Review: ‘The Ghazi Attack’ has moments of thrill, but ends in a damp squib

The film takes care to stay true to the undersea context, and that’s half the battle won at least.
Review: ‘The Ghazi Attack’ has moments of thrill, but ends in a damp squib
Review: ‘The Ghazi Attack’ has moments of thrill, but ends in a damp squib
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Sit down to watch The Ghazi Attack, and the first thing you’re subjected to is a disclaimer that takes nearly three minutes to be read out. The film is at great pains to announce that it is a dramatised story and does not want to, would never wish to, hurt anybody’s feelings in the film.

But the makers of The Ghazi Attack needn’t have worried. There’s little in the film to offend anyone who considers themselves a patriot on this side of the India-Pakistan border. After all, the film not only plays the National Anthem twice, but also throws in “Saare Jahan Se Acha” for good measure.

And the Pakistani naval officers have suitably one-dimensional façade for us that tells us nothing about them except that they’re out to defeat the Indians in some way.

The Ghazi Attack, released in Hindi and Telugu, tells the tale of an undersea battle in 1971, which resulted in the sinking of the submarine PNS Ghazi. Before an Indian submarine hunting the Pakistanis can engage in pitched battles though, there’s standoff between the vessel’s hot-headed, shoot-first-ask-later Captain Rann Vijay (Kay Kay Menon) and his by-the-books junior Arjun (Rana Daggubati), who insists that they follow the rules of a recce mission and not engage with the enemy.

Give director Sankalp Reddy his due, the film gets billed as the first undersea war film and at least partly manages to deliver something new. Given the tendency of most nationalist war films to give history, geography and physics the go by as long as they can wave a big enough tricolour flag, Ghazi is a welcome alternative.

The film takes the trouble to get the myriad details of submarine operations right, or at least sounding right enough to be convincing. From the construction of the sets to the lighting and action to the plotting of several key sequences, Ghazi delivers enough substance to convince you its actors are really deep beneath the Bay of Bengal and not on a film set somewhere. Even some of the more climactic sequences in the second half, including one on the ocean bed, tread wisely staying clear of illogical melodrama that the film could have easily sunk into.

But, where the film lacks is in how to pull drama out of the very limited options available. Unlike the standard fare of vehicles thrown into high-octane action sequences, there’s a limit to what submarines can do. This requires smaller, more intricately designed plot sequences, with a better focus on the human drama than the film manages provide.

The problem is that none of the characters have enough depth to them. While the film tries to eschew industry conventions, and steers clear of sentimental flashbacks or even worse song sequences, it tries to stay too firmly rooted to the immediate action of the present.

That means that we don’t get a sense of the different character’s motivations, beyond pithy one-line descriptions. And that then leaves little room for us to experience their conflicts, feel their emotions and wonder how they’re going to react. And so the film proceeds all too predictably, never giving us the unpredictability that makes a good thriller.

Rana Daggubati makes the best of his flat character, and outside of an uninspiring hero monologue, plays the straight-laced officer with a likeable flare. But Kay Kay Menon takes his hardnosed captain too far, hamming his disdain for the establishment, but also for the rules of the acting craft.

In the end, The Ghazi Attack never quite delivers the thrill-ride it promises. Instead, like a damaged submarine in the film, it just sort of floats along. Fun to watch at moments, but weighed down by its self-consciousness at other times.

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