Operation Romeo review: Takes a stand against moral policing but a debatable one

While retribution here partly triggers Badlapur [2015] nostalgia, the stellar show by Sharad Kelkar and the film’s young leads (Sidhant Gupta, Vedika Pinto) steal your imagination.

Rating: 3 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

In the age of social media, moral policing, too, can evoke polarized views.  Recently, yours truly was among many who liked, shared, commented and applauded a video of a Uttar Pradesh policeman disciplining an alleged eve teaser. UP is famous for its Anti-Romeo Squad, a move that was initiated by incumbent chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht, better known as Yogi Adityanath, to curb eve teasing in his state. While this move was cheered in genuine eve teasing cases, but reportedly there were also tales where the Anti Romeo squad misjudged friendly company for eve teasing.

Titled Operation Romeo [2022], director Shashant Shah’s film isn’t based on UP’s Anti-Romeo squad, but it exposes the hypocrisy of the self-proclaimed moral police. The subtle titular reference to Romeo though isn’t coincidental.

Mumbai is generally perceived to be a safer city for women vis-à-vis the northern India cities/states.  However, the city’s image took a beating when years ago a traffic cop raped a commuter inside the tiny chowki. The state of Maharashtra is no stranger to political moral policing either.  A certain regional party once gained notoriety for its strong objection to Valentine’s Day celebrations and PDA [Public Display of Affection] in cozy city pockets.  Truth be told, every part in the country has its moral police. In Shah’s film, it’s Mangesh Jadhav [Sharad Kelkar] and Kiran Patil [Kishor Kadam] acting as the moral police from Mumbai.

The self-proclaimed policemen nab a young couple Aditya Sharma [Sidhant Gupta] and Neha Kasliwal [Vedika Pinto] accusing them of indulging into indecent acts in a public space. Poor Neha’s birthday is totally ruined as the couple is left traumatized by the events of the night. 

Based on writer Ratheesh Ravi’s Malayalam film Ishq [2019], the Hindi film rides on an intense well adapted screenplay by Arshad Syed. We haven’t seen the original, but thankfully, unlike other poor remakes, the Hindi film isn’t lost in translation. Operation Romeo [2022] neatly examines the effect of a trauma and the subsequent reaction. The film does take a stand against moral policing, but it is a debatable one. We leave it to the individual viewers to judge the reaction for themselves. The retribution route here partly takes a Badlapur-like [2015] turn. Mind you, Badlapur [2015] itself was based on the novel Death’s Dark Abyss [2004] by Italian writer Massimo Carlotto.

What’s unique to Operation Romeo though is the impact of the trauma on a relationship.  Aditya aka Adi makes for an interesting case study.  The IT professional from Delhi had migrated to Mumbai few years ago, but also carried a certain chauvinism with him. [Kindly note, chauvinism is there in every society and not limited to a particular region]. He is upset when he catches a fellow diner ogling at his girlfriend. Before coming to the café, Adi looked uncomfortable when Neha lied to him that a male colleague had gifted her red flowers.  

A young relationship has its innocence, ecstasy, but it is also accompanied by certain fears, anxieties. In the case of Aditya, add a certain possessiveness too.  You feel for Aditya when he’s humiliated by Jadhav and Patil.  The shaky tone underlying the distress, trauma that the bullies caused to him. The empathy though is gone next morning when Adi suspiciously asks Neha what transpired in the moments, when he left her alone with Jadhav in the car.

Adi’s subsequent actions is likely to evoke mixed views. Is a tit for tat approach the best retribution? But doesn’t an eye for an eye approach makes the world go blind? Some of the action is disturbing especially since it plays out in front of a little girl (played brilliantly by child artiste Nysa Darole] . While it is a popular call to expose a creep in front of his own, but two wrongs don’t make a right. Gupta owns his character, nicely exhibiting the trauma and the varied emotions through Adi’s tumultuous journey.

First-time actor Vedika Pinto is a sight to behold.  The reticent, innocent Rajasthani girl respects traditional boundaries, but also embraces the freedom that a city like Mumbai has to offer. Neha’s every bit of your girl-next-door one that most bachelor men would love to introduce to their mothers. We are not objectifying simplicity in women. Her simplicity, bright smile adds to her charming screen presence. The young actor is very competent in her moments of distress, hardly saying a word, but her trickling tears narrating the emotional turmoil within.  Pinto’s emotionally gripping show partly rekindled memories of a young Patralekha in CityLights [2014].

Neha maybe simple, traditional but not submissive.  Contemporary cinema has witnessed its fair share of the Pritis [Kiara Advani’s character in Kabir Singh (2019)]. A trauma can either destroy a person mentally, or it can also help a victim find a new resolve to fight more adversities. Despite the trauma, it’s the women who find strength in Operation Romeo.  First it was Neha, and then Chhaya Jadhav [Bhumika Chawla]. The latter looks resplendent in the Marathi-style saree, speaks a bit of the language too, but not enough to turn her into your typical Marathi bai (lady).  As often, its Chawla’s tears that move you.  

Sharad Kelkar is a much sought-after actor these days. His menacing eyes, big physique make him naturally intimidating. He’s played the baddie before, but never have we seen him in such a despicable role. Here’s a man who doesn’t need alcohol to indulge in lecherous behaviour. It never ceases to surprise one when a family man discreetly resorts to creepy behaviour.  Maybe such men use the class divide to justify their harassment of innocents.  “Bloody, you [rich] people must have toilets that might be bigger than our kohlis (chawls],” Jadhav’s remark to Adi underlines his disgust for the upper class. He even drags ‘Bahubali’ into an early conversation. Ah, what a far cry from his ‘cut off a lecherous man’s head’ line from the dubbed Hindi version of Baahubali – The Beginning [2015]. Kelkar though regales in the creepiness of Jadhav, enjoys harassing innocents, but in the process he delivers another powerful performance.

Kishor Kadam is fairly competent but he could have done with few less filmi connotations.  Operation Romeo is well edited, doesn’t feel stretched. It is backed by a minimal but effective background score by Advait Nemlekar.  Despite the familiar retribution route, it is the individual efforts that drive this dark drama.

Co-produced by Friday Filmworks and Reliance Entertainment, Operation Romeo [2022] is set to be released in theatres on 22 April. Watch the trailer below.


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