The screenplay is divided into five chapters with the film opening in June 2015. Within minutes, Dhar unleashes a barrage of gunshots as an Indian Army convoy is ambushed by militants. A few minutes later, in a covert operation, a special forces unit attacks a terrorist camp on the Eastern border. The guns and grenades explode to a pulsating soundtrack and the breathless editing builds tension. On their return to New Delhi, the victorious unit, led by Major Vihaan Shergill, is commended by the prime minister.
Vicky Kaushal is in top form in the part of Shergill. He not only rocks an army uniform, but also pitches Shergill just right — neither a chest-thumper nor a brooder, but a patriot who is an officer and a gentleman, and also a bit of a ladies man (;-)).
In the first few chapters, Dhar build up Shergill’s back story and leads up to the attack on an Indian Army base in Uri in which 19 soldiers were killed and the Indian government’s subsequent decision to respond with surgical strikes.
Paresh Rawal plays Govind, the National Security Advisor, in charge of the mission. Rajit Kapur dons a silver wig and beard, and sits in the PM’s seat. His conference table also accommodates office-holders modelled on Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Home Minister Rajnath Singh. This high command lends itself to expected jingoistic and provocative dialogues. Yami Gautam plays an intelligence officer. Kirti Kulhari pops in and out as a woebegone Indian Air Force pilot. Swaroop Sampat plays Vihaan’s mother and Mohit Raina makes an impression as the fearless Major Karan Kashyap.
So far so good. But the film would have benefitted greatly from some surgery, or at least amputation, on the second half. Considering that the entire film is leading up to the events that occurred in the 11 days after the 18 September attack, that is where greater heft was needed.
Some intrigue in the intelligence gathering and strategising would have been welcome. But it turns out that an invention, casually designed by an intern at the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), can save the day.
Unlike the Oscar-winning American film Zero Dark Thirty (2012), where the special unit was seeking out a single individual (Osama bin Laden), here the troops are targeting groups of militants hiding out in safe houses. Hence, there is not enough suspense in the latter stages, when the result is a foregone conclusion, and the target is a nameless group.
What Dhar squanders on the screenplay, he makes up for in the details. Stefan Richter’s carefully designed and executed action scenes, Sashwat Sachdev’s thunderous background score, sound mix, sound design and special effects simulate authenticity. As far as war dramas go, Uri: The Surgical Strike is a confidently made film that comes out guns blazing. And when the guns are not blazing, Kaushal certainly is.
Rating: ★★★ and 1/2