Director – Aditya Dhar
Cast – Vicky Kaushal, Paresh Rawal, Kriti Kulhari, Rajit Kapoor, Mohit Raina, Swaroop Sampat
Rating – 2/5
Rajit Kapur plays the Prime Minister in Uri. Best remembered as truth-seeking sleuth Byomkesh Bakshi in the long-running television serial of the same name, the veteran actor finds a basic, bearded grace and stays understated as he chews thoughtfully on decisions about war and about the mothers of his soldiers. It is this man who signs off on everything, you see. In a movie about a successful military operation released in an election year, this celebration of credit cannot quite be considered coincidental.
Little, in fact, is left to chance in debutant director Aditya Dhar’s film, a slick war feature about a revenge mission that never appears to pose a challenge. There is a combat sequence around every corner — they may well have titled it Call Of Desi Duty — but the Indian Army are depicted as so valorous and well-prepared that the cartoonishly hook-nosed evil enemy never stands a chance.
Take Vicky Kaushal, playing gung-ho Major Vihaan Shergill, a well-built jawaan with a perpetually puffed chest, who not only decides strategy, outthinks intelligence agents and leads men into battle, but finds time to engage in one-on-one fighting with terrorists of all stripes. He moves with an oddly fey swing of the hips — like a GI Joe action figure who has worn out the rubber-band at his spine — yet fights like a heroic wrestler, all brave moves and war cries. His head may be weighed down by traditional genre tropes of ill mothers and widowed sisters, but on his lips are either orders or screams.
Meanwhile, Paresh Rawal discusses artillery attacks with the tenderness of a ghazal-loving uncle instructing novice chefs about slow-cooking a leg of lamb. “Halke halke badhaate rahiyega,” he says about increasing firing across the line of control, playing a character visibly modelled on current National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Rawal makes him a canny, cellphone-breaking man of action, one who spots very talented interns and gives them far too much to do, but the reliably fine actor makes it seem natural, even lines like “Son, you may have just won us the war.”
Uri is a decent looking film — though the cinematographer appears to have been told to highlight the lens-flare in every single shot of nighttime combat — and while the action is convincing, the proceedings are unmistakably dull. The film doesn’t thump its chest as hard as the ones made by JP Dutta, but merely keeping its shirt on doesn’t make this an actual movie. There is no tension to be found here, and any attempts to manufacture breathlessness are childish. There is, for instance, a scene involving a Pakistani soldier who captures an Indian drone… only to believe it’s a toy.
While watching Uri, I kept wondering about the point of such a self-congratulatory film. The performances are mostly solid — the square jawed Mohit Raina and the lovely Swaroop Sampat stand out — and the action looks okay, but this is an uninteresting depiction of a best-case scenario. Then, as the Indian soldiers donned bright green night-vision goggles and strafed expertly outside a terrorist compound, it became clearer. This might be a boring film, but it provides drama simply by showing Indian audiences that our military can be competent.
The target is unprepared, outnumbered and out of bullets. The Pakistani police, like our cops throughout the history of Indian cinema, arrive late to the scene. The Indian army, on the other hand, has everything under control. That efficiency may feel fantastical to an Indian audience, and Uri becomes therefore less a feature film and more an advertisement. Fantasies are about wish-fulfilment. Uri made me wish that Rajit Kapur, this soft-spoken man with no resemblance to Vivek Oberoi, was indeed our Prime Minister.