Directed by: Abhishek Dudhaiya
Writers: Abhishek Dudhaiya, Raman Kumar, Ritesh Shah, Pooja Bhavoria
Cast: Ajay Devgn, Sonakshi Sinha, Nora Fatehi, Sanjay Dutt, Sharad Kelkar, Ammy Virk, Pranitha Subhash
Cinematography: Aseem Bajaj
Edited by: Dharmendra Sharma
Streaming on: DisneyPlus Hotstar
113 minutes of Bhuj: The Pride of India, one hour of deep breathing exercises and two training montages later, I’m ready to write this review. I’m good to go. It’s no big deal. This is what I chose to do. This is how I chose to live. This is what I’m paid for. This is a Friday night in 2021. This is why I majored in Statistics. This is why Sachin Tendulkar chose to loft Saqlain Mushtaq in Chennai (I don’t know, it sounds vaguely related). This is why I was born in Gujarat. This is why my first boss’ name was Bruce and all I could think about was the shark of Jaws. This is why whiskey is better than rum. This is why my knees hurt. This is why I’m writing gibberish in the hope that I’ll run out of space without even mentioning the film. But okay, let’s get on with it. Let’s do this.
Bhuj is too silly to be offensive. Or maybe I’m too tired to be offended. Either way, Bhuj is probably the worst war movie in the history of Hindi cinema. I like how “probably” sounds – it implies the existence of other contenders, not all of which have surfaced after 2014. (If I were to say “Border is Citizen Kane in comparison,” the makers of Bhuj might subtitle it as “Pakistan is India in comparison”). So Bhuj is apparently about the overnight reconstruction of a bombed IAF airstrip by 300 local village women during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War. It happened. It’s a true story. In short, this is yet another Bollywood movie that puts itself in a position to accuse you of disrespecting history and being an anti-national if you actually criticize the film. So I’m already walking on (pure-veg) eggshells here. But fortunately for me, Bhuj isn’t really about these women, their spirit, their colourful ghagras, Sonakshi Sinha interpreting rustic Hindi as a language of lisps, or their audacity to break into a song-and-dance lovechild of garba and bhangra in the heat of battle. It isn’t really about them at all.
Bhuj is about producer-actor Ajay Devgn’s Squadron Leader Vijay Karnik, the man in charge of the impossibly patriotic mission, and the man whose valour the makers decide to amplify by letting an airplane land on his truck in the climax (And that is no innuendo, mind you). Bhuj is about Sanjay Dutt’s Ranchordas Pagi, an Indian desert expert whose turbans are not as bright as the swag that compels him to use the face of a dead Pakistani General as his leg-rest after single-handedly slashing through their battalion. Bhuj is about Sharad Kelkar’s Malayali officer RK Nair, a braveheart whose boxing skills and marriage to a “differently-abled Muslim girl” are presented as evidence of his bravery. Bhuj is about Ammy Virk’s Flight Lieutenant Vikram Singh, a Sikh hero whose flashbacks are vivid enough to help him survive a few plane crashes, phallic missiles and a rough landing on Vijay’s slick truck. Bhuj is about Nora Fatehi’s Heena Rehman, an Indian spy married to a Pakistani military chief so stealthily that you can almost hear Sehmat from Raazi scream: Am I a joke to you? Bhuj is also about a famished leopard who eyes a cow but ends up having a beef with Sonakshi Sinha’s sickle instead. If the CGI wasn’t so atrocious, the saffron spots on the leopard wouldn’t have looked so black. Bhuj is about a style of editing so postmodernist that the entire movie seems like one continuous action sequence (Take that, Mad Max: Fury Road). Bhuj is about Hindu egos, Muslim ogres and armymen so confident of hierarchy that the leader reacts to his subordinate reacting to a loud bomb.
At this point, it’s clear that stick-figure animation might have done a better job at conveying the drama and politics of war. Real acting is keeping a straight face through this film. Religious bigotry and abrasive jingoism are the least of its problems – the narrative incoherence is astounding, almost impossible to achieve with a functional mind. To be fair, Bhuj doesn’t always pretend to be a movie. There are times when the voiceover is simply parroting the technicalities of a mission I’m not sure even the writers seem to understand. There were times when I looked out my window in the middle of this assault, wondering if swimming pools will ever open again, wondering if this might have felt worse on the big screen, wondering if love is more of a coping mechanism or a social construct. This is why I detest monsoons. This is why if there were a drinking game based on the mentions of the word ‘Bhuj’ in this review, the people of Bhuj can’t legally play it. This is why writing makes me thirsty (for non-alcoholic beverages). This is why I’ve run out of space. This is why I like my job.