A real event, especially if not based on a single person, needs to be interpreted in a skilled manner for the screen. This includes studying the material, breaking it up into the must-haves and the can-haves and the not-needed, adding the perfect drama that is based on fiction, giving the correct etches to living people, fictionalizing their names, identities and traits, and changing parts of the narrative for a win-win situation — enhancing the emotional and entertainment quotients and the impact.
In 2018, we saw two films that had such a base: “Raid” and “Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran.” Of special import was the latter film, which was a quasi-masterpiece in how reel and real were blended for maximum impact.
In that sense, “URI: The Surgical Strike” does come off second-best, because there are moments when the film gets a bit too documentary dry-ish and then gets back to form, only get back into docu-land, then out again and so on. But with the people’s mood being more fervent and passionate now, Vicky Kaushal being a sought-after name and the real incident not only recent vis-à-vis “Parmanu” but more about highly overdue retaliation by this country that has never invaded another in its entire centuries-old history, this film might actually fare better.
Make no mistake: the sophistication and finesse may be lacking, but the soul, the intent, the fire, they are all present, and, especially at a macro level, the film works. It’s faithful and forceful, and the fiction, if a shade trite, is merged well.
Captain Vihaan Sheirgill (Vicky Kaushal) is a war hero but takes a transfer to Delhi to be with his Alzheimer’s-ridden mother (Swaroop Rawal). His sister (Manasi Prasad Gohil), brother-in-law (Mohit Raina) and niece (Riva Arora) are close family. There is a minor intrigue about the 24/7 nurse Jasmine (Yami Gautam) who is assigned by the government to take care of Vihaan’s mother, but it passes.
On Sept. 18, 2016, four Jashn-e-Mohammed terrorists stormed an army camp at daybreak and cold-bloodedly murdered 18 jawaans in their sleep. In a retaliatory attack, Vihaan’s bother-in-law is martyred. With determined political will, the Prime Minister approves of the concept of a surgical strike in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on terrorists (using satellite images), and Vihaan requests that he be included in the force. This part has a weak base: when there has been no leak from the unlogged special meeting in the PMO, how did Vihaan come to know that such a thing has been planned? It is such trivia that this film gets way inferior to the needed authentic meticulousness that was a part of “Parmanu” or “Raid.”
Vihaan is now assigned the captaincy of the four battalions that will strike at dead of night on September 29, 2016, less than 11 days after the Indian army was attacked. A foolproof, ruthless plan is developed that will ensure that within three or four hours, the Indian contingent will return to base minus a single casualty.
While the first half of the film narrates earlier details and sets the emotional-cum-patriotic base, the second half concentrates on the execution (pun intended) and the dramatic twists that come, some real, some obviously fiction.
For a first attempt, writer-director Aditya Dhar must be congratulated for even thinking of making a film on this vital-for-every-right-thinking-Indian subject. The surgical strike was a real-life mission on which the prime minister and national security advisor along with the heads of the armed forces had laid their careers on the line. Dhar can thus be excused for the family angle and the rather formulaic and ‘filmi’ touches, for he has handled the general graph well, and some sequences are indeed clap-worthy.
He gets good support from his technical team—DOP Mitesh Mirchandani, editor Shivkumar V. Panicker and action director Stefan Richter. Shashwat Sachdev’s background score is rousing, but the songs are eminently forgettable. On the acting front, Vicky Kaushal matches up to expectations and goes beyond, while Paresh Rawal is superb as Govind Bhardwaj, the screen version of Ajit Doval. Making a great impression also is Paresh’s wife Swaroop Rawal as the mother—she gets no frame with her husband, but this is the first time both of them are sharing a film. Riva Arora scores as the anguished child, Mohit Raina as her father, and Rajit Kapur quietly leaves an impression as prime minister. However, Yami Gautam and Kirti Kulhari get no scope at all.
Do visit “URI” for the story it tells. If you are Indian enough, you will oversee or dismiss the flaws. After all, you will be watching a “new Hindustan” speaking the language of its enemies, and so gratifying your emotions when India reciprocates the repeated insults.
RSVP presents “URI: The Surgical Strike”
Produced by: Ronnie Screwvala
Written and directed by: Aditya Dhar
Music: Shashwat Sachdev
Starring: Vicky Kaushal, Paresh Rawal, Kirti Kulhari, Yami Gautam, Mohit Raina, Shishir Sharma, Rajit Kapoor, Swaroop Rawal, Manasi Parekh Gohil, Riva Arora,
Dhairya Karwa, Yogesh Soman, Navtej Hundal, Rukhsar Rehman & others