BHUJ is a good story though the screenplay could have been more articulate
War Stories, in some way, are like mythologicals; more the information audiences have about a particular war, the acceptance is easier.
Empathy with Bharatiya forces that suffered defeat in the Sino-Indo war of 1962 evokes natural solidarity, embracing our fallen heroes and the films that were made on the 1962 war. The valour of Abdul Hameed, the soldier who singlehandedly destroyed the then famous Pakistani Patton Tanks in the 1965 war, was part of our textbooks. So is the resilience of a small unit that secured the Longowal post. More recently, in the Information Age war of Kargil, where we had ‘in camera’ innocent exuberance of young ‘to be martyrs’, are precisely the optimum undercurrent of rhetoric required to build a war movie narrative, Uri is the greatest example of it. One slogan became a bigger hit than the greatest melodies of our times; it echoed from public meetings to sports grounds and even Parliament.
It is important to analyse Bhuj in the above backdrop. Hardly anyone had heard what happened at the Bhuj airbase during the 1971 war. Before a film based on the Balakot airstrike comes, our screens haven’t encountered instances where the Indian Air Force has played an important character in any Indian War film. Bhuj also falls into the same phenomenon as ‘Mangal Pandey’ did, everyone knows that Mangal Pandey was the first freedom fighter of India, but that’s it! One wouldn’t find ten worthy pages of information on Mangal Pandey in any available history books.
So that is Bhuj, the movie for you, with some of the challenges it prima facie encounters without even an excuse of a war film made during the pandemic, where few important actors were unable to accommodate dates of the film that had a debutant director at the helm.
There’s no security force without the rhetoric; the brothers (and sisters) stick together to disable enemy threats without fear for life, bonded with a heavy dose of adrenaline flowing in their veins. The Maratha Warriors (Vijay Karnik being a Maharashtrian) have their template that has been underlined elaborately in the film. But the film isn’t only about officers of the Indian Air Force; it is substantially also about 300 women from village Madhapur who assisted Squadron Leader Karnik (played by Ajay Devgn) in the film. The usual war film template is such that it hardly allows the inclusion of non-military and non-masculine characters. Still, the women force led in screen by Sonakshi Sinha bring into memory the otherwise ignored village women folk, who were the only help with Indian Air Force at the Bhuj airbase. At the same time, all communications and road connections were cut off.
Another important character in the film is Ranchhod Pagi, an important asset of the Indian State during both the 1965 and 1971 wars. Sanjay Dutt plays the near mirage-like Pagi.
A small trivia, Pagi lived for 113 years. The film offers subtle glimpses of how the Western frontier was pretty much ignored and dependent on individual valour at the time of liberating Bangladesh in 1971. Our nation could only afford to station small units of 120 odd men at critical posts in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Each one of the soldiers knew that the chances of survival were less as Pakistan had brought in hundreds of tanks and thousands of soldiers at every point of the conflict. It is difficult to bring to life the near unknowns, but Ajay Devgn succeeds in carrying the film on his own shoulders. He slips from flamboyance to uniformed character with ease.
Sanjay Dutt better fills the screen space than most actors who have played supporting roles in Indian war movies. Sonakshi Sinha plays the character based on the real-life mother of director Abhishek Dudhaiya. One would believe that Abhishek (who is also one of the writers) would have gotten close to what his mother experienced during the situation. Sharad Kelkar again displays that he can fill the large screen pretty convincingly, easier said than done; not many small screen actors are capable of doing so.
Aman Virk has one amazing scene where he addresses the unit before they leave for Bhuj. He is more Sikh (speaking typical Punjabi) in that scene than anyone I remember to have witnessed in any audio-visual work.
The film offers subtle glimpses of how the western frontier was pretty much ignored and dependent on individual valour at the time of liberating Bangladesh in 1971. Each one of the soldiers knew the chances of survival were less than the least as Pakistan had brought in hundreds of tanks and thousands of soldiers at every point of conflict
The dog fight sequences are extended but realistically done. One hasn’t really seen many dog fights since ‘Top Gun’. Air raids sequences aren’t the best, but they pass. Camera work isn’t Assem’s best; however, the Vfx pretty much stand out.
Bhuj is a good story though the screenplay could have been more articulate. Dialogues have a noticeable tendency of wavering into the poetry zone. Music is a drawback, and the songs weren’t needed in the film.
The enormity of the subject seems to have gotten better of Abhishek Dudhaiya at places; the same can be said about the editing.
Overall, like most war films, Bhuj is a film to be experienced in a theatre with a proper sound system. It’s a pity that it seems to have run out of options and is released on an OTT platform.
The Pakistani air raids in Bhuj were India’s ‘Pearl Harbour’ moment; this and many other elements would grip the imagination of the masses.
Was there an opportunity to make a better film, well, there always is, but a reasonable review has to consider all aspects and challenges that production of such scale faces, most important being the medium of distribution. In view of all that, I will give 3 stars to the film. With some more effort by the makers, I would have seriously considered 3.5.