LICH rating: (3.5 / 5) (This rating is only a snapshot. The details are in the words.)
Making a movie that’s coated with patriotic hues is a fraught cinematic exercise in these times. Cinema was the medium that bound a nation midwifed by a searing duo of separation and bloodshed. As democracy slowly turned and churned in its painful larva, India’s neighbors began to assert their wily muscles. And capturing these defensive wars was Indian cinema against a backdrop stories that were painted with romance, hot-blooded patriotism, and a rousing call to stoke a dormant love for the country. Hence a movie such as Haqeeqat always listed—and rightly so—as a war classic: laying bare the sacrifices of our army and also the wastes of war that leave behind nothing but lifeless bodies of what were once precious lives.
But J.P. Dutta, the Voldemort for Production Controllers and assistant directors—thanks to his obsession with recruiting all actors in and around Lokhandwala and Juhu and anyone passing through Film City—changed that with his charge of vocal-chord bursting, laryngitis-inducing war cries of movies that began in 1997 and threaten to continue their ravages against our ear-drums. In between all this, the world went and became dangerously polarized. And today, there’s no giving anyone any space. It’ll all black and white. It’s my truth or your falsehood. My right or your wrong. My patriotism or your sedition. My country or your one-way ticket to Pakistan.
Which is why making a movie that attempts to chronicle an Indian army strike in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) is a balancing act that writer-director Aditya Dhar must have been painfully aware of as he ventured into a territory packed with political and social-media landmines. Depending on which side of the polarized express you’re traveling, you’ll either puff up and feel jaunty or dismiss his effort as unabashed propaganda in a year the political power struggle is more intense than India’s struggle for independence. But what of the cinematic angle?
Uri: The Surgical Strike, unfolding in chapters, hits home in the first half with such fearsome force, it leaves you breathless and shaken up. Loosely basing the movie on real-life commanders and army men, the movie opens to the devastating insurgent attack in Imphal, Manipur in June 2015 that killed eighteen soldiers, and that led to a retaliatory strike in the border areas of Manipur, Nagaland, and Myanmar. You meet Major Vihan Singh Shergill (Vicky Kaushal), his brother in-law Major Karan Kashyap (a superb Mohit Raina), and their team who carry out the action. Director Dhar, action director Stefan Richter, cinematographer Mitesh Mirchandani, editor Shivkumar Panicker, and composer Shashwat Sachdev make this sequence stunning and gripping, pushing you right in the center of the action, and you simply go with the swift flow that’s tailored to keep you on the edge-of-the-seat: the bullets, shooting, the deadly death-is-lurking-around-in-the-bushes in the jungles slickly done.
Post the hit-back, Vihan decides to put in his voluntary retirement—to take care of mother Suhasini (Swaroop Sampat) who’s helplessly falling to the ravages of Alzheimer’s—but is persuaded to stay back in Delhi by the Indian Prime Minister (Rajit Kapur). Which is how Vihan ends up behind a Dell monitor, and finds himself intrigued by a lady in the office (Kirti Kulhari) who as it turns out, is called Seerat Kaur and is an IAF officer. The desk isn’t Vihan’s long suit, and you feel for him—as you would for any offspring who would take such loving back steps to take care of their parent. For, that isn’t the norm but the exception in today’s nuclear-family world. There’s the lovely Manzar Hai Ye Naya number that nicely captures Vihan’s internal dilemma between ma and country ma, but all seems well what with sister Neha ( Manasi Parekh Gohil) and niece Suhani (played oh so well by Riva Arora) his two constant twinkling stars. Until the movie shows the gruesome Uri attack that took place on 18 September, 2016. This sequence is a highlight, and it throbs with an ominous tension that forebodes the inevitable; the camera sprints, zooms, and hovers over the action that’s happening across the Indian army camp.
It is post interval that the movie falls prey to a strategic shortcut that also dilutes the intense atmospherics it had set up in the first half. While the emotional devastation is captured with a knowing sensitivity—the background score by Sachdev makes that fatal mistake of wanting to milk your emotions dry with all his orchestra’s got; where a subtle treading of instruments would’ve broken your heart, the violin is handed its age-old tragic role.
But Uri‘s biggest failing is the shortcut it takes in showing the intelligence gathering that must have gone in to plan a major strike across the border in PoK. A nod here from the PM, a shuffling about by National Security Advisor Govind Bhardwaj (Paresh Rawal acting strangely constricted), a nod here to DRDO and there to ISRO and bingo! The military men are ready to engage in some personal vendetta—more of that in a bit. Plus there’s some truly unnecessary comedy in the form of Rakesh Bedi belching away to glory to Ivan Rodrigues looking like a fool of a supervisor in front of his intern. And all Yami Gautam‘s track does is add some anxious moments a laGodhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu.
While there’s very little of the chest-expanding and beating that one’d expect from a movie in this genre, the run up to the strike is strangely detached. In real life, the government and the intelligence agencies worked together with the army to plan and prep the offensive—the government keeping up the veneer of not taking any action and churning out standard spiel—the agencies gathered information from their contacts and only a select few army top brass were in the know about the ops. All this could have kept the second half ticking like a time bomb, different players doing their bit in ensuring the strike was a go. Instead, director Dhar chooses to lay it all on the government, drone shots, a whisky drinking session in Pakistan, and a drop into enemy territory that’s all too pat. Which is why, the major event of the movie—the actual strike—when it does come, seems to come too late, although to be fair, it’s tightly shot with a kind of breathless energy that you’ve never seen before in Hindi cinema.
Sometimes, it need not be all personal vendetta and blood-thirst that propels armed forces to do their job and do it masterfully well. It’s their dedication and commitment to keep the country safe that’s their true driving force and Uri could have looked at what charges these amazing men and women to do what they do. Even if it doesn’t, Vicky Kaushal makes you pause and think. For, except for a brief moment in the climax—when director Dhar succumbs to another cinematic malaise, viz., the predictable system of personal justice delivery via hand-to-hand combat—he’s superbly restrained, his focus, hurt, and anger bulking up his frame and his decisiveness. The actor delivers a fine performance all through—watch him adjust his chair as he settles down at his desk job; or when his sister and niece pass him by and as they leave the frame, a lone tear runs down his left eye; or when he’s with his mother, he touches you with his quiet caring. It is this act that’ll make you proud of the armed forces. For, it isn’t in the blood curdling cries and sticking in the bayonet that you find a true patriot and a stellar citizen. It is when Kaushal turns around with heartbreaking relief—having lost all hope of his mother recognizing him—after she calls his name, that you feel true pride. That is a nuclear (family) battle and war won in a single strike.
LICH ratings chart
(1 / 5): Don’t bother
(2 / 5): Not too great
(3 / 5): Worth a watch
(4 / 5): Very good
(5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW
Uri: The Surgical Strike is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s intense action.
Uri: The Surgical Strike
Director Aditya Dhar Running Time 2h 18min
Writer Aditya Dhar
Stars Vicky Kaushal, Paresh Rawal, Yami Gautam, Mohit Raina
Genres Action, Drama
Watch the trailer of Uri: The Surgical Strike: