Directed by: Abhishek Dudhaiya
Writer: Abhishek Dudhaiya
Cast: Ajay Devgn, Sonakshi Sinha, Nora Fatehi, Sanjay Dutt, Ammy Virk
Cinematography: Aseem Bajaj
Edited by: Dharmendra Sharma
Streaming on: Disney Plus Hotstar
Bhuj: The Pride of India is a film so insistent on desh bhakti that even the disclaimer is patriotic. After the standard announcement about the film being a fictional version of true events, the disclaimer ends with the line – We salute the Indian Armed Forces and then in even bigger font, Jai Hind!
Director Abhishek Dudhaiya maintains this high-pitch fervour from the first frame to the last. The film is set during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971 and tells the story of how IAF Squadron leader Vijay Karnik, who was in-charge of the Bhuj airport, reconstructed the runaway, which had been destroyed by Pakistani airstrikes, with the help of 300 women from the local village. This act of valour prevented Kutch from falling into the hands of the Pakistani army. It’s an incredible story told here with the narrative depth of a restaurant menu.
The characters are stick figures who repeatedly proclaim their love for the motherland. They don’t have conversations. They make declarations. Such as – Pakistan hi Islam ka sabse bada dushman hai or Maratha sirf do hi baatein janta hai – marna ya maarna. These lines are delivered by the good Indians. The Pakistanis are – to the last man – evil buffoons. We know they are Pakistani because they say janab in every other sentence. And their battle skills are so poor that in the climactic fight, Sanjay Dutt playing a villager named Pagi, is enough to decimate half the Pakistani army. He is massacring them with an axe but no one has the good sense to shoot him.
Bhuj: The Pride of India has four writers – apart from Abhishek, there is Raman Kumar, Ritesh Shah and Pooja Bhavoria – but it doesn’t have a coherent screenplay. It begins in December 1971 and then flashes back mid-battle to other skirmishes. We get an extended action sequence in which Ajay Devgn, playing Vijay Karnik, takes on Pakistani spies in a spice factory. Of course he takes the Sonbai-in-Mirch-Masala-route, throwing lal mirch at the baddies. Ammy Virk playing fighter pilot Vikram Singh Baj is dodging bombs in the sky one minute. The next, he’s reuniting with his daughter. Nora Fatehi shows up as the spy Heena – we are told she joined RAW to avenge her brother who was stoned to death after being caught spying for India. So Vijay’s voiceover helpfully informs us that Pakistan se Heena ki ladai national bhi hai aur personal bhi. Heena relays critical information and gets to kick Pakistani butt but sadly the item song ‘Zaalima Coca Cola’ doesn’t make it to the film. I was hoping that it would provide some relief.
This film isn’t content to portray Pakistanis as sadistic clowns. It also editorializes on the larger relationship between the two countries to establish that Pakistan has no moral fibre – Vijay’s voice over tells us that in 1947, when India was cleaved into two countries, India gave Pakistan 75 crore rupees as a parting gift. The same money was then used to procure arms that were used against Indian soldiers. No country, Vijay pronounces, would have paid such a high price for its decency. Vijay is also prone to making proclamations about women. In one scene, he says: Kameez se toote huye button se lekar tooti huyi himmat tak, aurat kuchh bhi jod sakti hai.
This healing female spirit is represented by Sunderben, played by Sonakshi Sinha. Vijay describes her as Gujarat ki sherni. This is a woman who kills a leopard with a sickle while holding a baby in one hand, setting a new gold standard for multitasking moms. She along with the other village women repair the runaway through the night. But their labour and the terror of that moment is utterly lost in this train wreck of a film. Apart from Sunderben, the women who accomplished this incredible feat, get zero mileage. Pranitha Subhash, who plays Vijay’s wife, doesn’t have a single dialogue.
Bhuj is mostly a series of disjointed vignettes about men either killing or thumping their chests and proudly declaring their love for Bharat ma. Since this becomes excruciating very quickly, I focused on burning questions such as – In Shershaah, Captain Vikram Batra says, Tirangaa lehra kar aaunga nahi toh usmen lipat ke aaunga. Par aaunga zaroor. Vijay delivers almost exactly the same line so who said it first? Why do Pakistani army officers smoke cigars as they plot India’s destruction? Does it help them think better? Why is Ajay Devgn, a National Award-winning actor, content to deliver banal lines and walk heroically in slow motion. Why doesn’t Sharad Kelkar, so good as Arvind in The Family Man and Shivaji Maharaj in Tanhaji, get better roles? And this really flummoxed me. At one point, Vijay’s voice over casually informs us Pagi Hindustan aa gaye aur RAW join kar liya. Is that how it works with our premier intelligence agency – you just walk in and join?
In his review of The Last Airbender, Roger Ebert had written that the film “is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented.” That’s also true for Bhuj: the Pride of India.
You can see the film on Disney plus Hotstar.