‘Major’ movie review: An emotional tribute that works

Director Sashi Kiran Tikka and actor-writer Adivi Sesh’s tribute to Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan is all heart

June 03, 2022 03:01 pm | Updated 05:43 pm IST

Adivi Sesh, Saiee Manjrekar, Revathy, Prakash Raj and Sobhita Dhulipala in the film

Adivi Sesh, Saiee Manjrekar, Revathy, Prakash Raj and Sobhita Dhulipala in the film

There are different ways to approach a biopic of a soldier who was killed on a mission. One would be a clinical approach that delineates the soldier’s mettle, culminating in a nail-biting finish that is replete with minute details of the risky operation. The other would be through an emotional lens, attempting to capture the man behind the hero. Director Sashi Kiran Tikka and actor Adivi Sesh who has written the story and screenplay of Major, inspired by the life of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan who was killed in the 26/11 attacks of 2008, choose the latter method. Their attempt is not perfect, but effective enough to leave viewers moved and thinking of soldiers who stake everything for the nation. And thankfully, there are no jingoistic overtones.

During pre-release interviews, Sashi mentioned how Sandeep’s parents recalled memories of their son, in a non-chronological manner, with the stronger memories popping up first. In the film, K Unnikrishnan (Prakash Raj) recalls Sandeep’s (Adivi Sesh) memories in a similar, non-linear manner. We all know how Sandeep’s story would end during the 26/11 attacks. But Major is not only about him fighting till his last breath, saving hostages at The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, from the terrorists. It is about Sandeep, the person, whose loyalty to the nation came above his responsibility towards his parents, sister and spouse. 

Cast: Adivi Sesh, Saiee Manjrekar, Sobhita Dhulipala
Direction: Sashi Kiran Tikka
Music: Sricharan Pakala
Languages: Telugu and Hindi

Certain portions feel airbrushed, like the childhood scenes that try to establish Sandeep’s fascination for the uniform. And later, when he intervenes in a domestic abuse incident, unmindful of the risk. We get that Sandeep put others’ safety above him, but maybe these segments could have been written and depicted more effectively. The Army training montages are picturised beautifully but do not show Sandeep’s transformation. Did he fail, face setbacks and learn from them? We do not get enough of that learning curve. He is earnest, determined and aces nearly everything.

But these are minor misgivings in the larger picture. As a plot device, narrating Sandeep’s story through his parents Unnikrishnan and Dhanalakshmi helps to give the emotional gravitas. There’s a delicate, sensitive manner in which the relationship between Sandeep and Isha (Saiee Manjrekar) is portrayed, with its breezy romance, warts and all. At one point, when Isha laments that no one would know the sacrifices made by a commando’s family, it hits the right spot. 

A deeply moving segment also involves Isha, and later Sandeep, telling each other at crucial moments, ‘It is better you do not know’. Abburi Ravi’s dialogues convey a lot without melodrama.

A large portion of the film unfolds within The Taj Mahal Palace hotel where the Mumbai police and the elite NSG commandos need to make sense of the maze ahead of them. The terrorists have the blueprint of the hotel and the access cards, while the protecting forces only have their courage, apart from their rifles. There are several wow moments during the operation, almost like a mainstream action thriller. But it is done without diluting the battle that is on. There is also a terrific segment where Sandeep manipulates the media which is live telecasting, unmindful of the harm it is doing to the hostages.

Vamsi Patchipulusu’s cinematography is an asset, moving from the cosy, warm portrayal of Sandeep’s early life and then shifting to the action mode. Sricharan Pakala’s music befits the breezy romance and family drama. 

One can either mull over how much cinematic liberty and dramatisation was required to make this tribute or soak in the narrative that touches the right emotional chords. What makes this tribute work is also the performances all around. Adivi Sesh is effective in showing young Sandeep’s innocence and later as the soldier who tells his peers, ‘don’t come up, I’ll handle them’. This is an internalised performance and his career best. Anish Kuruvilla as the hotel manager and Sobhita Dhulipala as businesswoman Pramoda Reddy are good in their brief, pivotal parts. Saiee Manjrekar is good as Isha. Murali Sharma is effective as always. A word of praise for Prakash Raj and Revathy. Their emotions in the closing moments of the film might move you to tears.

Major lives up to its promise of paying a befitting tribute to Sandeep Unnikrishnan. Do watch out for the end credits to catch snapshots of Sandeep’s life.

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