Book Review: Calling Sehmat by Harinder Sikka

The last of my backlog reviews from last year. Please excuse the tenses.

The movie Raazi starring Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal, that was based on Calling Sehmat came out earlier last year. This is one of those rare occurrences where I watched the movie before I read the book. But the movie had quite a few performances that left my heart bruised. And I had hoped that the book that is based on true events, would do the same for me. But I was really conflicted by the end of the book.

Calling Sehmat is the story of Sehmat Khan, a spy who risks everything for her country. Her father Hidayat has always taught her to put her country first. And that is what she believes and follows. Sehmat is married to the son of a Pakistani general who was Hidayat’s friend. While she fulfils her role as the younger daughter-in-law of the family, her spy work is impeccable and is of great help in averting a war.

While Calling Sehmat tries to show how one woman singlehandedly collected crucial information for the good of her country, the writing that described it all didn’t appeal to me. Not to say it isn’t nice, but the poetry in there seemed forced to me. It was almost to the point of annoyance that I read through and went through with reading this book. It even graduated to becoming juvenile to my eyes and mind. The poems in there, even more so.

There are, I felt, so many cringe-worthy places in the book that it somehow turned my mind into a battleground. Is this book slow or is it just my pace? Do I like it or do I not? Is it weird that I’m annoyed at the absence of an Oxford comma? Why do they talk like they are characters in an old literary novel? “I hope I will be able to reciprocate your kind gesture someday.” Really?

I need to clarify again here: I don’t have a problem with the story, just the writing.

In the end, I was really, really surprised at how different the movie is from the book. Let me tell you:

Calling Sehmat is supposed to be the real account of Sehmat Khan and how she becomes a cold, calculating spy. But the movie, Raazi, turned her into someone who cried at the drop of a hat. In the scene where she confronts Iqbal, she’s supposed to be ‘cold and devoid of feelings.’ And in the movie, she’s crying. She almost has snot running down her nose, she’s crying that hard! I don’t know what Bollywood tried to do but it seems like they tried to show Indian spies as heartless. I felt for those people – the ones who Sehmat killed – the family. But don’t try to show India down just to prove how much on the side of humanity you are. There hasn’t been a single question about the mindless terror from that end. But this…

Why not stick to what is narrated in the book? Why do you need to deviate from what actually happened and put your own spin to it? Any other book-to-movie, I would have ignored because I know how change is needed between two formats. But this is based on real events! How can you distort reality? There’s no power in the universe that can. Not you, not anyone else. *End of rant.*

Calling Sehmat is a mix of storytelling and nonfiction – something that should work wonderfully, but just doesn’t for me. Towards the end, the author jots down navy lingo – nothing that I’d mind if it was scattered, but 2-3 pages of the same thing sort of irked me quite a bit. Still, I wouldn’t judge the entire book based on that, because it’s okay to include them there. It is relevant.

Yet, overall, the writing didn’t make me go wow. And though I admire Sehmat Khan, I only wish a better tribute were given to her in terms of writing and staying true to her account.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Picture Courtesy: Amazon India.

If you’d like to buy this book after reading my review, please do so by clicking my Amazon Affiliate link given below. The price remains the same for you but I get a small commission off of every purchase you make.

Here’s the link: Calling Sehmat

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