Mera Fauji Calling Review: Film On Family Of Fallen Soldier Is Well-Meaning But Middling

Mera Fauji Calling Review: Despite competent performances from Sharman Joshi, Bidita Bag, Zarina Wahab and Mahi Soni, the film never gets within striking distance of above average.

Mera Fauji Calling Review: Film On Family Of Fallen Soldier Is Well-Meaning But Middling

Sharman Joshi in a still from the film. (courtesy SharmanJoshi)

Cast: Sharman Joshi, Vikram Singh, Bidita Bag, Mugdha Godse, Zarina Wahab and Shisir Sharma

Director: Aaryaan Saxena

Rating: Two and a half stars (out of 5)

If mere intention were the most important yardstick for judging the worth of a movie, Mera Fauji Calling, a film about the family of a fallen soldier dealing with loss and grief, would be regarded as an exceptional effort. It adopts an unusual approach to the theme of war and martyrdom by swinging the focus away from battlefield heroics and directing it towards those that slain soldiers leave behind.

One of the principal drawbacks of Mera Fauji Calling, out in the theatres today, stems from the contrivances that it takes recourse to. The overall quality of the filmmaking, too, is ordinary. Despite the unblemished camerawork by cinematographer Subhranshu Das and the steadily competent performances from Sharman Joshi, Bidita Bag, Zarina Wahab and newcomer Mahi Soni, the film never gets within striking distance of anything that could be deemed to be above average.

Part of the story is told through the innocent perspective of a little girl, another from the standpoint of a bereaved wife. It is one thing to showcase the valour of soldiers who lay down their lives in the line of duty - absolutely in order, that - but is it necessary to prop up the old notions of patriarchy that rest on the belief that a home without a male head is incomplete? A girl misses her father, a woman pines for her husband, a mother grieves for her son. We have three females on the screen but we aren't allowed to forget for a moment that the missing male is the one who matters the most.

The film wants to stress the significance of coming to terms with a tragedy and moving on but it only seems to thrive on characters clinging to the past and mope endlessly. The emotions that Mera Fauji Calling plays with are easy to understand. Unfortunately, the dialogues penned by the film's writer-director Aaryaan Saxena, are cumbersomely simplistic when not completely stilted.

Just one example: "Jab tum kisiki khushi ban jaao toh gham apne aap door ho jaata hai (When you become a source of happiness for some, you dispel your own sorrows)," says a character to another with the clinical air of a counsellor. Sounds loaded with meaning? It is actually an awfully superficial way of commiserating with somebody who has just lost a dear one in war.

An army officer, played by one of the film's producers (Ranjha Vikram Singh), is a pivotal character. However, his military exploits aren't at the centre of the story. It is his absence that drives Mera Fauji Calling, both when he is alive and when he is dead. When he is in the thick of the action, he does the talking to assert that his love for the country keeps him going. And when he is no more, a senior officer (Shishir Sharma) visits the soldier's mother to laud her for her courage and sacrifice.

The melodrama hinges principally on a schoolgirl, Aaradhya (Mahi Soni) who falls ill after she is rattled by a nightmare in which she sees her father being felled by a bullet. The doctor tells the family that the girl has PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and needs to be handled with care.

Her mother Sakshi (Bidita Bag) and her grandmother (Zarina Wahab), who live in a rural part of Jharkhand, do all they can to disavow her of her fears. The girl's premonition, no prizes for guessing, comes true. Three generations have to deal with the death of the son/husband/father in the terror attack on an India Army camp in Uri. The two older women conceal their distress because they do not want Aaradhya to suffer a relapse.

In a poorly mounted scene in a television studio, an anchor asks a news reporter why the family of the dead officer has not featured in the news. She is told that the entire village has decided to pretend that Lt. Rajveer Singh isn't dead and, therefore, opted not to break the news.

The second half of Mera Fauji Calling shifts its attention to a mysterious stranger (Sharman Joshi) who strays into the lives of Sakshi, her mother-in-law and Aaradhya. He is drawn into the ongoing ruse aimed at protecting the last-named from trauma. This part of the film strains credulity at least until the man's back story is revealed by way of an explanation for why he is what he is.

The film starts with a drone shot of a vehicle driving down a forest road. It is followed by a fade-out and the sound of a crash. The next shot is that of an overturned car. The context and the fallout of the accident remains unrevealed until late in the film.

After the opening credits, we enter a rustic home that is in the middle of Diwali celebrations. Sakshi sets off a fire cracker to show Aaradhya the impact of the explosion. Cut to a grenade blast on the warfront. Out there, when Lieutenant Rajveer Singh, Sakshi's husband, is not fighting, he has time to call wifey - hence the film's title - to tell her how much he misses her and the rest of the family.

Somewhere along the way, we learn that Lt. Singh returns home for a month every April and that is when they celebrate both Diwali and Holi. And then, on Aaradhya's birthday, bad news arrives and the shocked mother and the distraught grandmother hide their tears in order to shield the little girl from the shock.

Aaradhya is told that her dad has been promoted and he has moved to where God lives. The girl, believing that piece of information to be true, goes in search of God's home, loses her way and ends up in a hut in a forest. The rest of Mera Fauji Calling depicts a family learning to accept the finality of death.

Mera Fauji Calling has several battle scenes, one longish flashback to reveal scenes of domestic bliss, and another devoted to the opening-sequence car crash, but eventually it is squarely about the human dimensions of war. To that extent, the film dials the right number and conveys a meaningful message.

If only it had a way of handling the tools of the medium more imaginatively and less soppily, Mera Fauji Calling would have carried more weight. Well-meaning but middling.