Excerpt: The difference between executing a war and making a war movie is that the latter can afford to slip a little and still have a beautiful life. In essence, Uri: The Surgical Strike is a fine, fine film… that would not have been made if the actual Surgical Strike by the glorious Indian Army too was ‘merely’ a fine, fine effort.
Review: The name of the film, Uri: The Surgical Strike, spells out the entire story of the film. And then it goes on to tell us how “ideas are dime a dozen, the key lies in the implementation“.
And that is why it would only be pertinent to begin with applauding Ronnie Screwvala (RSVP Movies) for backing the project and Aditya Dhar (Aditya Dhar Films) for directing the tale so well in his debut outing.
People who are deliberately hyperventilating about the film being a symbol of ‘hyper-nationalism’ would do well to know that director Aditya Dhar was just about to commence shooting a film called ‘Raat Baaki‘ with Katrina Kaif and, hold your breath, Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in the lead role when the film got shelved because of terrorist attack in Uri that led to the Indian film fraternity banning Pakistani talent.
As per a favoured format (generally) of noir films, the film is told in five chapters.
Chapter 1 gives a fabulously pertinent background – or context – of the principal act that the film talks about. Every subsequent chapter adds layers to the story and the characters, leading up to the final chapter that reaches the crescendo of this war cry of Major Vihaan Shergill (Vicky Kaushal) after the successful surgical strike:
“How’s the Josh?”
“How’s the Josh?”
The reaction that you feel within you when you hear that, right at the end of a 2 hour 20 minutes-long film tells you that it was a tale well told.
And the tale could be told well because the lead actor, Vicky Kaushal, manages to consistently keep the story moving even when he is doing or saying nothing. I doubt if Vicky would’ve believed in his wildest dreams that this film would make the ‘mainstream world’ take note of him, applaud his work, and straightaway place him alongside the (so-called) A-list STARS that move the box office.
While Vicky Kaushal is meticulous and nuanced throughout the film, he is totally and utterly mesmerizing at times in essaying his role of a man devoted to both his mother and the motherland.
At the same time, and going against the popular verdict, I would say that the character of the National Security Advisor (NSA), played by veteran actor Paresh Rawal, looked slightly less in control of the facial expressions and body language than what one, perhaps, would expect from the responsibility. Not aware of the behind-the-scenes of the film, I can’t say if it reflects the director’s vision, the actor’s interpretation/improvisation or some inner details about the person on whom it is based. In absence of that insight, I believe that it would go down as a slightly missed opportunity to create an iconic character on screen.
Monkey balancing within the family, however, Swaroop Sampat (wife of Paresh Rawal) returns to the big screen with an absolutely stunning act. Playing an Alzheimer-stricken mother of Major Shergill, she gives a ten-on-ten performance.
You need to take time out of your social work to do a bit more of this, ma’am!
Another part that did not hold as well for me was the character of a young intern of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), played by Akashdeep Arora, who, actually, plays one of the most vital roles of in the film. The character (and not Akashdeep’s acting) comes across as rather contrived. For reference, the role/character is almost entirely similar to that of a young hacker in Neeraj Pandey’s classic ‘A Wednesday’.
The only other character that looked like been designed purely to provide some light-hearted relief to the film was that of a middle-aged official of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), played by the ever-brillian Rakesh Bedi. Of course, the character with a comic edge is vital to the story and is barely for 2-3 minutes in the film.
Of the other actors, Mohit Raina (as Major Karan Kashyap) and Mansi Parekh Gohil (as Major Kashyap’s wife and Major Shergill’s sister) stand out with sincere performances — Mohit especially in the combat scenes and Mansi in the latter half of her very small role.
The actor who, however, steals the thunder from her screen parents is Riva Arora. She completely melts the theatre by re-enacting this following real-life incident:
Yami Gautam as an intelligence officer is sincere while Kirti Kulhari as an Indian Air Force Officer/Pilot is convincing in her single-tone role – and gets to play the ‘hero’ at a very crucial juncture of the film.
Frankly, in such films, there is little scope for an actor to be bad. It is just about the layers of the character and the screen time.
Uri was largely shot in Serbia. The Indo-Pak border, the LOC and other areas resembling military posts and terrorist camps were recreated in the central European nation.
What helped matters was that there was an Indian Army official consultant on board with the makers of the film. All the actors were given intensive commando training for about five months — something that comes across in the body language and ease of movement of the actors. They also practised wearing the Army uniform and using the weapons for months together.
That brings to the fore the ONLY reservation/complaint with regards the action sequences of the film: As in a ‘normal action film sans a sense of responsibility and detailing, there exists a portion where the Pakistani forces’ chopper fire repeatedly misses, what a layman would consider, a ‘sitting ducks’ position of the Indian troops. Though it lasts only for about a minute or two, it concerns one of the most vital parts of the heroic tale — the successful retreat.
Then again, maybe the closer-to-reality description might have actually been unwise from the Indian Army perspective.
As per Aditya, the director, he had a locked script which was approved by the army and he stuck to it. The Indian Army (officials) is said to be very happy with the final product.
Clearly, when an honest effort is put behind a project, it eventually shows.
The cinematography by Mitesh Mirchandani is absolutely top-notch.
We get to see only what we ought to see. The frames are only as still as they ought to be. The long shots and close-ups are used to terrific effect — for, sometimes we need to be near a soldier’s face to hear his heartbeat, and at other times we want to have a bird’s eye view to learn from his movement. Just what the doctor ordered!
Giving Mitesh an able company is Shivkumar V. Panicker with his astute editing. Not one scene in the entire film seems to have even a single redundant frame.
Composed by Shashwat Sachdev, the four songs of the film blend beautifully with the film and do not come across as a language different from the rest of it. Challa (Main Lad Jaana) especially stands out because of its thumping nature that adds to the edgy proceedings of the moment.
Verdict: If you are at peace with the fact that every individual, idea, and institution has certain flaws, you would love every bit of seeing this film unfold on the big screen. Recommended!