Cast: Vidyut Jammwal, Anupam Kher, Vishal Jethwa, Dalip Tahil, Hobby Dhaliwal, Suvrat Joshi
In the times when spy sagas are the flavour of the season, writer-director Sankalp makes yet another outing in this genre but brings a starkly different story. The film, inspired by true events, traces an Indian intelligence top-secret mission of 1971. With a war on the cards, a vital piece of information necessitates a strategy to close Indian airspace to Pakistani aircraft. However, to do so, India has to first show an act of war by Pakistan. The intelligence team weaves a plot to get its own plane hijacked which has 30 Indian intelligence agents as passengers and land it in Lahore.
While Sankalp has to his credit a similar story — ‘Ghazi’ (2017), which won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Telugu — for lead actor Vidyut Jammwal, it’s a new territory as a producer.
The story begins in the Indian intelligence headquarters, where a confident Dev (Vidyut) suggests an impossible plan. A few rejections later, with nothing better in sight, he is given the responsibility to lead the mission. The prep takes him to tension-riddled Kashmir where he shadows a terrorist, Qasim (Vishal Jethwa), who is planning to hijack an Indian plane. Day after day, step by step, Dev relentlessly puts together his team and plan in action. The viewers though struggle to wrap their heads around the audacity and near impossibility of the plan. Qasim, with his cousin Ashfaq (Faizan Khan), hijacks the plane Ganga, with Dev in the cockpit, and forcelands it in Lahore. High drama ensues at the airport as Qasim demands the release of 36 National Liberation Front prisoners from India. With Pakistan President Zulfikar Bhutto (Dalip Tahil) showing up at the tarmac for negotiations, Dev has to devise a last-minute strategy to bring back home the 30 intelligence agents on board.
Many films and series based on some known Indian intelligence inputs have brought incredible feats to the screen. ‘Raazi’ was based on one such mission. ‘IB71’ makes a sincere attempt but its screenplay lets it down. Even after sitting through the film for nearly two hours, much is left to the viewers’ imagination. Alas, a lazy audience wants to know more — such as about Indian undercover agents in Pakistan who were instrumental in the success of the inconceivable escape plan. Known for his action prowess, Vidyut delivers a credible performance as an intelligence agent, who like a typical Bollywood hero can do it all — neutralise any threat or land a rickety plane. Veteran Anupam Kher delivers yet another fine performance as intelligence head Awasthi. Vishal Jethwa, who has given some incredible performances in the past, including as Mangu in ‘Human’, shines as Qasim, a 17-year-old brainwashed youth. He shows raw, real emotions and, ironically, also becomes the target of some real guffaws.
Cinematograper Gnana Shekar VS has shot breath-taking frames of Kashmir and its snow-clad peaks as well as the squalor of its residential and Dal lake areas. Music by Prashanth R Vihari ably aids the narrative. Sequences like the one where plane passengers call their families work well, and despite the serious tenor of the narrative, some sequences evoke laughter.
While the film ticks all the right boxes, it tanks where usually most stories do — the screenplay. Given that the real act was an astonishing task, tough to believe even decades later, there is something amiss in the reel act. The understated hero who doesn’t shout ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ or spews hatred against Pakistan, would have worked as long as audiences were filled in about his character arc.
Immersed in patriotic flavour, the song towards the end and a fluttering Tiranga fills hearts with pride, not just about our formidable defence equipment but the manpower as well. The film, however, remains just a two-dimensional cutout that had the promise of being way more.