Operation Valentine Review: Emotion And Drama Crash Mid-Air In This Impactless Aerial Actioner

Inspired by true events, the film not only fails to arouse you with intense drama but barely makes you care for the proceedings
Operation Valentine Review: Emotion And Drama Crash Mid-Air In This Impactless Aerial Actioner

Director: Shakti Pratap Singh Hada

Writers: Shakti Pratap Singh Hada, Aamir Khan and Siddharth Rajkumar

Cast: Varun Tej, Manushi Chhillar

Duration: 132 minutes

Available in: Theatres

Patriotism, aerial combat, terrorism, geopolitics, a nuclear threat, a bloody past, a shot at redemption, a marriage torn between a high-tension war scenario…Operation Valentine has so many elements going for it on a conceptual level. Most of them are tried-and-tested aspects but you know what they say about cliches? Cliches continue to exist because they work when done tastefully. That’s where Operation Valentine fumbles big time. Almost all the ideas remain just as ideas, barely translating into effective cinematic moments. The characters remain as pointers—Arjun Dev (Varun Tej) is a dutiful and fierce Wing Commander, his wife, Ahana Gill (Manushi Chhillar) is also a dutiful but composed Wing Commander, Arjun’s friend, Yash Sharma (Presh Pahuja) is a dutiful but fun officer, Mayank Mahtre (Sampath Raj) is a dutiful but stern senior officer, Rajeev Bakshi (Shataf Figar) is a much more dutiful higher ranking officer… the problem is that they never come across like real people and only as their roles. We don’t see the humans behind these uniforms. It makes it almost impossible to care for these individuals or their dynamics, holding us back from experiencing the emotion in the story.

A still from Operation Valentine
A still from Operation Valentine

Yet another problem with Operation Valentine is that it is hellbent on making us "understand" the gravity of the situation rather than making us feel it. Constant dialogues of officers on the ground trying to ascertain the situation in the air, pronouncing the stakes and danger in an attempt to explain what our hero is up against work as facts, but not on an emotional level. So, for instance, when it is revealed that the enemies have been cheating our RADAR systems by masking multiple jets as just two, we go, “Okay,” not “WTF!” because it all plays out on the screen with barely any energetic staging. So even during what are supposed to be intense aerial combat sequences, we are just "watching" but not "rooting" for our team. They are not bad or terrible, they are just functional, and the VFX is a hit-and-miss.

Credit where it’s due, there is no space for chest-thumping jingoism or saffronisation in Operation Valentine because the film, for the most part, is loyal to its stance that it is a tribute to the soldiers guarding the nation. And it is, almost entirely, treated as a procedural with little to no space for dialogues about the nation’s glory. But when we see the announcement of the air strike’s success come in the form of a leader—presumably the Prime Minister—addressing the citizens, whereas we don’t even see the soldiers rejoice in their win for a moment, it does make you wonder about its stance.

A still from Operation Valentine
A still from Operation Valentine

The dialogues, which sound a tad generic, coupled with lip sync issues (the film is a Hindi-Telugu bilingual) keep our emotional investment at bay and a stronger casting, especially for the supporting cast could have bolstered the film to an extent. The film had incredible potential to create great drama, especially with elements like Arjun’s guilt for being responsible for the death of his friend Kabir (Navdeep is criminally wasted in a role with a screentime shorter than his 2-minute-long speech at the film’s pre-release event) and his marriage to fellow air force soldier Ahana (Manushi), who closely works with him on his deadly missions. Yet, none of these elements create interest.

It hurts when films like Operation Valentine don’t work because you know they are trying to explore an area that’s seldom ventured into in Telugu mainstream cinema, but if only it was done with more skill and taste, we would have appreciated the experience, not just the intent or effort.

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