Kay Kay Menon rarely finds roles worthy of his talent, but in Ghazi, he lucks out. He plays Rann Vijay Singh, a naval captain entrusted with a submarine and a mission. It’s 1971. News has trickled down that Pakistan is preparing to strike the eastern coast. Singh and his crew are asked to keep a lookout in the Bay of Bengal. But here’s the thing. Singh wants action. He’s got a mad-cowboy glint in the eye, (and due to personal reasons, which we learn about later), he’s like Ahab chasing the whale. He wants to nuke the enemy. Imagine his annoyance when the wary top brass saddles him with the rulebook-quoting Lt.Commander Arjun Varma (the towering Rana Daggubati.)
A number of Hollywood films – or at least, Hollywood templates – come to mind. There’s the clash of ideology and working methods from Mutiny on the Bounty. The underwater manoeuvres to sink a sub bring to mind The Hunt for Red October. But most of all, we are reminded of war movies like the recent Hacksaw Ridge, which tell stories of little-remembered campaigns with little-remembered people.
But this isn’t to say that the director, Sankalp Reddy (who’s all of 22!), has cobbled together a pastiche. His only major misstep is to announce, at the beginning, that his film is about the PNS Ghazi being sunk by the Indian Navy, near Visakhapatnam. When you’re making a movie about a slice of history not many are familiar with, why reveal the ending? And the one major concession to commerce is the refugee played by Taapsee Pannu, who’s rescued mid-sea and brought into the sub simply so we don’t end up with a movie filled only with men. (And how convenient that she’s a doctor!). Otherwise, Reddy does a solid job of sustaining the narrative, with one crisis after another. Batteries dying! No food! Very little oxygen! Visual effects that could have been better (but aren’t terrible either)!
Ghazi works because of the spectacular, suspenseful mind games between the Indians and the Pakistanis (their commander is played by Rahul Singh, who grimaces enough to make it fun to hate him). And we’re told theirs is some kind of super sub, far more capable, far deadlier. It’s David versus Goliath – with torpedoes instead of slingshots. Everything that would have been a cliché above ground –locating the enemy, fighting from a disadvantaged position, evading explosives – becomes strange and exciting below water. We’ve seen many movies where bombs are hurled at tanks; not so many where a submarine tackles a strategically placed mine.
Ghazi is comfortingly old-fashioned, solidly mainstream – and if it doesn’t quite become what it could have been, it’s due to the dubbing. (I watched the Tamil version). This isn’t about the lapses in lip-sync. It’s about the monotonous voices. There are no inflexions, there’s no emotion – a rousing speech by Arjun ends up sounding like news being read off a teleprompter. This reduces the effectiveness of many scenes, but the action compensates.
And it’s pure action. No romantic backstories. No widowed mothers praying for a safe return. Just bits of emotional manipulation, like a character being introduced with his young daughter, so we know a little about him. And the first time we see Devaraj (a calm, assured Atul Kulkarni), he’s bidding his heavily pregnant wife goodbye. The payoff comes unexpectedly, and quite movingly – he receives a telegram that he reads and pockets quietly, because Rann Vijay and Arjun are in the midst of a screaming match. The mission always comes first.
- Sankalp Reddy = see here
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