‘The Ghazi Attack’ cracks under the weight of a thousand cliches

K.K. Menon and Atul Kulkarni in a scene from “The Ghazi Attack.”

In an early scene in war movie “The Ghazi Attack”, a character explains how a submarine works – with the help of an egg. To demonstrate what water pressure can do to the vessel deep in the ocean, he smashes the egg with his hand, splattering yellow and white everywhere. The scene is important in explaining situations later on in the story, but is also the perfect metaphor for a film that cracks under the weight of a thousand cliches.

Debutant director Sankalp Reddy’s film starts with a disclaimer about all the things it is not (not meant to incite violence, not meant to dispute alternate versions of the story, etc), but one thing is for sure – “The Ghazi Attack” is an exercise in jingoism disguised as a war film. Soldiers sing the national anthem while they are being hit by enemy torpedoes and a captain says things like “the people of our country are working hard because they know we are protecting borders” as he and his entire crew face death 300 meters below the sea.

At the bare bones, this is the story of how India’s navy sank the Pakistani submarine INS Ghazi a day before the two countries went to war in 1971. Since there are no official versions of what actually happened, the director is free to take liberties with the plot. His version has Rana Daggubati playing Arjun, an upright officer whose mission is to deal with his imperious captain Rannvijay Singh (Kay Kay Menon). Singh would rather annihilate the enemy in front of him than wait for his superiors to tell him what to do, something Arjun doesn’t agree with. Their spats make up for most of the first half of the film, but the clash of personalities doesn’t lead to too many electric scenes, thanks to some choppy writing.

Rana Daggubati in “The Ghazi Attack.”

But where “The Ghazi Attack” lacks in terms of human drama, it makes up for with attention to detail. Shivam Rao’s production design makes sure that the under-water experience feels real, and the scenes where the submarine is under attack are shot really well.

The performances follow the clichéd script to the T – Indian soldiers are all heroic and brimming with national pride, while the evil Pakistani captain (Rahul Singh) is perpetually scowling. Menon distinguishes himself as the arrogant captain but the rest of the cast, including Daggubati and Atul Kulkarni, are hardly up to the mark. Taapsee Pannu, who plays a Bangladeshi refugee, has no role other than to peer out of rooms with a stricken look every time something happens on the submarine (She’s probably wondering why she was cast in the film at all).

“The Ghazi Attack” is stylishly shot and employs technology on screen better than many other Bollywood films, but its story-telling is reminiscent of patriotic films from the 60s and 70s, when a “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” slogan and the waving of a tricolor was enough to evoke rapturous applause from the audience.