Kay Kay Menon as captain Rannvijay Singh in “The Ghazi Attack.” (Photo provided)

Dharma Productions present PVP Cinema’s, Matinee Entertainment’s and AA Films’ “The Ghazi Attack.”

Produced by: Kavin Anne, Param V. Potluri, Anvesh Reddy, Venkatramana Reddy and Jagan Mohan Vancha

Directed by: Sankalp Reddy

Written by: Sankalp Reddy, Gunnam Gangaraju & Niranjan Reddy with Hindi dialogues by Azad Alam

Music: K (K. Krishna Kumar)

Starring: Rana Dagubatti, Kay Kay Menon, Atul Kulkarni, Nassar, Om Puri, Milind Gunaji, Bharath Reddy, Bikramjeet Kanwarpal, Rahul Singh, Harika Vedula, Sp.App.: Taapsee Pannu and others

125 minutes of clinical, terse narration. Director-co-writer Sankalp Reddy, who had dreamed on a short film on this slice of naval history in the 1971 India-Pakistan war (which should rightly be called the India-West Pakistan war then), got his big chance at this feature when backed by big names. And for a first-time feature maker, he has indeed excelled.

We mention the term ‘West Pakistan’ because at that time, East Pakistan was revolting against the former. To quell the revolution, a lot of supplies (of soldiers and materials like food and weapons) were needed to reach there. And the only way was around the Bay of Bengal, because East Pakistan was surrounded by India on three sides. Also any airplane would have to fly across Indian territory and India and Pakistan were hostile neighbors, with a war (1965) behind them. After this same war where India crushed Pakistan, East Pakistan was reborn as the sovereign country of Bangladesh and no longer remained a part of the enemy country.

To come back after this brief and basic history, in such a contingency, it was imperative to scuttle Indian defense and the obvious target was the Indian Navy’s pride and champ, the INS Vikrant. And so Pakistan’s most celebrated submarine, the Ghazi, was sent, headed by their most celebrated naval officer Razzak (Rahul Singh), with the secret agenda of targeting INS Vikrant, then lodged in Vishakhapatnam (as Vizag was known then).

On getting a cryptic decoded signal of an enemy submarine, Indian authorities in turn commissioned S21, headed by hot-headed captain Rannvijay Singh (Kay Kay Menon) and sent it on a recce, with strict instructions not to attack. Singh’s son has died because of similar instructions during an Army operation, and he cannot forget the results of political interference in the duty of a soldier. His motto, thus, is that you win a war by creating (enemy) martyrs, not by becoming one!

To keep him in check, the Naval Command (Nassar and Om Puri) appoint Lieutenant-Commander Arjun Verma (Rana Dagubatti) on board, and Singh and Verma are immediately at loggerheads. Devraj, the executive officer devoted to Singh but one who plays by the book, is caught in a moral dilemma, as he often had to oppose Singh, and as per Navy protocol, any order he executes must have the sanction of both his superiors.

The first half of the film is largely used in establishing characters and making the audience understand rules, war ethics, war realities and how a submarine works during contingencies. A thrilling moment is when Vijay risks his life to save two refugees from a destroyed merchant ship, Ananya (Taapsee Pannu) and a small girl. The narrative red herring of a new father, Devraj, who hears the news of his first-born, is used to heighten emotions. His character is made so likeable that in the Hindi film context, we expect him to die without ever seeing his child!

There are emotional highs throughout the film, and there are cheers from the audience at some junctures as Reddy grips us with his cat-and-mouse narrative between Ghazi and S-21 in the second hour. The Pakistani captain is shown as a ruthless and shrewd soldier, luckily not a caricature or stereotype, and that only heightens the impact.

There are some dramatic licenses taken that could have been explained better (or avoided, as the case may be), like how despite the flooding of the damaged Indian sub, a lot of vital mechanisms seem to be still working. But overall, the tension is palpable, akin to a Hollywood war or Navy movie, and the best part is that both the content and the narration are original and completely homespun.

Technically, the film is above average, especially in the cinematography (Madhie), production design (Shivam Rao) and VFX. Sreekar Prasad’s editing could have been just a tad (as in maybe 5 to 7 minutes of run time) ruthless in the second half! K’s background music is an asset as it enhances the mood and tension, and it avoids stereotypes oftener than succumbing to them.

The dialogues are real, shorn of melodrama, and the crispness adds to the emotional quotient and the relentless grip the script and direction have on the film and thus on the audience.

The performances remain at a uniform high, including in the brief appearances of Taapsee as the doctor-turned-refugee and the one sequence of Harika Vedula as Devraj’s pregnant wife who does not want him to go on duty. The actors playing the Indian and Pakistani radio operators are brilliant—I think it is Bharath Reddy as the Indian counterpart. In fact, the smaller roles are all so natural and understated that we do not realize how actually competent the actors are!

In major roles, this is the ascending order: Rahul Singh is brilliant as Razzak, giving his role the right amount of lethality and patriotism as the commander of Ghazi. Atul Kulkarni brings to life a normal not-so-young man who follows orders and knows his job to perfection. Rana Dagubatti is a tad mechanical in the first half, but his role and thus his performance both come into their own in the second half when he takes over the ship. Then on, Dagubatti is superb.

Finally, the man of the match: Kay Kay Menon as the impulsive and rebel Sardar captain is, in one word, incredible. His expressions, his body language and the way his character is shaped makes him the complete scene-stealer. For me, this is his career-best—a gigantic performance that deserves an award. Sadly, bilinguals generally are not qualified to win any.

Ironically, the National Anthem was heard twice within the film. The first time, the audience (consisting largely of media persons who write reams on this because of the artificial controversies generated by politicians and courts recently) started rising only towards the end. During the second instrumental one, no one rose!

Also, the initial (obligatory) anti-smoking commercial was so refreshingly different from the kitsch we have to undergo in Hindi films—this one was censored in the South! Wish every film was a bilingual just for that!

To round off, “The Ghazi Attack” is one of the finest movies made on patriotism in the last two decades. I would place it on par with “Sarfarosh,” “Dus,” “16 December” and “A Wednesday!” in the edge-of-the-seat thrill element as well as for the intensity of patriotism that it portrays and spurs into the viewer’s mind.

Rating: ****

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