I was very proud when I saw a Malaysian, well made Special Force movie called Paskal in 2018 and then in 2020, I watched URI: The Surgical Strike which showed that great Special Force movies can be produced outside Hollywood. I always had a soft spot for anything that is related to the military and especially on topics related to the Special Forces units within the military – I think I told this more than once in this blog. Image source: Bollywood Hungama.
Read these first:-
- Hindi Movie Review: Eye Opening, Shocking Article 15 Thriller 2019
- Indian Cinema 101: Hindi Movies, Now & Then
- Indian Cinema 101: Blatant Mockery of Military Tactics in Wild Dog 2021
- History 101: Japanese Fascinating Tactical War in Malaya & Singapore 1941
URI: The Surgical Strike theatrical poster shows a fresh look at the Indian Army’s Para Special Forces. The poster itself tells that this is going to be a really interesting, riveting movie. Image source: IMDB
Some Background Story
When I first saw the movie, one of the first things I noticed was the pace and how detailed the information the movie makers had provided in this movie. You get the background of the events, how both the Indians and Pakistan military get their intelligence on each other’s moves and finally the detailed planning for a surgical strike.
Paskal: The Movie theatrical poster – this movie came a year earlier than URI and perhaps that is why it looks similar. It was the most expensive in Malaysian history. You saw almost every Royal Malaysian Navy’s key assets in this movie including Westland Lynx, Kedah class OPV and Scorpene submarine. Image source: IMDB
Malaysian made Paskal came close but although some of the Paskal stories are based on real events like the PASKAL rescue of the hijacked MV Bunga Laurel from Somalian pirates (capturing 7 of them), it was not as tragic as the real events which URI Surgical Strike is based on where there were 19 Indian soldiers killed by 4 armed terrorists in the town of Uri in 2016 and the Indian Government retaliated by ordering surgical strikes.
At around 5:30 a.m. on 18 September, four terrorists attacked an Indian Army brigade headquarters in URI, near the Line of Control (LOC) in a pre-dawn ambush. They were said to have lobbed 17 grenades in three minutes.
As a rear administrative base camp with tents caught fire, 17 army personnel were killed during the attack. An additional 19-30 soldiers were reported to have been injured. A gun battle ensued lasting six hours, during which all the four militants were killed. Combing operations continued to flush out additional terrorists thought to be alive.
Most of the soldiers killed were from the 10th battalion, Dogra Regiment (10 Dogra) and 6th battalion, Bihar Regiment (6 Bihar). One of the injured soldiers succumbed to his injuries on 19 September at RR Hospital in New Delhi, followed by another soldier on 24 September, bringing the death toll to 19.
The casualties were primarily believed to have occurred as a result of non-fire retardant transition tents. This was the time of a troops shift, whereby troops from 6 Bihar were replacing troops from 10 Dogra.
The incoming troops were housed in tents, which are normally avoided in sensitive areas around the LOC like URI. The attackers snuck into the camp breaching heavy security and seemed to know exactly where to strike. Seven of the personnel killed were support staff, including cooks and barbers.
On 28 September, eleven days after the attack, the Indian Army conducted retaliatory surgical strikes on launch-pads used by terrorists in Pakistan administered Kashmir. Indian Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Lt Gen Ranbir Singh said that it had made a preemptive strike against “terrorist teams” who were preparing to “carry out infiltration and conduct terrorist strikes inside Jammu and Kashmir and in various metros in other states”.
The Economist while citing Indian reports, reported that Indian commandos crossed the Line of Control and struck at the safe houses, allegedly killing approximately 150 Pakistan-sponsored terrorists.
In fact, History Channel did a documentary based on those events although Pakistan fiercely rejected that there was a surgical strike on their side of the border. They claim that the notion of a surgical strike was nothing but a political one i.e. to appease the Indian citizens.
Another is the interview with the Special Forces team themselves although they did not reveal the true identities for security reasons.
I like the way the movie is divided into chapters that tell the background story of the Special Forces, the deadly attack in URI, the planning of the surgical strike and finally the actual execution. The director did not waste time on any unnecessary scenes and all the time, keep up the pace, leaving the viewers in anticipation of the next scene. Everything is clean and tight.
Chapter 1: The Seven Sisters
This is the introduction of the Para Special Force led by Major Vihaan when they deal swiftly with the terrorists who ambushed an Army convoy in Manipur. Unfortunately, this was supposed to be the final mission for Major Vihaan who wants to retire to take care of his mother who is suffering from Stage VI Alzheimer.
Not wanting to let a good commander go, the Prime Minister instead offer the Major a desk job so that he can still be in the Army and yet can take care of his mother.
Chapter 2: An Unsettling Peace
Peace can be deceiving as the Major takes up the desk job at IDS which allows him to spend time with his mother. At IDS, Major meets an IAF officer who is under investigation, Flight Lieutenant Seerat Kaur who also wants to prove her patriotism in memory of her late martyred army office husband.
This is where we are introduced to nurse, Jasmine who in actual fact, is an undercover RAW agent who is there to provide security for his family.
Chapter 3: Bleed India with Thousand Cuts
This is the actual attack on the army camp in URI that killed 19 soldiers. The military eventually managed to take things under control but this ended with the Major’s best friend and also his brother in law to be killed as well.
The scene at the funeral was truly heart-breaking and emotional with Major’s nephew chanting the Para SF’s war cry in front of her father’s coffin. And as she walks away with her mother, her glance towards the Major says a lot of things. Image source: IMDB
This is also the time where the Prime Minister calls for a top-secret meeting with his advisors and Ministers on how India should respond to the URI attack. Most of them keep saying the same old response until his National Security Advisor Govind Bharadwaj suggests a surgical strike which immediately gets the approval of everyone including the Prime Minister.
