Director – Aditya Dhar
Producer– Ronnie Screwvala
Cast – Vicky Kaushal, Paresh Rawal, Yami Gautam, Kriti Kulhari, Rajit Kapoor, Mohit Raina, Swaroop Sampat
The beginning of new year saw two movie releases. Uri : The Surgical Strike and The Accidental Prime Minister hit the silver screens today.
URI chronicles the events of the surgical strike conducted by the Indian military against the suspected militants in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). It tells the story of the 11 tumultuous events over which the operation was carried out.
The tribute to “Naya Hindustan (New India)” in the opening credits of Uri: The Surgical Strike is enough of a pointer towards what one is in for. An India that doesn’t believe in offering the other cheek when slapped on one, that believes in the policy of “eent ka jawab patthar se (tit for tat)”, that stands for power over peace and for paying back than being a pacifist. So it will wreak vengeance for the Uri attacks on security forces rather than offer an olive branch of negotiations to its neighbour, believed to be harbouring deadly militants. Forget the long-standing ties with Palestine, the inspiration for surgical strikes is Mossad’s ‘Operation Wrath of God’— the covert assassination operation after the massacre of 11 members of Israeli team at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Like the drones of Israeli intelligence we will put our “Garud” to use.
Dhar uses the oldest tricks in cinematic manipulation and manages to push the right buttons — a soldier singing one moment, dead the next; a little daughter bidding farewell to her martyred father by shouting out his war cry. It had my otherwise strong heart melt away. Then, in the very male world the two hands of Vihaan, metaphorically speaking, turn out to be two women officer, one providing intelligence from the ground, other flying his mission’s chopper. It’s fine, measured gender balance.
Even if you are on the other side of the political and ideological divide Dhar makes things palateable, though he may not be entirely persuasive. At times I found myself standing clear of my own political biases to acknowledge his engaging craft. At other moments, I broke away from the film’s emotional sway to question its politics.
The most interesting is the portrayal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Rajit Kapoor) as a benevolent, caring and concerned patriarch who patronisingly pats Vihaan for being achcha beta (good son). He is as much concerned about his ill mom as he is about Bharat Mata, stays up late till the operation meets a successful end and then celebrates with the team. Surprise surprise he also seems to listen, talk, discuss and communicate and not just through Mann Ki Baat. Did we hear the elections are coming?
The Hindustan Times
Rajit Kapur plays the Prime Minister in Uri. Best remembered as truth-seeking sleuth Byomkesh Bakshi in the long-running television serial of the same name, the veteran actor finds a basic, bearded grace and stays understated as he chews thoughtfully on decisions about war and about the mothers of his soldiers. It is this man who signs off on everything, you see. In a movie about a successful military operation released in an election year, this celebration of credit cannot quite be considered coincidental.
Little, in fact, is left to chance in debutant director Aditya Dhar’s film, a slick war feature about a revenge mission that never appears to pose a challenge. There is a combat sequence around every corner — they may well have titled it Call Of Desi Duty — but the Indian Army are depicted as so valorous and well-prepared that the cartoonishly hook-nosed evil enemy never stands a chance.
Uri is a decent looking film — though the cinematographer appears to have been told to highlight the lens-flare in every single shot of nighttime combat — and while the action is convincing, the proceedings are unmistakably dull. The film doesn’t thump its chest as hard as the ones made by JP Dutta, but merely keeping its shirt on doesn’t make this an actual movie. There is no tension to be found here, and any attempts to manufacture breathlessness are childish. There is, for instance, a scene involving a Pakistani soldier who captures an Indian drone… only to believe it’s a toy.
At the halfway mark, Major Vihaan Singh Shergill, the intrepid protagonist of Uri: The Surgical Strike, asks his band of para commandos, not once but thrice, in a blood-curdling war cry: “How’s the josh?” The boys’ response: “High, Sir!” That is understandable. The keyed-up battalion is about to embark on a crucial anti-terror mission. But sorry, it is difficult to share their enthusiasm, and the fault definitely isn’t theirs. That is the kind of film this is. The war actioner is both bland and patchy. Uri: The Surgical Strike is like a grenade that hisses ominously for a while but does not eventually explode.
