Synopsis – Based on the true events of 2016, when Indian Army avenged a deadly terrorist attack by carrying out a surgical strike.
My Take – If there is another date that is deeply scarred inside recent Indian history other than 26/11/2008 (Mumbai attacks), it is 18/10/2016, a day which saw four heavily armed militants from the militant outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammed, enter an army base camp, near the town of Uri in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and launch one of the deadliest attack on security forces in Kashmir in two decades. The attack ended up claiming the lives of 19 Indian soldiers along with the 4 perpetrators. In a shocking turn of events, eleven days later, the Indian Army announced that they had retailed and completed a set of surgical strikes on the launch pads used by the militants in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, that too successfully.
While Pakistan till date denies this claim, here, Aditya Dhar‘s directorial debut gives us an insight into what actually transpired. Keeping politics aside, as a film the execution quite exceeded my expectations! While army stories have always been fascinating, Bollywood filmmakers have always tend to overplay it by mixing up forced jingoism and oodles of melodramatic tones.
However, this film, while still filled with a patriotic soul and mass appeal, does so more subtly and efficiently. On the execution front, there is no doubt that film is one of the best war films Bollywood has ever produced, as it showcases the Indian Army’s attack on the militants with gruesome precision. And despite the fact that there are no real surprises in the film, it manages to keep you on the edge of the seat, with its excellent performances and stunning visuals.
While the film has found itself in a needless debate of how the film was produced to act as a medal to the supposed glorious work done by the current India PM Narendra Modi before the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, I personally felt the film seemed quite unbiased with its nationalism, and instead managed to provide a sincere tribute to the Indian Army.
The story follows Major Vihan Singh Shergill (Vicky Kaushal), a Para Special Forces Commando of the Indian army who has successfully executed a series of covert operations with his meticulous strategies and planning. In his most recent operation he successfully led a team which also consists of Major Karan Kashyap (Mohit Raina), his brother in law, in a counter-insurgency operation in Myanmar, that killed 158 terrorists in retaliation of the 18 army officers killed by the Nagaland terrorists on 4th June 2015, thus gaining immense appreciation from his supervisors including the Prime Minister (Rajit Kapur).
However, as his mother (Swaroop Sampat) back in Delhi has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, he requests for a premature retirement and takes up a desk job handing intelligence of the army, to stay closer to her and his sister’s family. While he slowly adjusts to his new job, four militants infiltrate into the Indian army post in Uri and destroy the camps, resulting in the death of 19 soldiers including Karan.
Not willing to be seen as a weaker side, Govind Bhardwaj (Paresh Rawal), the intelligence advisor, suggests to perform a secretive surgical strike on the militia camps instead of declaring a war on the neighboring country. As Pallavi Sharma (Yami Gautam), a RAW agent, begins to search where the terrorists are exactly located on the other side of the border, a grieving Vihaan volunteers to lead a new team which also includes Seerat Kaur (Kirti Kulhari), an under-investigation IAF Officer, to cross the LOC and avenge the deaths of his fellow soldiers.
The film clearly draws inspiration from Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and Munich (2005), and has shoehorned a heavy dose of adrenaline pumping background music, smart action sequences and the requisite fist-pumping dialogue that are the hallmark of this genre. The 138-minute film leaves no room for debate. All characters are suitably grim and ruthless, preparing to “invade the enemy in his home and kill him there”.
Here, director Aditya Dhar, has done a fine job of making the film engaging and never making it feel like it is his first film. There is enough research done on some of the aspects shown in the film, as the makers claim they have taken the information available in the public domain. Even the story’s emotions hit you in the right spots to wake the patriotism in you. He even uses tools like how soldiers also have family problems like commoners and also mourn their dead. The scenes where we are taken into combat is where we can notice the heart and soul put by director Aditya Dhar and his team to make it feel as close to reality as possible.
We also get a ‘planning for war’ sequence which is not a montage scene. It shows the type of investigation which goes behind before going on a mission. The use of drones in the film and also to shoot the film is commendable. Here, the distinctions between India and Pakistan scenes are also painfully clear. For one, there’s always the Pakistani flag in the background to show that the scene is taking place in Islamabad. Director Aditya Dhar had earlier said in an interview that there was ‘nothing anti-Pakistan in the film.’ Not on the face of it, maybe. But as they say, the devil lies in the details.
In the film, there is a stark difference between the intelligence meetings in Pakistan as compared to those taking place in India. The officials in the neighboring country constantly put down India at any chance they get. Pakistani officials are boorish, with some burp-induced humor and are shown willing to drink themselves silly, whereas the Indians are constantly alert and on their toes.
While he squanders on this aspect, he makes up for it in the technical department. Stefan Richter’s carefully designed and executed action scenes, Sashwat Sachdev’s thunderous background score, sound mix, sound design and special effects simulate authenticity. The action sequences have a brutality and realism that has rarely been seen in Hindi cinema. The film has been shot with astounding finesse by cinematographer Mitesh Mirchandani. Every frame is a thoughtful recreation of the moment in time when in 2016, Indian soldiers pushed their way into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to seek revenge. The background music in action sequences and on certain emotional scene lifts you to the crescendo. There are only a few films which spur a reaction from both the heart and the mind, and his film does just that flawlessly.
However, what doesn’t work here is the whole family subplot for Vihaan. I get it, it was done to make his character more root able and an emotional edge to connect with the audience, but the whole angle feels pointless in the second half especially when the surgical strike operation begins. Nevertheless, the acting performances more than make up for whatever loopholes that exist in the film.
Led by Vicky Kaushal, who once again manages to captivate you with another boisterous performance. He is the soul of the film, who has carried the whole film on his shoulders and nails the look of a military officer with ease and you really feel that josh surging in you when he screams at his soldiers ‘Hai Josh?’. In supporting roles, Yami Gautam is brilliant on her part, while Paresh Rawal is impactful. In small roles, Kirti Kulhari has also done justice to her character, as Mohit Raina, who makes his silver screen debut, manages to impress. On the whole, ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ is one of the finest war films to come out of India, thanks to its intense action sequences & splendid performances.
Directed – Aditya Dhar
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 138 minutes