When the chips are down, the male lead of Abhishek Dudhaiya’s Bhuj: The Pride Of India thinks of taking help from a woman, because “women can fix anything from broken buttons to broken courage.” And in the worst tradition of mainstream cinema machismo, the leopard-slaying woman, who should have been the heroine of the film, is treated like an extra, while the men go into full bombast mode.
Set during the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh, the most interesting part of the story was the group of Kutchi village women repairing a runway at the Bhuj airstrip, damaged by Pakistani planes. That runway was crucial for reinforcements to land and prevent a disaster that could lead, as Pakistani President General Yahya Khan puts it smugly, to him “having tea with Mrs Indira Gandhi in New Delhi.”
If the Pakistanis are terrible caricatures, the Indian side fares no better. There are unimaginatively executed aerial dog fights and dialogue about Marathas and Chhatrapati Shivaji bringing Mughals to their knees. Pakistanis and Mughals are the same, according to this film! A Pakistani says, “We kept these Indians under our feet for 400 years.” Pakistan did not even exist till 1947! He meant Muslim rulers, as if all Pakistanis are their descendants!
The action focuses on Squadron leader Vijay Karnik (Ajay Devgn) in charge of the Bhuj air base, Ranchhordas Pagi (Sanjay Dutt), a Rabari scout working for the Indian army, a fighter pilot Vikram Singh (Ammy Virk) and Colonel RK Nair (Sharad Kelkar), who is, married to a disabled Muslim woman, as a voiceover pointlessly informs the viewer.
The building of the runway by the women led by Sundarben (Sonakshi Sinha, dressed in tribal chic), with bricks pulled out from the walls of their own homes, is hardly a footnote. In the thick of battle people have the time to make speeches, beat drums, and celebrate an anniversary. Pagi kills scores of armed Pakistani soldiers with a machete and not one thinks of shooting him! Vikram Singh is made to fly a transport aircraft (all planes are the same, no?) and in the most absurd scene of the film, land the plane with 450 soldiers in it, on the bed of the truck driven by Karnik, because the front wheel detached while taking off.
There is little Raazi rip-off, with Nora Fatehi playing Heena Rehman, the wife of a Pakistani official, spying for India, just so that she can show that Muslims are also patriotic.
There is enough material available about this war for the writers (Raman Kumar, Ritesh Shah, Pooja Bhavoria) to have done their research to produce a half-way authentic film and also made it engaging for the viewer, because the history of war movies made the world over has proved that this is possible. But Bollywood stars want to strut about in slow-motion and be more heroic than real-life heroes, so this debacle of a film is the result.