IB 71 is conceived imaginatively, needed superior execution

Vidyut Jammwal in the espionage drama IB 71. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

The true story is available online, so we realize that the concept (Aditya Shastri) of tweaking it into this fictional saga is truly imaginative. The execution, however, is alright only in the second half of IB 71, though stretched a tad in a ‘filmi’ way in the climax. The first half, however, is not just convoluted but often confusing and sometimes incomprehensible.

Overall, director Sankalp Reddy (also one of the many ‘writer’ cooks who makes this broth far less appealing that it could have been) goes back and forth between  modes of how Hollywood treats its action thrillers—all furious pace and little explanation—and then comes back to slowly-unfolding, intense drama. Also, the emotional intensity for which he was known in the masterly The Ghazi Attack (2017) is missing here.

The story is of how Pakistan and China planned to bring India to its knees through a joint attack. But for this, a crucial necessity was of Pakistani aircraft being able to travel to East Pakistan (Bangladesh did not exist then), which was also burning as there was revolt there that was being suppressed. Once this news reaches Indian agent Dev (Vidyut Jammwal) through an agent, and he discusses it with his superiors, there is only one option: India must block its airspaces to Pakistan so that they cannot send their aircraft to the East, giving time for India to make its armed forces and aircraft ready for war.

But for that blockade to happen, there has to be a war situation, which was only being planned at that time by the enemy. So Dev has a brilliant suggestion: stage a Pakistani hijack of an Indian plane with passengers. Hijack equals terrorism equals war, he says, ergo India can block its airspace.

And for that, he finds a tailor-made support in the shape of arrested Qasim Qureshi (Vishal Jethwa), a fiery, over-enthusiastic Kashmir liberation activist, and his brother, Ashfaq (Faizan Khan).

With great reluctance, the IB (Intelligence Bureau) chief (Anupam Kher) permits Dev to execute this idea fraught with risks, and Dev uses a decommissioned airplane, Ganga, and arranges for an assortment of IB agents of all ages, shapes and sizes to pose as passengers, a pilot and airhostesses.

Qasim is led to think that he is actually hijacking a plane through an elaborate back-up setting and so the plane lands in Lahore. The Pakistani government then has to ensure the safe return of all passengers, though the wily intelligence officials there (Hobby Dhariwal and Ashwath Bhatt) smell a rat. With despicable incompetence, the Indian intelligence in Delhi overlooks the sound of rain as the passengers ‘talk’ to pre-arranged ‘relatives’ in different parts of India (stage-managed in Delhi) and there is the common-to-multiple-locations like Delhi, Mumbai and more sound of showers heard when they are monitoring their calls!

What happens next?

On the good side, the film eschews needless action, despite Vidyut playing not just the lead but also being the film’s co-producer. Whatever action is shown is crisp and to-the-point, even in the pre-climax. Vidyut himself is the picture (pun intended!) of restraint, and acts really well as a sober, serious intelligence agent.

Vishal Jethwa goes a shade over-the-top as the hot-headed Qasim and yet remains true to his character. Anupam Kher is handicapped by a largely passive role but does it decently. Holly Dhaliwal and Ashwath Bhatt impress as the harangued Pakistani officials, while the rest have nothing to do really.

As regarding action director Lee Whittaker’s work, it is deftly-executed, and the background score by Prashanth R. Vihari is interestingly different. The cinematography (Gnana Sekhar V.S.) is appealing and Kashmir has been shot lovingly.  But Sandeep Francis’ editing could have been a bit relaxed in the frenzied parts of the first half.

A pleasant watch, IB 71, despites its solidly interesting real base (I would suggest a visit to the Wikipedia page on “1971 Indian Airlines hijacking” for that) lacks the entertainment and emotional quotients of other films on that era, like Mission Majnu, 16 December, Raazi and The Ghazi Attack, each of which was based on a real character or event from that important period in Indian history.

Rating: **1/2 

T-Series Films, Reliance Entertainment & Action Hero Films’ IB 71 Produced by: Vidyut Jammwal, Abbas Sayyed, Bhushan Kumar &Krishen Kumar Directed by: Sankalp Reddy Written by: Aditya Shastri, Sankalp Reddy, Arjun Varma, E. Vasudeva Reddy, Arun Bhimavarapu, Gargee Singh, Abhimanyu Srivastava,  Junaid Wasi & Sahar Quaze Music: Vikram Montrose  Starring: Vidyut Jammwal, Anupam Kher, Niharica Raizada, Nissar Khan, Vishal Jethwa, Dalip Tahil, Mir Sarwar, Sahidur Rahaman, Danny Sura, Faizan Khan, Ashwath Bhatt, Bijay Anand,  Hobby Dhaliwal, Pyarali Nayani, Suvrat Joshi & others



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