Bhuj: The Pride of India review

Paper planes fly with more conviction than the fleet of VFX generated aircrafts gliding, bombing and crashing mindlessly in and out of the frame in Bhuj: The Pride of India. It’s like Pearl Harbour on a dollar store budget.

Ajay Devgn’s latest contribution to hollow patriotism is inspired by true events from the 1971 War when 300 women of a nearby village gathered to mend relentlessly demolished airstrips at Bhuj.

The actual story has a magical Shoemaker and the Elves quality to it, but Director Abhishek Dudhaiya’s sole aim is to bombard the screen with identical looking explosions and Devgn strutting in slow motion.

Dudhaiya, along with Raman Kumar, Ritesh Shah and Pooja Bhavoria, is at the helm of this hodgepodge script that resembles a hastily put together compilation of chronologically confused jingoism. Wonder who is to be blamed the most for such atrocious writing?

Between its yawn inducing Pakistan bashing and blatant Islamophobia harping on the same old great Maratha versus vile Mughal issue, unintended hilarity ensues by the dozen in code word exchanges that respond to Anarkali with Akbar Ki Nautanki and a president who sounds like he swallowed his dentures.

Bhuj: The Pride of India has some of the worst lines I’ve heard in a while. Musalman vikalang ladki? Malayalam yodhaon ki kaum? Agar Taj Mahal pyar ki nishaani hai toh Hindustan tere baap ki kahani hai? It’s bad enough that a place like Harami Nala actually exists, but to repeatedly utter it a dozen times is death by mirth.

More than half of this drivel is dedicated to Devgn’s drowsy swagger as Squadron Leader Vijay Karnik who hammers a bunch of kediyu clad men using a shield like he’s watched too much Steve Rogers, lights up time bombs as though it’s some hazaar ki ladi, takes power naps in sand amidst an aerial attack, washes off his suddenly blood-soaked face and stares into the mirror as if posing for Daboo Ratnani’s annual calendar or stands tall before a strategically planted tricolour at every given chance.

A voiceover tells us about the undercover support he receives from an informer Sanjay Dutt and mole Nora Fatehi (eyelash patriotism, anyone?).

As per Bhuj, joining R&AW is simpler than getting a job at McDonalds. Don’t want to be a butcher, join R&AW. Have a brother to avenge, join R&AW.

There’s Sharad Kelkar’s military officer and Ammy Virk’s pilot too, doing all the fighting and flying while Devgn fulfils his bhakt duties — praying before a Ganesha idol, that is.

Dutt’s character Pagi Ranchhod Bhai Savabhai Rabari has a looooong name, but nothing major to do except look at the footprints in sand and identify if it’s Pakistani or India.

In the final face-off between India and Pakistan, Dutt turns into an attention seeking kid on his own trip while grownups are talking.

Showing up after more than half of its 1 hour 53 minutes running time, Sonakshi Sinha, all prim and pretty in her fancy costumes and ethnic makeup, leads the girl gang to accomplish the actual purpose of Bhuj. That the woman can slay fake looking leopards using sickles and fire arrows at Raavan effigies is enough for Karnik to place faith in her abilities.

There’s no sense of struggle, desperation or teamwork in the endeavour depicted. Rather the sham is all the more obvious when the end credits shares a snapshot of the ‘Real Women from Madhapar village at Bhuj air base.’ Now that was quite a story and a moment of real pride.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Shershaah review

While designating the code names to his squad, Lt Colonel Y K Joshi assigns a Maharana Pratap, a Charaka, a Sangram, a Chanakya but when it’s Shershaah’s turn, there’s a moment’s pause as though anticipating a drumroll followed by a triumphant guitar tune. The movie is a paean to his brave deeds and makes no bones about it.

Some heroes become legends with the passage of time but Captain Vikram Batra’s star was on the rise even when he was fighting the enemy across the border during the Kargil War of 1999. His jaw-dropping valour in recapturing crucial points contributed to India’s sure shot victory over Pakistan — a role that is etched in Indian history, a role that was honoured with the prestigious Param Vir Chakra, a role that he died fulfilling at the young age of 24.

 

Though it’s a biopic, Director Vishnu Vardhan — working on Sandeep Srivastava’s script — is always conscious of Batra’s larger-than-life figure and well-documented popularity. Exerting this knowledge strangely benefits Shershaah and solidifies Batra’s swashbuckling imagery, somebody who could turn a cola slogan into a life motto — Yeh Dil Maange More, somebody who would be portrayed by a Bollywood hero merely five years after he took a bullet in battle.

Back in 2003, J P Dutta’s unwieldy multistarrer LoC-Kargil recreated the events and cast Abhishek Bachchan to play the decorated soldier. Bachchan did a fine job but it was an overstuffed project and collapsed under the weight of its own ambitions.

In comparison, Shershaah‘s single-minded focus on Captain Vikram Batra (Sidharth Malhotra) acquaints us with his exuberant, go-getter impulses bordering on reckless as he defies rules and teases protocol drawing attention to his innate guts, tactical prowess and a watchful eye that sees more than it lets on.

From his indecision in picking between a lucrative career in the merchant navy or joining the armed forces in pursuance of his lifelong dream, to starting out as a daredevil lieutenant at 13 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles and getting promoted to the rank of captain in two years and leading a successful operation at Kargil in the history of mountain warfare, Batra accomplished a fair bit.

