Sometimes, the film critic is placed in a dilemma of choosing between writing a review of a film per se and commenting on its contextual relevance in terms of the reality we are living in of which, corruption and the power it invests people with ranks high on the list – which is a rather long one.

This critic will try a bit of both – a review of the film in its entirety and as a scathing comment on corruption among people who can afford to give bribes to hide their illegally accumulated wealth and people within the government machinery who are greedy enough to look the other way while accepting bribes.

In this sense, Raid, directed by Raj Kumar Gupta who has earlier made thrillers based on real life incidents like No One Killed Jessica also points an equally accusing finger at the income tax officers and staff without whose compliance, through a heavy greasing of eager palms, an individual who is a local legislator cannot amass so much wealth that vests him with incredible power to crush any honest officer who treads on his toes. Income Tax officer Amay Patnaik’s transfer nearly fifty times over seven years is another finger pointing to the income tax department.

This is a ‘period’ film that is the celluloid representation, albeit fictionalised with a lot of mushy romance and an exaggerated melodramatic climax, as it is set in 1981 when Indira Gandhi was the PM of the country and the place setting is Lucknow. The film fictionalizes the character of Rameshwar Singh of Sitagarh in Uttar Pradesh pitted against the first ever raid in his mansion interestingly called the White House.

“In all these years, no one has ever stepped into this house even to swat mosquitoes and this guy comes to conduct a raid” says the cool and collected Singh alias Tauji without raising his voice when Amay Patnaik arrives with an army of his staff in the Income Tax department and heavily armed police back-up.

The real story is this. On July 16, 1981, Income Tax officials raided the house of businessman, and Congress MLA Sardar Inder Singh in Kanpur. 90 experienced Income Tax officers, under the leadership of the then Income Tax Commissioner of Lucknow, Sharda Prasad Pandey, carried out this raid. 200 police officers were also present for the safety of the Income Tax officers. It was a peaceful unlike the violence the film shows. This raid went on for more than 18 hours. 45 people were present, just for the counting of the notes. In all, a total of 1.6 crore Rs were recovered in cash. The other assets (gold, etc) were separate. (India Today.)

The other real story this film is also based on is this. There was another income tax raid on September 14, 1989, on the factories and homes of two industrialists- paper mill owner Harish Chhabra and jewellery dealer Chitranjan Swarup. Around 88 officers were tasked with finding the black money/assets with these two gentlemen, approximated around 2 crores.

The raid started normally. However, word got out that Chhabra’s assets were being raided, and he managed to get a mob to attack the income tax officials, despite the presence of police there. In this event, many Income Tax officials were brutally beaten up with some having to be hospitalised and a few were paralysed for life. As if this was not enough, some of the officers in the raid were stripped naked and beaten up by Chhabra’s goons. .

The constant battle of wits laced with intelligent satire between Amay and Rameshwar is one of the highlights of the film. When the raid – tearing up thick mattresses, breaking walls, invading the pooja room yields nothing, Rameshwar looks at Amay and says, “kuch nahin nikla, sirf paseena nikal raha hai” right on the dot because Amay is wiping the perspiration off his confused face.

Then, suddenly, when an angry Rameshwar points a gun at his family members suspecting them of having tipped the officer, then shoots at the ceiling, it literally begins to rain gold bricks, jewellery and so on. The large-size 1000 rupee notes takes us back to the nostalgia of pre-demonetization days while the land phone that rings both in Amay’s residence where wife Malini is waiting anxiously for his call or Rameshwar calling up his political bigwigs to call off the raid reminds us of how the cell phone has changed our lives.

Rameshwar seems to remain ignorant about this hidden wealth. Apparently, his brothers have ‘renovated’ the mansion according to vaastu but the added pillars, decorated false ceilings and a Plaster-of-Paris wall, including the well in the compound and every nook and corner are used to stash gold biscuits, jewellery, currency notes and everything that translates to an obscene amassing of clandestine and shocking wealth in a country where more than 50% of the total population lived below the poverty line in the 1970s and 1980s.

Rameshwar’s octogenarian mother, - a brilliant performance by Pushpa Joshi, turns out to be the most intelligent character in the entire film who slaps a grown-up son while castigating him for not taking care of her blood sugar through medical care! She adds that bit of common sense that acts as a sort of bridge between the two polarised forces of Rameshwar and Amay.

Though the film is a sad reflection on a corrupt and inefficient system, it boils down basically to two individuals pitted against each other more in an ego war than in a war between honesty and corrupt power. That too, is something not seen in Indian cinema before because as the press promos claim, this is the first film ever on the biggest income tax raid and an entire narrative that is focussed on this single raid over a few days in October in 1981.

