OTT Review: Operation Romeo

It explores the bleak underbelly-ish Mumbai landscape over one night when a pair of lovers get hauled up by the ‘moral police’


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Thu 21 Jul 2022, 6:01 PM

One reason why many critics have not had very glowing things to say about Operation Romeo (although it appears to have garnered a fairly decent traction with audiences) is because it’s a remake — or a retread — of an acclaimed 2019 Malayalam movie titled Ishq Not A Love Story (it’s the typical Marathi-language Sairat vs Hindi-remake Dhadak debate). Fortunately — or unfortunately, as the case might be — I’ve not watched the original, so I am not in a position to compare. But all I can say is that Operation Romeo is one-of-its-kind simply because of its slow-burn timeline and the thrust of the narrative.

Underlying the drama is the wet blanket of moral policing. Even as India — especially urban India — begins to shrug off the baggage of the ‘What will people say?’ acoustics that, for long, has accompanied relationship stories, there are still reports and accounts of its rampant stride in smaller towns. Which is what the Malayalam version looked into. Operation Romeo, however, is set in Mumbai, one of the most ‘liberated’ cities in India — so for it to be in the line of fire needs extra-realistic handling, which the movie does pretty adequately.

Sidhant (Aditya Sharma) and Neha (Vedika Pinto) are a young couple in love. Sidhant lives in the suburbs, far from the heart of the city, while Neha lives closer to ‘downtown’, in a women’s hostel, but she’s from a conservative family based in north India. Immediately it’s made clear both protagonists are not true-blue Mumbaikars, which makes them slightly more apologetic about their relationship status.

On Neha’s birthday, the two decide to go for a spin in Sidhant’s car, exploring the city through the night. Both have given ‘appropriate’ excuses to their ‘custodians’. Deep in the night, after being ‘well-behaved’ so far, they indulge in some passion — attempting a half-baked kiss in the car. At this point, a couple of plainclothes policemen knock on the window, demand to know why they are ‘misbehaving’ in a public place, and then threaten to film them and put it out on social media. What will their families say then?

Soon, it becomes clear that the ‘shameful’ matter can be buried in exchange for hard cash, so the cops ride along with the couple to look for an ATM and terrorise them along the way — reminding them each time how morally culpable they are and how much shame they will attract if they tried to register an official complaint. There’s an incident that takes place, that I will not reveal, that becomes a tipping point in Sidhant’s mind, and coerces him to get into revenge mode, but not in the way you would imagine. There’s also the exploration of repressed masculinity — as evident in Sidhant: the overriding emotion that grips him is emasculation, and its attendant shame.

Some of you may find it a tad slow, but that wasn’t a problem for me; I thought it all came together rather well because of the deliberations. The two ‘cops’ (the inverted commas are in place for a reason) — played menacingly by Mangesh Jadhav and Kishor Kadam — are excellent. Vedika Pinto could have done with some more expressions on her face, instead of shuttling between looking pained and looking vapid. Aditya Sharma is not bad, even though his revenge mode persona could have been grittier instead of being chocolate-boyish.

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