Can The Ghazi Attack herald a new chapter in Indian cinema’s depiction of war?
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Can The Ghazi Attack herald a new chapter in Indian cinema’s depiction of war?

Karan Johar’s The Ghazi Attack, the Rana Daggubati film that releases on February 17, 2017, looks convincing as a war film. Has writer-director Sakalp Reddy’s film set new standards for the depiction of war in Indian cinema?

regional movies Updated: Feb 17, 2017 12:49 IST
Nivedita Mishra
Nivedita Mishra
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The Ghazi Attack,PNS Ghazi,S21
The Ghazi Attack stars Rana Daggubati, Taapsi Pannu, Kay Kay Menon and Atul Agnihotri.

The Ghazi Attack, starring Rana Daggubati, Kay Kay Menon, Atul Kulkarni and the late Om Puri, which releases on February 17, is a film you must watch. Rarely does one come across a war film in India that looks convincing, that is mounted well and, above all, steers clear of any kind of sentimentality and jingoism. On all these scores, The Ghazi Attack scores high. And here’s how.

Taut thriller
One of the biggest flaws in our filmmaking is the tendency to dilute the focus of a story. How often has it happened that you were watching a movie and went ‘Noooooo’, when the hero and heroine burst into a song-and-dance routine? Often, right. That is because we often look for shortcuts to make our films commercially viable.

It is not to say that a song-and-dance sequence doesn’t have its worth. Every work of art is set in a certain cultural context and a song can be a strong narrative technique if used properly (recall the soul-stirring Kar Chale Hum Fida from Haqeeqat (1964), written by the legendary Kaifi Azmi). It’s just that, in our films, we mess it up. It is also safe to say that in a gritty, edge-of-the-seat thrillers, one can do without them.

Thankfully, The Ghazi Attack, steers clear of any of this. At just under two hours, the film stays focused on the story—the destruction of PNS Ghazi, the Pakistani submarine by Indian submarine S21 ahead of 1971 India-Pak (Bangladesh Liberation) war. The film tells the story of a group of naval officers, onboard S21, who spent 18 days under water, off the coast of Vishakhapatnam (the headquarters of Eastern Naval Command) and fight a pitched battle with the Pak submarine on a mine-laying mission in the Bay of Bengal.

War film: Be authentic, not a caricature
Authenticity is an absolute must in any war film. In an interview with The Quint, writer-director Sankalp Reddy revealed how he spent nearly a year in a submarine while researching for his film (which is also based on his earlier book – Blue Fish: The War Beneath, based on the same incident).

The research work itself took him eight months, helping him create the submarine sets and understand how the navy functions.

When one does a reality-based drama, getting the look and feel, the language, the work ethics, etc. correct is critical and that is where we falter so badly. From the stripes, lapels, turbans, caps, arm and chest badges, medals, name tally, boots and gaiters, shoulder straps to gilt buttons, a good filmmaker will be careful about all these details. Sankalp seems to have taken care of such details.

Given that The Ghazi Attack was filmed almost entirely inside a set, recreating the inside of a submarine, right to its minutest details deserves applause. (If you have ever been inside one, like this writer has been in Vishakhapatnam, you would know that these men work in a very constricted space full of machinery). The corresponding computer graphics of the war sequences too have to be chalked out with tremendous care.

HT’s reviewer Gautaman Bhaskaran says, “Shot splendidly inside what looks like a real submarine, Ghazi has been mounted with a fair degree of authenticity and scripted quite impressively. Admittedly, the film may not be comparable to some of Hollywood’s unforgettable war classics, like Von Ryan’s Express and Battle of the Bulge. But given the kind of handicaps Indian cinema faces in terms of budget and special effects, Ghazi is remarkable in the way it presents some of the most tense moments when the Indian submarine hits a landmine planted by the Pakistani vessel.”

Emotions and intelligence, not sentimentality and hyperbole
In times of shrill nationalism, it is rewarding to see a film that channels emotions and intelligence in equal measure and stays away from sentimentality and hyperbole. One is reminded of the 1997 film, Border, starring a bevy of Bollywood stars such as Sunny Deol, Sunil Shetty and Jackie Shroff. It was reportedly based on a Battle of Longewala, one of the most-talked about battles on the Western front during the India-Pakistan 1971 war.

It is tiring watching a work like Border, given the amount of loud dialogues and theatrics one sees, the jarring background score, clearly meant to titillate and the unprofessional acting. A war needs strategy, superior fire power and technology and collective bravery of its soldiers to be won. Can you imagine a soldier shout the way Sunny Deol does in the film? Yes, all military units have their war cries (Jai Ma Kali, Ayo Gorkhali of the Gorkha Rifles, for instance) but the manner in which they show in our films is, at best, hilarious.

Thankfully, The Ghazi Attack, does none of that. In fact, the film shows how Rana Daggubati’s character Lieutenant-Commander Arjun Varma is sent to keep the haughty but highly intelligent Captain Ranvijay Singh (played by Kay Kay Menon) in check as the ship sails on a secret mission just before the 1971 war breaks out. Besides him, Atul Kulkarni’s character is presented as a picture of restraint, who, as the executive officer Devraj, on board the submarine, has to keep the peace between a brash and ready-to-torpedo-the-Pakistani-submarine Singh and Varma.

Changing the face of Indian armed forces in films
We certainly seem to have come a long way from films such as LOC Kargil (2003). Movies like Paan Singh Tomar (2010), Bhag Milkha Bhag (2013) and Lakshya (2014) have been, at least, attempting to show war and army life in all its authenticity. We still have a long way to go and some of the reason might just be constraints of budget, expertise with special effects and commercial interests.

One is reminded of films like Saving Private Ryan (1998; based on Invasion of Normandy and its 27-minute long opening sequence which includes a depiction of the Omaha Beach assault during the Normandy landings) that had an almost documentary-like feel to it and David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) for its gritty and realistic depiction of WWII.

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The author tweets @mniveditatweets

First Published: Feb 17, 2017 12:44 IST