Film: URI: The Surgical Strike
Starcast: Vicky Kaushal, Yami Gautam, Mohit Raina, Paresh Rawal, Kirti Kulhari and Rajit Kapoor
Director: Aditya Dhar
Comparisons are odious. So don’t go weighing Uri: The Surgical Strike against Zero Dark Thirty. The first is a Bollywood director’s interpretation of how Indian Army commandoes gave terrorist base camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir a swift and sudden retaliation for the deadly Jaish-e-Mohammed attack on security forces in Uri on September 18, 2016. The second is the multiple Oscar nominee and Hollywood version of how American SEALs raided a Pakistan hideout and dramatically killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. It’s like comparing oranges to apples. The only thing common in both films is revenge as the motive.
Just when you though Bollywood could not get war films (Paltan, Rangoon and The Ghazi Attack) right, debutant director Aditya Dhar steps up boldly to infuse patriotism in jaded audiences with Uri: The Surgical Strike in an election year. Twelve Bollywood producers approached the Indian Army for permission to make films on the military operation. Aditya was chosen because he had an interesting story to weave around the actual detail. That story is simple enough. It’s not just the nation’s pride that our commandoes cross the LoC to avenge. They are also driven by good old fashioned Bollywood badla. Vicky Kaushal as Major Vihan Shergill, the tough para commando of the Special Forces leading the maneuver, is looking to take vengeance for the killing of his brother-in-law Captain Karan Kashyap (Mohit Raina) in the attack on Uri.
We always knew this covert operation was sanctioned by the Indian government. And that it had Prime Minister Narendra Modi on tenterhooks and not breathing easily till the last commando came home. In Uri, the PM is tragically let down by Rajit Kapur’s dyspeptic performance. Namo with his 56-inch chest and boundless energy, has a gleam in his eye and a spring in his step always, and that infectious enthusiasm is lacking in Kapur. Paresh Rawal, who is supposed to be or not be National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, is far more impressive and grumpily conveys the angst of the burden of the strike on his shoulders. There’s also a subdued Yogesh Soman as Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar whose role in the film, and perhaps the actual surgical strike too, is only to trot around carrying files and look solemn at meetings.
The action, whether it is a bloody gunfight or gritty hand-to-hand combat, is the highlight of the film. As is the selection and preparation of the team that will be engaged in the surgical strike. “Yeh naya Hindustan hai, yeh ghar mein ghusega bhi aur maarega bhi,” promises Ajit Doval grimly while explaining the retribution he has methodically planned against Pakistan to an impassive PM. It comes after a much strategic discussion in the war room over maps, stats and satellite images involving ISRO and other agencies that is headed by Yami Gautam with her dimpled smile as Military Intelligence officer Pallavi Sharma. Lest you think she falls for the rugged and heroic Major Shergill, think again, because there’s also widow Air Force pilot (leggy Kirti Kulhari carrying a silent sorrow) who flies the chopper bearing the commandoes into PoK. Towards the end of the film, the attractive threesome are shown on an army airfield exchanging knowing smiles and handshakes and you are left wondering.
The battle scenes, conducted at night in the valleys of PoK where the terrorists have set up dingy holes as homes, with the commandoes carrying sophisticated weapons and wearing night vision glasses, are comparable to any of Hollywood’s finest war films. You can tell the gunfire of the Pakistani baddies and the Indian superheroes. One goes rat-tat-tat-tat and the other brrrrrrttt. In between, the clank of empty shell casings falling onto the floor and the blast of grenades and boosh of exploding rocket launchers. The sounds are authentic all right. The few moments of physical combat are savage and without finesse. Particularly the fierce hand fight between Major Shergill and Idris Khan, the Pakistani handler of the militant team that killed his brother-in-law at Uri. It’s like Chuck Norris eliminating the principal villain in the climax of his Delta Force movies. An unrehearsed and punishing duel with good stylishly winning over evil. Expected, and you would be disappointed if it wasn’t included.
Vicky Kaushal, who has been on a march in 2018, is impressive and easily one of the best things to happen to Bollywood since Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh and Varun Dhawan came along. He is inspiring as the stony-faced Major who restrains his grief to lead his commandoes with the rousing war cry, “How is the josh?” all through the film. And he’s cut out for action. Mohit Raina is strong in a small role. Somewhere in the plot, there’s also Swaroop Sampat wandering around lost as the army hero’s mother stricken by Alzheimer’s. And Rakesh Bedi as an Indian mole in believably the ISI. Plus another couple doing God knows what in Pakistan that ridiculously manages to drug a core member of the war cabinet with a truth serum to reveal a last minute offensive against India. But it’s all good fun. Mitesh Mirchandani’s cinematography brings the canvas of war to reality with ease and Shivkumar V. Panicker makes Uri an enjoyable watch with slick editing in the action-packed second half. Will the film encourage youngsters to join the Indian Army? Hopefully yes, without being an in-your-face attempt to drum up national fervour. There’s a lot of chest thumping but no kowtowing to the government or saluting the flag. The one thing you’re expecting in Uri: The Surgical Strike but does not happen is the National Anthem. The only time you hear Jana Gana Mana is when the theatre plays it.
PeepingMoon gives Uri: The Surgical Strike 3.5 Moons