Opposition politicians in India might have been skeptical of the army’s much-touted “surgical strike” across the border in 2016, but director Aditya Dhar has no such doubts. Thankfully, he has the directing skills to match his belief.
His slick war film draws a leaf out of Kathryn Bigelow’s gritty movies. “Uri: The Surgical Strike” is shorn of heavy background music, has smart action sequences and the requisite fist-pumping dialogue that are the hallmark of this genre. But try as it might, it also cannot avoid the Bollywood tropes that weigh it down.
Dhar, who also wrote the script, focuses on Vihaan Singh Shergill, an army major who is at his best when out in the field. We see him first in one such operation, where he leads a mission to bomb a militant hideout.
So impressive is Vihaan’s bravery that he gets direct access to the National Security Adviser, who is called Govind but has an uncanny resemblance to real-life NSA Ajit Doval. Govind then takes him to meet the prime minister – a bearded, white-haired man who is not named, but the appearance leaves nothing to the imagination.
Dhar builds up the world around his hero in the first half – Vihaan takes care of his sick mother, builds a tenuous friendship with his pilot colleague Seerat (Kirti Kulhari), and plays loving uncle to his niece, with no foreboding of the storm that is about to hit his life.
Militants bomb and attack an Indian army camp in Uri in Kashmir, and the personal cost of war comes home to Vihaan. Dhar mines this grief for all its worth, bringing home the pain and suffering of a soldier’s family when they lose their loved ones.
The desire for payback leads Vihaan to volunteer for the “revenge mission”, an audacious plan devised by Govind (Paresh Rawal) which involves Indian forces going into Pakistani territory to hit suspected militants preparing to infiltrate into Indian-administered Kashmir.
Dhar pads up the second half of the film with unnecessary details like Govind’s discovery of a contraption that most of us know as a drone and is pretty commonplace. For the country’s national security adviser to look at it in awe and exclaim “this may have just won us the war!” is a little outlandish. But there is no room in Dhar’s screenplay for such skepticism. To be fair, that belief and faith do show on screen and translate into a well-made action sequence towards the end, which is raw and effective. But forget about nuance – the dark side of war and the human cost of it are barely dealt with.
As Vihaan, Vicky Kaushal is a big reason why the film works, bringing a vulnerability and strength to his character that makes him the ideal war film hero. Kulhari and Yami Gautam have bit parts that do them no justice.
Rawal is the only real sore thumb with his rather loud dialogue delivery and over-stated performance. In many ways, he is symbolic of what is wrong in the film – “Uri: The Surgical Strike” gets the fight right but overdoes the jingoism.