Bollywood can’t get enough of its favourite theme, patriotism. Over the decades, films based on India and Pakistan’s complicated political ties have been made galore. Now, their template may be extremely formulaic but weaving a story that makes a point without any kind of preaching and excessive chest-thumping is no cakewalk.
In 2017, Sankalp Reddy, who mononymously goes by Sankalp, made his directorial debut with the bilingual film, The Ghazi Attack. The submarine warfare film won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Telugu in 2018. It was an underwater tale of the courage and patriotism of the men aboard the Indian Submarine INS Karanj and was inspired by true events from the mysterious sinking of PNS Ghazi during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. Six years later, Sankalp returns to Bollywood with IB 71, a spy drama, inspired by true events, which is again set against a similar backdrop. Interestingly, he once again manages to achieve what very few filmmakers can – make a patriotic film without the slightest ounce of melodramatic patriotism.
IB 71 is based on the Ganga Hijack, infamously called ‘the hijack that never happened’ and uncovers India’s top secret mission conducted by the Intelligence Bureau that made us win the 1971 war. It revolves around Dev, an IB officer, who single-handedly prevents Pakistan from joining hands with China and attacking India and gaining control over its north-eastern frontier. He takes on the critical operation of carrying out a hijack by two young but ambitious Kashmiri boys from POK (Pak Occupied Kashmir) by risking the lives of about 30 Indian civilians aboard an aircraft and safely bringing them back to their homeland, thus manoeuvring a mission that gives out a message that Pakistan has initiated a terror act on India. He successfully does so within a span of just ten days.
Most of the film takes place in Kashmir and kudos to cinematographer Gnana Shekar VS – who has shot National Award winning films like Vedam (2010) and Kanche (2015) - for capturing the beauty of the state with aplomb. The pristine snow-covered lands and the misty Dal Lake are the beds for most of the action and they render an element of authenticity to the story. The use of greys, mundane browns and cloudy blues convey the mood and tone of IB 71 rather perfectly. Despite a trained martial artist like Vidyut at the centre of the narrative, the stunts are far and few and extremely realistic, and never do you feel that these sequences are forced just to glorify the life of a spy.
A crisp narrative further helps the film. Sankalp wastes no time and dives straight into the story right from the first frame. We aren’t given any sneak peek into Dev’s life and his back story and interestingly, it causes no deterrence in establishing his character and his sharp acumen. Much like The Ghazi Attack, there are no frills here. There are no song and dance sequences and definitely, no love story involved, which, needless to say, makes for a gush of fresh air. Sankalp defies every stereotype and formula and creates a narrative that is impressive and will hopefully, set a precedent for all the patriotic films that are in the making.
There’s no dearth of spy thrillers in Bollywood and more and more of them continue to be made. However, more often than not, these good-looking films have crossed the line of realism to make their protagonists appear larger-than-life. This is also where IB 71 stands out. It gives us a glimpse into the life of a regular spy, who isn’t afraid to revel in grime and grit to protect their motherland. And their job is everything else but glamorous and glitzy.
Vidyut plays Dev in the film, which we are told is dedicated to ‘all the Jammwalions’, with a lot of restraint and grit. For a film that’s bankrolled by him, he lets his co-stars take centre stage where needed without him taking over every frame and that deserves applause. Having said that, Dev might have made for an excellent character and story on paper but it doesn’t provide much scope for a performance. Having belted out a slew of slick actioners over the years, Vidyut turned over a new leaf with Khuda Haafiz: Chapter 2 – Agni Pariksha last year, which surprised many as it offered him the opportunity to put his acting chops on display. If you’ve expected him to carry on that streak, you might be disappointed. But brownie points to him for recognising a story like this and breaking the clutter with a rare conviction and belief!
Vishal Jethwa’s antagonist act in Mardaani 2 (2019) left many impressed. With IB 71, he returns to don the hat of the bad guy yet again. He plays Qasim Qureshi here, a madly driven Kashmiri obsessed with hijacking an airplane and putting the lives of many Indians civilians at risk only so that his imprisoned brothers can be released by the Indian government. His Qasim is unpredictable, erratic and volatile. It seems like an extension of his character from Mardaani 2 but we aren’t complaining because he, once again proves, his mettle with a choice that is out of the ordinary and extremely risky. Some of his scenes with Vidyut’s Dev are pure gold and even in an atmosphere of simmering political tension, you end up cracking up. Kudos to the writing for that!
Anupam Kher as IB Chief NS Awasthi and Dalip Tahil as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto don’t have much to do and hence, don’t leave an impact. Once again like The Ghazi Attack, the narrative is largely led by men with hardly any women in the picture, literally and metaphorically. There are a total of just four women, all of who appear in the background. But if realistic spy dramas fascinate you, go for IB 71. The makers might not have had the chance to make lofty promises through the promos but this is a little gem that might just surprise and impress you. It goes on to prove that a story told with honesty and conviction with no flash and froth will definitely leave a mark and an indelible one at that.