Let me start by saying that when the first trailers of Uri: The Surgical Strike came in, it did not appeal to me. On the surface, it seemed to be cut out of the same hyper-nationalist jingoistic fabric as a typical J.P. Dutta film that flourishes on dialogbaazi. As a result, I never really felt excited to watch the film for about a week, but finally decided to go for it today to celebrate its success which is already on its way to become the first super-hit film of 2019. Let me start by happily confessing that my initial perception was proven wrong, and sensationalist jingoism is the least of problems of this film. Sadly though, it still misses the target of becoming good impactful cinema, and has bigger problems to deal with. Hence, all we get in the end of it is a strictly average and quickly forgettable cinematic experience.
But let us talk about the good things first. Debutant director Aditya Dhar chooses a subject of the Uri attacks of 2016 and the surgical strikes that happen immediately after to avenge the attacks, to tell his story. The overall context and events are known to all, and Dhar gives it his own dramatic interpretation, and wants to keep the Josh of his filmmaking high throughout. As a result, he gets a few things very right in his film.
The biggest strength of Uri comes in the form of very smartly choreographed and well shot action sequences, and some of the night time cinematography by Mitesh Mirchandani capturing all the firing is very impressive. His camera-work also shines with the high elevation top shots of the choppers flying (reminded me of Lakshya though, that is still the benchmark of top angle shots of a war terrain). The opening sequence of the film where the Army convoy is suddenly attacked is also designed and shot well, and sets up the tone of the film nicely to raise expectations on what is to follow.
Dhar also adapts a smart chapter wise layout for his screenplay which works well overall, since it gives the film a better structure, helps compartmentalize the different moods of the film, and smartly covers for some of the continuity breaks between the events of the chapters. It also helps the film to moderate itself across emotions, so that it stays away from a loud, over the top narrative, the easiest trap it could otherwise fall into.
And some of the performances of the film do help to make it grounded in places. My favorite performance of the film came from Swaroop Sampat who nails it with the fragility, confusion and helplessness of the ailing mother in the couple of scenes that she gets. The larger family, Manasi Parekh Gohil and Mohit Raina also do well in their respective roles for the most part keeping their rough edges under wraps. I wish they had better developed characters though with additional screen time. Shishir Sharma as the Army Chief is as effective as ever.
Sadly enough, the things that shine for the film remain these few and far. And are far outweighed by the things that do not work as effectively. Here is looking at some of them.
The biggest problem of the film is its underdeveloped amateurish screenplay. The entire planning sequence of the surgical strikes plays out too conveniently, and somewhere misses the intensity and soul needed to suck you in. Getting an intern to lead the command center for such a highest degree covert operation with his prototype drones is one of the weakest plot points one would ever see in any war film. I am still not sure what was the thinking behind it? Was it to stress on what our young blood can potentially contribute if given the right infrastructure and support? We would never know, and the sore point will always remain. Also, when a supposedly serious war film tries to extract a moment of laughter through the burps of a Pakistani officer, or tries to generate its sense of urgency with senior ministers and officials constantly checking their watches like robots against a timeline, you cannot help feeling sorry about its novice approach to screen writing. That Dhar then uses crutches like extra loud and jarring background score to fill the gaps of the lackluster screenplay, further hits the cause of the film’s seriousness.
The film also suffers majorly on credibility because it loses its balance on sticking to the facts vs. cinematic dramatization. Its a known fact that surgical strikes by our Army keep happening across the border, but the film wants to stress on a Naya Hindustan narrative and hence highlights it as something unique and happening for the first time. In an attempt to highlight the first line of involvement of the Prime Minister in the overall planning, the film also heavily compromises on the role that the Defense Minister might have actually played in the operations. It was also majorly reported post these strikes that the entire operation was on foot, but Dhar finds that too bland for his film, and punches in additional drama of a mix of aerial and on land point to point combat. Official statements post the strike mentioned that about the dozen militants were killed, but of course the film needed to show operations of a much larger scale with many times that number of terrorists being killed by the Indian Army.
Also with all the smart choreography of the war sequences, how believable it is that such a high intensity operation will see no casualties and injuries on one side of the battle ground at all? Yes, it feels wonderful when our hero can keep his promise of protecting the life of each of the soldiers on his team, but the simplicity with which it is achieved is too good to be true in a real war scenario. Would the enemy really miss every single shot they fire like that in any war? The heroism of the Hero is a problem at large even outside this context. He has to always win the final battle with a one-on-one hand combat with the enemy (in both the wars he fights) irrespective of all the gunshots he is capable of. He is the one who has to be smarter than the female intelligence officer in his trick to get information out of an interrogation sequence. And he has to be the one to create the opportunity for a widowed fighter pilot to fly again and avenge her personal grief. In fact, the film superficially ticks the box on a notional sense of empowerment by having two women to play seemingly important roles in a war, but not giving them much to do in the larger scheme of things. Hence, Yami Gautam and Kirti Kulhari fail to make any memorable impressions in their token characters.
Not that the characters that have a lot to do shine very bright. The biggest performance disappointment of the film comes from Paresh Rawal who is at the center of things playing the national security advisor. He is given a lot of high voltage lines to speak, but fails to connect on any level. The great actor that we had in Rawal has been missing for very long now, and that is serious miss for cinema. My other favorite actor, Rajit Kapur was a major casting misfit at the Prime Minister, and sticks out with a listless performance. The lesser we say about the other side characters the better. And that brings me to Vicky Kaushal, an extremely sharp actor, who is just coming out of a fabulous run from 2018. How unfortunate it is then that of the five steps that he had taken forward with his few performances of last year, he takes about a couple of them backward here. His isn’t a bad performance, but his isn’t a Vicky Kaushal performance we have so gotten used to by now. He does shine in a couple of scenes – the one where he is mourning the loss of his brother in law (immediately after the overdramatic last rites scene) is especially brilliant, his addressal scenes with his troupes are well nuanced and controlled as well, but such flashes of brilliance are few and far in between. The spark that is Vicky Kaushal goes completely missing in the other scenes. His overall performance not standing much taller than the otherwise forgettable film is possibly my biggest reason of heartbreak for Uri.
Nothing can be sadder than a patriotic war film leaving you with a shallow experience in the end. I wanted to walk out of the theatre with a lot of high josh, but the film had left me within minutes of it getting over. Along with me, it failed its heroes purely on the basis of a highly messed up cinematic syntax, and only that. Any level of commercial success can never compensate for it sadly.
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