The Ghazi Attack review:  Rises from the depths to launch glorious chapter of history

Release Date: 17 Feb 2017 / 02hr 06min

Cinestaan Rating

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Mayur Lookhar

Though sailing into debatable history, debutante director Sankalp Reddy's Indo-Pak naval war drama is highly compelling and entertaining. Kay Kay Menon, Rana Daggubati deliver a powerful performance.

Films on historical subjects, especially kings and queen, are often subject to intense scrutiny. But war films celebrating India’s victory over Pakistan have been met with the loudest whistles and cheers. JP Dutta’s Border (1997) takes the cake here. We've never questioned the truth in such films before. However, for the first time, a young filmmaker has dived deep into the depths of history that’s largely remained a mystery, both in India and Pakistan.

The sinking of Pakistan’s first submarine, PNS Ghazi on 4 December 1971 has remained a mystery in the history of the Indo-Pak wars. Indians initially claimed that its ship INS Rajput brought the Ghazi down only to retract the claim years later. Pakistan, though, has always presumed that its submarine fell prey to it own mines.

Kay Kay Menon: Pakistan even claimed that they won the 1965 war

What is the truth? As a classified chapter, we will never know. Director Sankalp Reddy has gone beyond the realm of probability to launch his The Ghazi Attack — India’s first naval war film involving a submarine. The film is an adaptation of Reddy's book Blue Fish: The War Beneath.

The film opens with a prolonged disclaimer as to how it is inspired by the events pertaining to the sinking of the Pakistani ship during the 1971 war, and how the makers have taken creative liberties to carve its own idea of the episode.

If you are a stickler for truth, then you alight Reddy’s S21 (Indian submarine) immediately, but, if  deep sea adventure is your thing, then you’re in for an underwater rollercoaster ride.

Captain Ranvijay Singh (Kay Kay Menon) of S21 is a loose cannon, who has disdain for bureaucracy, one who cares two hoots about rules and orders — ala General Patton (former American Army officer from World War II). Captain Singh even reads a book that perhaps eulogises the American war hero.

Despite his disobedience, Captain Singh is pressed into service to inspect any untoward threat coming from across the border to the East coast sea. However, the top hierarchy of the Indian navy have also sent Lieutenant Commander Arjun Varma (Rana Daggubati) to prevent Singh from cutting loose, fearing that any unwarranted action by Captain Singh could trigger an unwanted Indo-Pak war.

Much of the first hour sees Varma and Captain Singh at loggerheads, while executive officer Devraj (Atul Kulkarni) is stuck in their muddle. The Indian submarine soon finds itself in a cat-and-mouse battle with PNS Ghazi, commandeered by Captain Razzak (Rahul Singh). With all the action under sea, it would be fair to term The Ghazi Attack as an epic battle between a shark (Ghazi) and a seal (S21). 

The Ghazi Attack from Pakistan's point of view

Despite diving into a debatable piece of history, The Ghazi Attack stands out for its in-depth screenplay, riveting drama and thrilling aquatic action. Save for a few occasions, the film stays clear of the jingoism that’s often dented our war films.

A director is the captain of the ship, and Reddy has steered his submarine (film) to the depths of glory. For a debutante director, Sankalp Reddy has done in-depth research not just on the history, but also on the technical aspects associated with a naval war film.

A neat script needs to be backed by superlative performances and it is here that Menon leads the way for his colleagues. Fans have loved and hated him equally for playing the arch enemy in films like Baby (2015) and Deewaar (2004). So, The Ghazi Attack is redemption for his early reel crimes? Playing his maiden role as a Sikh officer, Menon displays the requisite aggressive intensity of his character to the tee. At times, his aggression may be uncalled for, but Ranvijay Singh does well to reign it in with his subtle sense of humour. 

Daggubati is a star down south, but despite his bravado in Baahubali (2015), the actor is yet to establish himself in Hindi film industry. There’s no doubting that Telugu viewers will hail him in the Telugu version Ghazi, but Daggubati can take heart from his measured performance in The Ghazi Attack.  Here’s a character where the burly actor flexes his brain more than brawn.

Unheralded actor Rahul Singh, best known for playing the conniving royal Uday Singh in the Karishma Kapoor-starrer Zubeida (2001), finds a role befitting his talent. His big frame and menacing look make him apt to play the Pakistani Captain Razzak, commander of PNS Ghazi. He’s as sophisticated as his foe Ranvijay Singh, and like Menon, he delivers a powerful performance.

The disappointing part of the film is the average show by Kulkarni and the rest of the feeble crew from both S21 and PNS Ghazi. However, you wouldn’t be too critical of character artist Satyadev Kancharana, who plays a S21 officer regularly tracking the movements of submarine PNS Ghazi. 

After a gripping show in Pink (2016), one would have expected a better role for Taapsee Pannu here. She doesn’t quite convince you as Ananya, the Bangladeshi refugee saved by Varma. Remarkably, you are not told how Ananya and a little kid escape the torpedo attack on their civilian ship by Ghazi?  
Pakistani forces brutalising Bangladeshi civilians and Hindu Bengali women in particular during the East Pakistan (Bangladesh) liberation movement is a well-documented dark chapter in history. However, was it necessary to show it in The Ghazi Attack through Ananya? It would have been justified had Reddy delved more into the heinous war crime, but that would be digressing from the main subject. There’s very little for Pannu to do in the film, making you wonder, what does the actress really gain out of this film?

Despite its few shortcomings, The Ghazi Attack drives on the stellar performances of Menon, Daggubati and Rahul Singh. Add to the performances, a neat script, fine background score, and above all the astute direction by a rookie filmmaker. These factors make the near two-hour film both compelling and entertaining. Should one be tempted to be board The Ghazi Attack? Aye aye, Captain Reddy.

Reviewed by Mayur Lookhar