The film is undeniably well mounted, with director of photography Mitesh Mirchandani and action director Stefan Richter doing a fantastic job in the battlefield sequences where the men in uniform go all guns blazing. Strangely, the energy and fluidity of the handheld camera do not rub off on the film. Lead actor Vicky Kaushal, on his part, plays a steady hand and delivers the goods to an extent that, at times, seems somewhat wasted on a film that falls well short of being rousing.
The disclaimer at the start of Uri: The Surgical Strike closes with “…a tribute to armed forces, and a new India”. What this new India stands for is made clear later in the film, after terrorists have launched a surprise attack on an Indian army camp at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir. Govind (Paresh Rawal) – a possible stand-in for National Security Advisor Ajit Doval – suggests a retaliatory “surgical” strike, comparing it to Israel’s covert operation to eliminate those responsible for the 1972 Munich Olympics killings. “Yeh naya Hindustan hai,” he says. “Yeh ghar mein ghusega bhi, aur maarega bhi (This is the new India. It’ll enter your home, and it’ll kill you too).”
Aditya Dhar’s film, based on actual events from 2016, opens with two setpieces in quick succession.An Indian army convoy is ambushed in Manipur; there’s a gunfight and a truck is blown up. After that, we see Major Vihaan Shergill (Vicky Kaushal) lead an attack on a camp on the Indo-Myanmar border, where a large group of terrorists is gathered. Dhar pulls striking images out of the chaos: a rocket scorching a path through dense foliage, Vihaan walking into fire like some mythic hero. This is the sort of quick, abrasive, coherent action filmmaking that few Hindi films are interested in, let alone pull off, and it’s no surprise that the cinematographer is Mitesh Mirchandani, who worked wonders in Neerja.
These sequences represent the film in microcosm: an attack on India, and India’s immediate response. But there’s a notable difference between the two. The first attack isn’t scored; we only hear the bullets and the yells of the soldiers. The second is accompanied by thumping music. What we’re being told is: stay with the pain of our soldiers when they’re under attack, but enjoy yourself when they’re on the offensive. War isn’t terrible. Only defeat is.
Times Of India
Aditya Dhar’s unforgiving war drama incorporates the events that led to the surgical strikes as seen through the eyes of protagonist Major Vihaan Singh Shergill (Vicky Kaushal). To make things harder for him, he has personal battles to fight at home as well.
First things first, Vicky Kaushal is on a roll. Interestingly, after playing a valiant Pakistani Army officer in Raazi, here he switches sides and plays an invincible Para (Special Forces) Commando, Indian Army. Justifying the hype around him, the actor continues to grow from strength to strength. His sincere and effortless presence adds depth to this film, that otherwise lacks the palpable tension you expect from a war drama. What makes it then engaging is not its execution, but the audacity of the mission it dramatically decodes and recreates. Despite knowing the result, you watch the events unfold with childlike intrigue as the complex operation plan was classified. The rigorous process — how 80 Indian Para SF commandos managed to infiltrate PoK and destroy the terror camps, makes for an instructive watch if not gripping.
The film scores higher on the technical front than creative. The combat sequences, ambush, gunfire, fistfights, sniper shots are realistically shot. The camera tactfully follows the soldiers like a shadow. Sound effects are crucial to combat film storytelling, and this war drama uses it effectively for most parts. The sounds of weapons and bullets are captured well but some unnecessary sounds (loud whispers, noisy footsteps) beat the very purpose of a covert mission.
Though based on true events, a lot seems far-fetched and thus, questionable. One can overlook a few creative liberties, but there is deliberate and dramatic attempt to evoke emotions in the first half. While there is no harm in doing so, the emotional manipulation could have been more subtle and less predictable. Yami Gautam, Mohit Raina, Paresh Rawal and Kirti Kulhari are effective in their respective roles.
The soldiers give up their today for our tomorrow and no words can signify or repay the sacrifices they make for our country. Uri puts a spotlight on the thankless job they do with passion in their hearts and fire in their bellies. The film is a fitting tribute to the Indian Army conceptually but cinematically, it’s not a film without flaws.