Director: Sarvesh Mevara
Writer: Sarvesh Mevara
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Anshul Chauhan, Ashish Vidyarthi, Varun Mitra, Vishak Nair
Duration: 118 mins
Available in: Theatres
Gone are the days when Kangana Ranaut played different characters. Now different characters play Kangana Ranaut. It’s not necessarily a problem: Shah Rukh Khan has made an artform out of this. And Judgementall Hai Kya (2019), for example, weaponized Ranaut’s angry-outsider tag in a very creative way. But the meta-ness today is more of a wish-fulfillment exercise than personal excavation. The latest fictional surrogate is Tejas Gill, the all-in-one hero of Tejas and an IAF (Indian Air Force) fighter pilot who conflates women empowerment with nationalism, politics with patriotism, revenge with justice, and of course Pakistan with global terrorism. Tejas – the human embodiment of a surgical strike – is on multiple missions. When one succeeds, she demands another. When her colleague clumsily assures the Prime Minister that “we will kill it,” he looks at a stoic Tejas and says, “I know”. You can cut the textual tension between reality and fiction with a knife.
Once India is saved, Tejas saves it more. She saves it until there’s nothing left to save. She rescues one male pilot from a 50,000-year-old tribal-infested island, another from a beheading in the middle of a desert, and a Ram Mandir from a bomb-attack by extremists who infiltrate the temple as scuba-divers hiding at the bottom of a milk truck. Who said that only milkshakes bring all the boys to the yard? In between, Tejas also smuggles Indian jets onto Pakistani soil in a Norwegian plane through a Mission-Impossible-style stunt that features an optical illusion and a Pakistani dog held at gunpoint. When the film closes – and it really tries to close – Tejas single-handedly adds another climax and sets her sight on the 26/11 mastermind followed by a mid-air monologue. It’s like watching a batsman pretend to chase down a rain-affected target but then going for the actual total so that rain doesn’t dare to interrupt a cricket match again. Even the credits are hesitant to roll by the end, lest Tejas decides to rescue us from ourselves. As it turns out, though, she does just that. Because there’s time for one more climactic monologue – in which she almost breaks the fourth wall and asks us to love our country like a mother and also treat it like a big bungalow. As I write this, I’m still not sure if Tejas has truly ended.
The thing about panning a film like this is that there’s no winning, really. All its bases are covered. If you say the narrative is offensive, you’ll be called a terrorist sympathizer. If you say that the film-making or acting is poor, you’ll be called a nepo-lover because the similarly-themed Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl (2020) was better. If you say that the VFX is bad, you’ll be called a Brahmastra apologist. If you say that the central characters are weak, you’ll be called a misogynist. If you say that Pakistan is reduced to beards and evil grins, you’ll be told to live there. If you say that there’s not much left to say, you’ll be told all of the above. So I’m going to be positive and say good things. For instance, I laud Tejas for carving a smile onto my weary face. It’s one of the better comedies I’ve seen in a while.
It’s funny to see Norwegian men speak with half-Russian and quarter-Italian accents; a famously right-wing anchor airing footage of terrorists who behave like they’re spoofing Tere Bin Laden (which was a spoof itself); pilots in cockpits looking supremely unaffected by G-force and the laws of physics in general; close-ups and quick cuts trying to hide the doomed visual effects; helicopters flying like they’re lego figures trapped in a live-action thriller; righteous lectures prefixed with “lectures are boring, yaar” to justify the existence of these lectures; runways that look like carpets having an identity crisis; a ‘New India’ motto called out for being a filmy line only to reiterate its meaning; the only Muslim officer doubling up as comic relief so that we appreciate Tejas’ focus; a flashback featuring the de-aged protagonist and a romantic song and a scene where Tejas barges into the men’s restroom only for the men to promptly leave with fully-zipped pants despite being mid-pee. Yes, mid-pee is a word. So what if all the comedy is unintentional? So what if we laugh at the film and not with it? The bottom line is that Tejas is an unruly child, not an immature adult. And the bottom line is that I laughed a lot. Because I’m tired of yelling.