A restless energy envelops him, not too uncommon in twenty-somethings eager to act and conquer.

There’s glamour in greatness and Batra who has grown up watching fellow Palampur native and the first recipient of Param Vir Chakra, Major Somnath Sharma eulogised in Farooq Shaikh’s skin and Chetan Anand’s television series, is gleefully aspiring for it.

There’s a good deal of him to discover outside the military turf as well. While his close ties to his parents, two sisters and twin brother are disappointingly peripheral, the handsome romantic’s Punjabi-speaking flirtations around Dimple, a comely Sardarni he meets while studying in Chandigarh form the heart of Shershaah‘s spirited tale.

This is the meatiest role of Sidharth Malhotra’s career and the man sure enough gives it his all. There’s charm, swagger, warmth, empathy, verve, authority — a lively portrait of a lion, a legend. Let’s say if Shah Rukh Khan was an emotion, Sidharth channels his to the brim. Add to that his smooth chemistry around Kiara Advani, which exudes a much-in-love air that makes the impending doom all the more upsetting to bear. Meanwhile, Kiara’s light, luminous elegance helps overlook some of its slit-finger sindoor cheesiness.

Props to Cinematographer Kamaljeet Negi for bringing some novel perspective to scenes of love and war, especially where he frames his shots through narrow passages or focuses on his protagonists against striking backdrops.

The combat scenes are ably executed and opt for a raw urgency over slick impact, but Shershaah completely neglects to address the difficulty of fighting in Kargil’s complex climatic and logistical conditions.

Creative liberties for the sake of drama are a given, but Director Vishnu Vardhan (at the helm of Tamil hits like Billa, Arrambam) refrains from grating jingoism and faithfully resurrects all of Batra’s moments and maxims — chants of Durge Mata Ki Jai, crossfire and cracks over Madhuri Dixit and his stoic belief — You live by chance, love by choice and kill by profession.

Though it isn’t above banalities like the mandatory childhood flashback of a mini me of the future you, dodgy, one-note nemesis and his politics of opportunism, the Kashmiri local lamb who has lost his way until the do-gooder hero intervenes, the sight of a herdsman in the valley signalling towards an ominous occurrence or the jinx of the picture shared by an army man inevitably ends in a life cut short.

Batra’s colleagues (only a sombre Shiv Pandit registers) didn’t hold back in gallantry, something the end credits attest amply but are relegated to awestruck teammates.

Having said that, Shershaah is at its most compelling when going with the flow of its central character’s spontaneous instincts. The minute it tries to explain, emphasise and remind us who said what and when, it dilutes a perfectly poignant moment. And Vishnu Vardhan goes significantly overboard in magnifying the martyr moment, blazing guns and all.

Except you know what? I was moved to tears. Sidharth and Kiara dig beyond the heroics and bring out the human. He is as dear as he was daring.

Shershaah streams on Amazon Prime Video.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Dial 100 review

Dial 100 seems less of a thriller and more of an answer to the oft-asked question, ‘What’s it about?’ The movie unfolding before us has the brevity of a synopsis rather than the structure of a script as though roughly describing the outline but leaving out all the juicy details.

It’s a shame because Writer-Director Rensil D’Silva’s idea starts off grippingly but can neither sustain the jittery momentum nor deliver on the promise of its atmospheric mood leaving its perfectly able cast undermined.

Mumbai’s torrential rains form the backdrop of this murky midnight’s tale when a cop (Manoj Bajpayee) operating from the emergency control room receives a call from a troubled stranger (Neena Gupta) suspected of contemplating suicide.

In an earlier telephonic conversation with his anxious wife (Sakshi Tanwar), we get a sense of looming trouble brought about their problem teenage son (a terribly tame Svar Kamble) and his wayward ways. As the identity of the caller is gradually revealed, it becomes clear the real threat is faced by the cop and his family for reasons that are, unfortunately, too easy to guess.

Between a policeman’s confused efforts to rescue them from harm’s way and a vindictive woman’s mysterious motives, Dial 100‘s pace plummets to focus on technical glitches at the control room causing the delay in figuring the caller’s whereabouts.

D’Silva means to make a pertinent point about privilege, parenting, middle-class woes, apathy and its dispensable existence as opposed to the preferential treatment meted on the influential based on social hierarchy. But its cursory nature does not make any emotional impact.

As a thriller too, Dial 100 is much too passive to convey the urgency or hazard of the instability at loose. Characters offer uncharacteristically controlled response to bizarre situations through the course of its stilted setting and under two hours running time. It’s also an amazingly dry looking film considering the extent of damage the supposed bad weather causes.

With not much going on in terms of intensity or intrigue even the actors struggle to rise above the matter. Neena Gupta starts off terrifyingly bleak but the movie cannot match her neurotic tone. It doesn’t help that she goes entirely missing for a good chunk and pops up again undecided between vendetta and vulnerability.

A solid actor for all seasons, Manoj Bajpayee lends his usual gravitas but eventually seems lost around an insufficiently written character. Ever so compelling, Sakshi Tanwar is the only one who seems to have a good grasp on the guilt and regret of her role.

Dismal and inert, Dial 100 never delivers the storm it promises inside or out.

Dial 100 streams on ZEE5 Premium.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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