, to get a meeting with the PMO, there are ten different channels that a RAW chief would have to go through. Naturally, that impacted the agency’s work.”

While Grewal is skeptical of sharing further details, he draws a large hint on the routes that this espionage thriller will take in presenting the role of RAW. Mossad infamously used media stories to malign Yasser Arafat, in its continuous war against the PLO. Grewal states, “Using the media as a tool in covert warfare was first done by RAW (in the postmodern world). Before there was television and online news, the written word carried huge power. Using the media, to spearhead specific information was effectively used as part of their strategy in this war too.”

Espionage is linked to gun totting, swaggering super-spies and high tech tools like James Bond’s toys in popular movies. That India has had a continuous contribution from RAW in devising military strategy makes for an unexplored territory. John Abraham has chosen to produce unusual stories so far, including the ambiguously concluded Madras Café, which nevertheless, tackled a rather mysterious incident in our recent political history. Having heard Grewal’s script, he came on board immediately as actor and co-producer. As tech-driven intelligence phases out human spies everywhere, a film like this could re-focus on the role of people in crucial intelligence that can save lives and prevent full-fledged wars.