This movie is a duel at the Colosseum of Uttar Pradesh. It is a showdown between a taxman and a feudal lord in his Palace. Both are played by good actors, and each are handed weapons of their choice before the contest. The Income Tax Officer, Amay Patnaik (Ajay Devgn), is armed with his manual for ‘Search and Seizure’ procedure under the Income Tax Act, and a written go ahead on the tax raid, approved of by his superiors in Lucknow. His antagonist, Rameshwar Singh, better know as ‘Tauji’ (Saurabh Shukla), has an upper caste status, a seat in the legislative assembly, political clout in New Delhi, and the loyalty of his kinsmen as his weapons.
It is a fight to the finish, and, as with such keenly fought fixtures, one contestant is on the back foot for a long time, before a moment of epiphany turns the tables. At the start of the raid, Mr Patnaik enters the fortress and reads out the rule book to the evader, in the measured tone of a good bureaucrat. The response is caustic from Tauji, with both the taxman and his book mocked for being ineffectual. So much in command is the tax evader, that Mr. Patnaik’s team of Revenue Officers almost lose their nerve. They find nothing unaccounted for in the vast premises of the ‘haveli’ and are on the verge of calling off the raid, when their Chief, in an intuitive moment, cross checks the original floor plan and blueprint of the building’s design, with it’s present floors, ceilings and pillars. The answer is obvious and crores worth of cash and jewellery is eventually unearthed from the bulldozing of the ‘renovations’.
‘Raid’ is set in the early 1980s, long before the license and permit Raj of India was considerably abbreviated. In those socialist times, every entrepreneur and capitalist was automatically dubbed a villain in the public eye. After his supposedly ill gotten wealth is exposed to the media, there is an interesting scene in the film when Tauji comes to New Delhi and seeks an appointment with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, to ask her to call off the raid. The PM responds by doing a brief calculation on the political cost to her Party, and then not interfering with the actions of the Finance Ministry. In a later scene, she says to an aide, that such upright Income Tax Officers like Mr. Patnaik help the ministry to mop up revenue.
In the context of the proliferation of recent Hindi films like ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’ and ‘Padman’, not to mention the many patriotic films on the selfless work of RAW, the Indian Foreign Service and the Defence Forces, a film highlighting the importance of the Indian Revenue Service is to be expected. Clearly, Hindi cinema is increasingly being seen as soft power, just as Hollywood, and its depiction of American military history, has always been viewed by the US State Department as information, or, more accurately, propaganda through entertainment.
Rarely, in ‘Raid’, do we see compromised Revenue Department officials. This is a film about an honest tax official and his team forcing a rich Patriarch to submit to financial scrutiny and internment. A generous eye is also cast on the inconveniences to the Officer’s wife (Illeana D’Cruz), the suffering to her family life, and the pressure that such patriotic wives face when their husbands go gallivanting round the countryside on tax raids. Conveniently, the movie is set in the 1980s, when jewellers, bankers, kingmakers and brew makers did not, or could not, escape to foreign shores, and out of the reach of upright Government Officers. They had to sit in India in the 1980s, and make the best of an absurd tax system that prevented all financial growth.
It is an uneven contest in ‘Raid’, yet the actor Saurabh Shukla plays ‘Tauji’ with invention and skill. He is the star of the show, and bête noire to Ajay Devgn, who does the best he can, by looking as glum as your friendly neighbourhood taxman.