Uri: The Surgical Strike is the quintessential Bollywood army-drama. It has got everything the predictable Hindi cinema army-tale has – exaggerated male heroes, good sons, women who are plot devices, tired stereotypes, and misplaced nationalist pride in war. Uri is 2 hours 18 minutes of propaganda and attempts to make money by igniting over-the-top nationalist passions in an audience that has misconceptions about war and believes it to be sacred, and in classic Bollywood-style, it does so with tired clichés.
The movie, which is based on the 2016 Uri attacks and the subsequent surgical strikes orchestrated by the Indian army in response, had the opportunity to be truly humane. But the movie is a predictable, dull, Bollywood-esque tale about an exaggerated hero, in an attempt to milk nationalist sentiments.
The movie brushes over the attack on the Uri base-camp rather swiftly, with a mere three scenes devoted to it, the rest is about making the aggravators bleed at the hands of our tough-guy hero. Major Vihaan Singh Shergill played by Vicky Kaushal wants to lead the surgical strikes in POK because his brother-in-law was martyred in Uri. The tough-guy brother tries to avenge the grief of his sad, pregnant, pitiful sister – classic Bollywood. The movie isn’t about terrorism and war, and the devastation it causes, it is about one man.
The women of Uri solely exist to be used as plot-devices. They have no real purpose. The three central female characters in Uri have precious little to do. Mansi Parekh, who plays Vicky Kaushal’s sister, only exists in the movie so that her grief over losing her husband in Uri can exacerbate Kaushal’s need to take action.
The movie isn’t about terrorism and war, and the devastation it causes, it is about one man.
Yami Gautam is a RAW agent. Pallavi Sharma doesn’t do much – she exists to hint at a possible romantic relationship between her character and Kaushal’s. Kriti Kulhari plays an IAF officer and at first, it might look like she may be the only female cast member with a real role to play, but we are left disappointed. Kulhari’s Seerat Kaur is enlisted by Kaushal’s character to aid with the surgical strikes, but all in all, this IAF officer is in three shots, at the most.
In most Bollywood films, Gautam and Kulhari’s characters would be clubbed to make one colleague/love interest character, but in Hindi cinema, upstanding men don’t hit on widows.
Uri, in an attempt to ignite nationalist sentiments – which would ultimately turn into revenue – resorts to tired cliches and stereotypes. It takes the approach of ‘we, the sanctimonious and they, the deprived’. Pakistani officials are portrayed as incompetent individuals who are sloppy, callous, and apparently, amateur sleuths. On the other hand, we have Indian officials who are exceedingly competent and righteous, upstanding men.
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In a scene featuring a Pakistani official at work, we see him constantly burping and speaking of his heartburn, even during an official call, with who is apparently a superior. In another shot we see a high-ranking official failing at golf. The asinine, incompetent official, whose incompetency translates to bad policy decisions is a common portrayal of Pakistan in Bollywood – while, Indian officials always have the Midas touch, as everything they touch turns to gold.
All this is in stark contrast to Vicky Kaushal’s last year release – Raazi, where he plays a Pakistani army officer. Everything Raazi did right, Uri did wrong. Raazi treated its characters with the same respect and humanity, their gender, nationality, and loyalties, notwithstanding. Raazi was raw, real, and human, whereas Uri is problematic, and ultimately bigoted.
While watching Kaushal blow up people on-screen in retaliation, we don’t see the real story of one of the world’s most densely militarised areas, where lives are endangered each day and soldiers are pawns in political conflict.
Uri focuses on making money by playing to the tune of our bigotry. The story of Uri is of loss and conflict, but the movie is about victory. Kaushal’s character, his bravery, and desire for revenge are the only thing that matter in the movie’s universe, the movie doesn’t much care about the causalities of the Uri attacks, or the cost of terrorism and political conflict.
The audience was thrilled to see the aggravators bleed, while all the while conveniently forgetting we are bleeding, too. When toxic nationalism is brought into a theatre while viewing a film like Uri, it can be easy to forget – there are no real victors in war. War leaves behind destruction, loss, grief, and pain. War is not sacred, but we often make it out to be. We push for wars and victories overseas, while conveniently forgetting the human cost of war, in terms of soldiers, civilians, and everyone left behind in the wake of its destruction.
While watching Kaushal blow up people on-screen in retaliation, we don’t see the real story of one of the world’s most densely militarised areas, where lives are endangered each day and soldiers are pawns in political conflict. While remaining in the comfort of our conflict-free realities, miles away, it can be easy to forget the cost we pay each day.
When the Uri attacks originally occurred, many people insisted on war, because we were never taught war isn’t sacred, and these people went to theatres with the same fallacies, and with glee at watching Pakistan bleed. The surgical strikes must have been necessary military action, but as a people, it is time we start seeking a resolution, instead of more conflict. It is easy to celebrate war when you’re an audience to it, but it is a whole different ball game when you are a casualty of war.
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