When top ministers of the land use national platforms to promote a movie, well, it becomes part of my beat. In the last week or so, "Uri", starring Bollywood heartthrob Vicky Kaushal has become a chant for cabinet members. On Wednesday, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal inaugurated a conference with an endorsement for the film that should have left the filmmakers blushing. Not just that, but when my colleague asked Mr Goyal a question about whether Arun Jaitley would present the Budget (this was at the cabinet briefing), Mr Goyal's response was, "Watch "Uri". Then, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted "Hearing many good things" when she met the film crew at the Army Chief's party on Tuesday. That was it - the movie was clearly prime political agenda, so I spent my Friday, in the interest of the nation and following the good orders of the Sarkar, at the cinema. It was a noon show a week after the release so the theatre was 80% empty, even though it's been called 2019's first official hit. As a political reporter, here's my review:
1. SUPERHERO AJIT DOVAL: I went in thinking that Vicky Kaushal is the star of the movie but it turns out that the real hero isn't his character, Major Vihaan Singh Shergill, but Govind Bhardwaj, a character modelled on the National Security Advisor and played by Paresh Rawal. Mr Rawal is a fine actor who shines in any role he plays. And so we have a very romantic image of the NSA who is the Prime Minister's right hand and is able to spot talent in an intern while having an urgent meeting at the Defence Research and Development Organisation. Not just that, the super spy channels his inner James Bond and ducks out of sarkari dinners by using the kitchen as an escape route and hopping into an auto rickshaw. The best and coolest thing about our NSA is that he has embedded Pakistani begums as his moles; they swig whisky to drug ministers and then inject them with sodium pentothal to uncover secrets. The reel Mr Doval hears them and at the end of the operation smashes his cellphone. Now, I can't even dismiss this as fantasy because Paresh Rawal, who happens to be a BJP MP, tells an interviewer - "This movie is for all those who doubted the surgical strikes. Mr Doval's actions speak louder than his words''. Maybe they'll do a movie next about how he got Christian Michel in exchange for the Dubai Princess who was fleeing her abusive father. The real hero from the surgical strikes that took place in September 2016 was Northern Commander General Hooda but maybe that was too much research for the film-makers to bother with.
2. PM AND HIS OTHER MINISTERS: It's often said that Prime Minister Modi has such an imposing personality that he overshadows his cabinet colleagues. The film does seem to reflect this in some ways: the Prime Minister, played by Rajit Kapur, asks his core committee which includes a woman (supposedly Sushma Swaraj as Nirmala Sitharaman wasn't on the scene at that time) how they should respond to the Uri attack. The Rajnath Singh look-alike character suggests they stop honouring the Indus Water Treaty which is immediately dismissed. External Affairs Sushma Swaraj's character is not asked, and doesn't say a word. The Manohar Parrikar-playing actor is present throughout the movie as the Defence Minister but again doesn't say a word. Invoking the Mossad operation in Munich, the Doval character says - "Naya Hindustan hai, ghar mein ghusega bhi aur marega bhi (It's a new India which will enter your home and kill you)". However, Ms Sitharaman will find out when she watches the film that it does negate her theory of no terror attacks since 2014, showing Uri and Pathankot among others.
3. SPIES WHO LOOK GOOD: I love the make believe of movies and while Paresh Rawal and his team may try to convince us that "Uri" is very close to real life, there is one aspect that I am not willing to believe. The real life intelligence men that we have in India are the ones who were caught by Alok Verma's team outside his house. They don't look glam and they can be slapped around by beat cops like we all saw on TV. In the film though, our spy is the beautiful Yami Gautam who also doesn't mind doubling up as a nurse to protect her ward. This is quite impossible because any self-respecting RAW or IB agent would get a flunky to do the dirty work and not do this lowly work themselves. Also, while the film-makers said they didn't resort to caricature, are our moles in Pakistan really people fighting heartburn, drinking Eno and picking up phones to relay information? Haven't they watched "Raazi" about how it's really done?
4."NETA ABHINETA": To borrow from Rasheed Kidwai's brilliant book "Neta Abhineta", Indian movies have always been deeply associated with politics. Prithviraj Kapoor who was a Rajya Sabha MP would use his movies and theatre to spread nationalist sentiment; many stars feel the same now too. In the book, Kidwai traces how it was Rawal's wife, Swaroop Sampat, who was first drawn to the Prime Minister's work and then got her husband involved with the BJP too. We see both of them in action in the film with Sampat playing the lead soldier's mother who's suffering from Alzheimer's. There's a telling scene when the PM hears the soldier wanting to quit to take care of his ailing mother - "A good son is one who wants to take care of his mother, but isn't the country like the mother too?'' Is that an answer to the critique the PM faces for not spending too much time with his mother?
5. "SAR DHAR SE ALAG KAR DENGE (WE'LL BEHEAD THEM)": And finally, "Uri" is said to be drawing crowds to the cinema which apparently has many cheering at key moments. I wonder if a factor for its popularity is our response as a nation, lapping up all the violence it offers. When Vicky Kaushal shouts "Sar dhar se alag kar denge"(we'll behead them)" when he mercilessly kills the enemy by snapping their necks or just chopping off their limbs, or pours hot tea down their faces, is he expressing how bloodthirsty we've all become? It's all slickly done but it reminded me of a recent fight on my colony WhatsApp group. Residents were fighting with each other over the pruning of trees. One lot wanted the pruning so that the sun would stream in, while the other environment-loving lot said it was being overdone. Over this, they called each other 'Urban Naxals'. That's what we've become as a nation and I may not have a stomach for these fights, but I am not the majority obviously.
(Sunetra Choudhury is Political Editor, NDTV.)
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