For an honest officer like Amay, it is not in tune to find him breaking rules and allowing the assessee, Rameshwar Singh to go find help. When officer points out that this is against the rule, he calmly says, “what rules are they following, tell me?” Rameshwar’s easy access to the highest powers-that-be is based on his heavy contributions to the ruling party’s fund before and during elections and the high-funda diplomats and officers he meets have no answer.

There are some rich emotional touches. One lady from the income tax department who is with the others, asks “What wrong have we done to deserve this? We are only doing our duty,” when they find that Rameshwar’s followers, a veritable army who are his devoted followers, try to descent on the mansion to attack them. In the end, left alone, waiting to be caught or killed by the huge army of Rameshwar’s goons, there is a shot of a tired and lost Amay, who seems to have wearied of the crackdown, lays the rifle down on the floor of the room he is hiding in.

What saves the film are the outstanding, subtle and restrained performances by Ajay Devgn as Amay Patnaik and Saurabh Shukla which demonstrates the director’s command over control and not allowing the actors to go overboard at any moment. The cinematography is good considering the challenges it poses for the DOP and the editing is good too. But the film drags too much in the mushy romance between Amay and his wife Malini (Ileana D’Cruz) which disturbs and even distorts the serious rhythm of the film and does not go with the character of Amay.

The songs all on the soundtrack are very ill-placed and could have been dispenses with entirely to tighten and intensify the message the film wishes to carry across. The background score is too loud. Two more points that bring the film down – one, the scene of a seduction attempt by a beautiful daughter-in-law of Rameshwar’s family who, when caught by her old mother-in-law, calmly tells her that she is doing her duty as a “bahu” of the family; and two, the final revelation of the person who tipped Amay off about the hidden wealth which deserved to be raided that comes as an anti-climax much like the terribly long melodrama of crowds descending on the White House!

Placed in perspective and in context, the two real life raids the film is based on appear to be educative and informative on the one hand and dated on the other. In view of the revelations in other raids reduces “Raid” to kindergarten stuff. Let us take a brief look. In September 2012, The Income Tax Department detected Rs 230 crore unaccounted income in Indore from the well known Chhajalani group in arguably the biggest ever income tax evasion in India. The 3 -day long income tax surveys concluded on September 2012. The group owners agreed to surrender unaccounted income of Rs 230 crore and agreed to pay outstanding tax liability as well. But there is more to come.

The Times of India, Mumbai, (13th August, 2014) reported an income tax department raid conducted on a group of builders in the Vasai-Virar region of Mumbai in the beginning of the month. . The Thane unit of the IT department raided Ameya Builders, Swastik Group and its partner Rajiv Patil, along with the first mayor of the Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation and a relative (kin) of former MLA Hitendra Thakur. The IT department seized cash and jewellery worth Rs 5.5 Crore in the raids at over 50 premises.. Followinh the raid, a group of builders admitted to concealment of Rs 390-crore earnings.

On September 23, 2015, the income tax department conducted raids at several premises of the R K Marbles group, revealing a large number of incriminating documents besides jewellery and Rs 10 crore in cash, officials said. The raids were conducted simultaneously at 29 locations this morning. We have recovered a lot of cash and jewellery, besides several incriminating documents.

The R K Marbles group also has operations in Vietnam, from where it exports marble to 45 countries. The group held the Guiness world record as the “largest marble company” in 2001 for producing 10,59,540.134 tonnes of marble blocks.

Suspecting tax evasion by real estate giant Indiabulls, the Income Tax Department in July 2016, carried out raids at 20 premises of the company in Mumbai and New Delhi, in an operation involving nearly 1,000 I-T officers. According to sources, the raids — one of the biggest conducted in recent times by the central agency — commenced in the morning and continued through the day.T he searches were carried out under the supervision of the Directorate of Income Tax , Investigation Unit in Mumbai.

The raids were carried out at the offices of Indiabulls Housing Finance, Indiabulls Ventures and Indiabulls Real Estate. Based on information about alleged massive tax evasion by the group, the I-T department raided residential properties, offices, factories and mines owned by the R K Marble group. The raids were conducted at 29 locations across four states-Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, I-T officials said. Most of these properties were concentrated in the Rajasthan districts of Udaipur, Ajmer (Kishangarh), Rajsamand, Udaipur, Banswara and Jaipur.

Will a film like Raid raise consciousness against corruption? Looking at the ascending scale of recoveries in IT raids after 1981 and through several Prime Ministers, Presidents and Ruling Parties in power, one thinks not.