Eager for revenge on the death of his brother in law and also concerned on his men, Major Vihaan request for leave from his desk job and goes over to the Northern Command base to take charge of the elite Ghatak Force and Para SF Special Force team who will be in the surgical strike mission.
Chapter 4: Naya Hindustan (New India)
It is New India that does not sit still whilst terrorists cross the border and kills innocent people. It is the New India that go back to the terrorists’ homes and kill them on the spot.
This chapter deals with the planning with Govind getting ISRO to reposition the satellites to provide focussed images to reconfirm the terrorists launch pads across the border. He also goes over to DRDO and found a young intern with the right drone (that look like an Eagle to minimise detection) for the surgical strike mission. The funny part is when the young intern gets the director of DRDO to run to launch his drone when that was not necessary.
It is said for the real surgical strike mission, the Indian Army did not use anything fancy like the above Garud drone (in reality it does not exist, at least on the high specifications) but instead, they used the Israeli made Heron UAV which has an operational 52 hours and capable of flight at height of 35,000 feet. Image source: Internet
At this point, Major Vihaan picks Flight Lieutenant Seerat Kaur as his helicopter pilot for the mission, giving her the best opportunity to prove her patriotism. To provide a diversion to the actual plan, India starts shelling the Pakistan military positions at the border which was a powerful scene indeed. To add the confusion of things, they even painted the Indian Mil 17 helicopters in the Pakistan Army paint design.
Chapter 5: The Surgical Strike
This final chapter marks the execution of the actual surgical strike where the Special Forces teams board their respective helicopters towards the terrorist launch pads across the border.
Interestingly there is another story in the background – one with the RAW agents in a husband-wife role deep in Pakistan and in close contact with one of the key Ministers. They extract classified information from the Minister using drugs and are shocked to find that the Pakistan military is aware of the helicopters and prepared to shoot them down in the sector that is assigned to Major Vihaan.
They quickly pass the information to Govind who immediately contacts Major Vihaan who had to abort the mission. Then he remembers a tunnel that leads into Pakistan’s side during one of the earlier briefings – it is used by Pakistan to smuggle the terrorists into India side of the border. Wanting to finish his mission, Major Vihaan then decides to use this harder and longer route to reach the launch pads and achieve success.
Although all the actors and actresses in this movie did exceptionally well in their respective roles, the roles played by Vicky Kaushal and Paresh Rawal really stood out to keep the attention of the viewers.
Vicky Kaushal was the right choice for the role of the Para SF team leader, Major Vihaan Singh Shergill. He has the right built and expression of a real paratrooper. It is also reported that he underwent extensive military training for five months and this included firearm training as well. Interestingly the same was done for the actors for the movie Paskal where they were trained by the real RMN’s Paskal team (similar to US Seal Team) and even did a live bullet shooting practice.
All these three characters in the movie are based on real characters – Major from Para SF, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval. Image source: IMDB
Paresh Rawal who plays the role of the National Security Advisor Govind Bhardwaj is precise, cool and yet surgical in his actions leading towards the surgical strike. It is said that the character Govind Bhardwaj is based on the real National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval.
The other minor roles are re are characters in the movie is Major Karan Kashyap who is Vihaan’s brother in law and played by Mohit Raina. He gets killed in the URI attack. Another is Yami Gautam who plays an undercover RAW agent but comes in initially as the nurse who is brought in to take care of Major Vihaan’s mother. Riva Arora who plays Major Vihaan’s niece did a brilliant job as a daughter who had lost her father at the funeral.
The background score and songs were composed by Shashwat Sachdev who went on to win the Best Music Director (Background Score) in the National Film Award 2020 and for Best Background Score in IIFA Awards 2020 for his work in this movie.
He did a great job keeping the score specific to the storyline of the movie and I simply loved his composition of Challa (Main Lad Jaana). A bit bhangra in the mix but it is one of the best spirit-lifting songs out there especially when you have the mighty Indian Army firing their 105 mm field artillery on the Pakistan positions.
Seriously a very powerful composition – the song, the background video and of course, the lyrics (English translation):-
I am gonna fight, I am gonna fight,
There is a strong sparkle in my blood,
That convinces me to give my best,
Even every single drop says.
I am gonna fight.
I am going to fight, I am going to fight,
There is a strong sparkle in my blood,
Which tells me to give my best.
Even drops say so..
I am gonna fight.
When Challa (a passionate soul) moved out, he was ready to die.
He plays with fire,
Which makes everybody be afraid of him.
I am going to fight this.
Lightening up these lanterns with our passions,
We have held the live flames in our hands.
We have to do something memorable,
So we are remembered in the world for good.
I am gonna fight..
It’s a desire in my blood.
With my passion, I am gonna do the best
Even the drops tell me.
When the Challa moved, he has decided already to fight till die.
He plays danger..
That makes all feel afraid.
The movie was made with a rough budget of RM14 million and garnered a box office of almost RM200 million making it the 4th highest-grossing Bollywood film of 2019.
Thus far, this would be the best movie on the military and especially on Special Forces outside Hollywood. I am sure there are similar movies from China and Korea.
Since I am familiar with past Bollywood movies on the military which are not logical, laughable and simply dumb, URI Surgical Strike shows how a proper military-based movie should be done right in the context of a modern Indian Army. It is not perfect though, the bird drone is a major goof but it can be easily overlooked considering the other areas was done right.
The whole movie simply oozing with precise tactics, proper military hardware and proper steps to gain intelligence on the enemy, just like the real military unit. It has set a very high standard that all future military-based Bollywood movies need to meet.