‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ review: Triumph of the will

All for war: The filmmaker uses the oldest tricks in cinematic manipulation  

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.

Although we’ve had an entire genre of desi jingoistic films based on the nation’s collective animus against Pakistan, Uri manufactures it anew. The hostile messaging is still far from concealed but the rhetoric changes, the idiom and expression is sophisticated and sombre. Patriotism is no longer overstated, it’s implicit, a given. It’s not just about heaping unbridled violence on the “other” but about combining it with sheer efficiency, skill, intelligence, counter-intelligence and efficacy. War is not just fought at the border but “ghar mein ghuske (by entering the homes)”.

Whether it’s the ambush in the North East, the combat in PoK, the various military strategies and operatives or the final covert battle of supremacy — Dhar’s story-telling keeps you invested and is tight, smart and slick when it comes to the portrayal of the security forces. He makes you care for the soldiers and their families. It only helps that he has a battalion of strong performers with Vicky Kaushal leading right from the front with his very finely calibrated performance as Major Vihaan Shergill and Swaroop Sampat as his Alzheimer-afflicted mother.

Uri: The Surgical Strike
  • Director: Aditya Dhar
  • Cast: Vicky Kaushal, Paresh Rawal, Mohit Raina, Yami Gautam, Kirti Kulhari, Rajit Kapoor, Swaroop Sampat
  • Storyline: A work of fiction that is based on the Indian army's surgical strikes on the militant “launchpads” in Pakistan Administered Kashmir, that were in retaliation against the deadly Uri attack on the security forces.

Whichever side of the political divide one may stand, one can’t dismiss Dhar’s canniness and craft, despite knowing that he is lionising the obvious and providing a one-sided narrative. The many questions surrounding the surgical strikes are not raised at all. You know that the security lapses at Uri camp will not be brought into sharp focus. And the separatist movement in North East won’t be probed, dismissed instead as “Nagaland Manipur ke terrorist”.

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 politicians and bureaucrats in the film (all obviously drawn from reality but not given their real names), are the weak link and feel exaggerated. The examples are rampant, whether it’s Paresh Rawal (as Ajit Doval or Manohar Parrikar), or Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj who should definitely lodge a formal complaint for being caricaturised badly.

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?

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2021 9:42:26 PM |

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