The film is a fictionalised account of real events. The Pakistani Air Force destroyed the Bhuj airstrip during the 1971 Indo-Pak War, dropping 14 napalm bombs on it. The devastation continued for two weeks, with relentless attacks by bombs and rockets. 300 people, majority of them women, hailing from the nearby village of Madhapur, came to the Air Force’s rescue at that point of time. Working mostly at night, they repaired the airstrip in 72 hours under the guidance of Squadron Leader Vijay Karnik. It was a remarkable feat indeed and was one of the factors that decided the war in India’s favour as the IAF was able to remain operational. It was Pakistan’s intention to capture Bhuj and use it as a bargaining tool but the resilience of our troops and the common citizens saved the day.
Bhuj: The Pride Of India, tells the story of their heroism, albeit in a highly dramatic manner. Vijay Karnik is played by Ajay Devgn here. As said earlier, Karnik, though he deploys an anti-aircraft gun to much effect, isn’t able to save the almost total destruction of the Bhuj airstrip. A parallel story tells us about the sacrifice of Indian spy Heena Rehman (Nora Fatehi), who before her death is able to convey Pakistan’s plans to her Indian handlers. Another strand tells us of Colonel Nair (Sharad Kelkar), who and the 120 soldiers serving under him are in charge of the crucial Vighakot post. Then we also have Indian spy Ranchordas Pagi (Sanjay Dutt), who knows the desert like the back of his hand and whose reconnaissance of the Pakistani army proves vital to the Indian defence. And Ammy Virk plays Flight Lieutenant Vikram Singh Baj Jethaaz, who flies in the reserve forces to the base. Sonakshi Sinha plays Sunderben Jetha Madharparya, the village woman who inspires others to come to the aid of the IAF. Kannada actress Pranitha Subhash plays Karnik’s wife.
The first half of the film is devoted to giving short backstories to everyone. We learn that Nora’s character spies for India because her brother, also an Indian spy, was brutally killed by the Pakistanis after he got captured. Sharad Kelkar is a tough soldier with a soft heart who has fallen for a handicapped Muslim girl, Ammy Virk’s wife has passed away and he’s anxious about bringing his little girl up. Sanjay Dutt’s character is obsessed with killing the Pakis for personal reasons and Sonakshi Sinha, whose husband is abroad, is a braveheart who can kill a leopard single-handedly. The narrative rambles all over the place and your interest starts wavering. However, the drama-filled narrative of the second half more than makes up for the lapses of the first. Sharad Kelkar and Sanjay Dutt are shown to be a two-man army who put a stop to the advancing Pakistani troops through a mix of guile and bravery. While Ajay Devgn, Sonakshi Sinha and Pranitha Subhash race against time to finish the runway. Ajay’s moment of glory comes when he helps land the transport plane, whose front tire is missing, with the help of a truck. The events are overtly dramatised but nevertheless convey the fortitude and determination of the people involved.
The VFX, sound design and the background score help transport us to the war zone. What’s galling is the jingoism and the religious propaganda, which should have been toned down a bit. Ajay Devgn comes across as a true patriot ready to lay down his life for his country. His sincerity, his dedication seeps through in every frame. His anger at losing his beloved airfield initially and his hardiness is getting it running again is real. Sanjay Dutt’s screen presence hasn’t faded with age and he has done another competent job here, and so has Sharad Kelkar. Ammy Virk, Sonakshi Sinha, Nora Fatehi and Pranitha Subhash have been sincere as well. Navni Parihar is spot on as former PM Indira Gandhi.
All-in-all, Bhuj: The Pride Of India brings to life an important aspect from the 1971 war. It’s a good enough history lesson if you choose to ignore the over-the-top narration and Paki-bashing involved in the telling.
Trailer : Bhuj: The Pride of India
Renuka Vyavahare, August 13, 2021, 9:30 PM IST
STORY: During 1971’s Indo-Pak war, 300 Bhuj women risked their lives to restore the bombed Indian Air Force airstrip in Bhuj, so that it stays operational to defend the incoming Pak air and land assault. Encouraging the local women to help repair the airstrip on a war footing was Squadron leader Vijay Karnik (Ajay Devgn). The film recalls the crisis and the contribution of the courageous civilians and the Indian Armed Forces.
REVIEW: The India-Pakistan war of 1971 ensued during the Bangladesh liberation war in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). As India aided East Pakistan to end West Pakistan’s (now Pakistan) oppressive regime on it, PAK attacked western regions of India hoping to use it as a bargaining tool to trade against the captured territories in the east. Various Indian air bases were bombed as part of the strategy. The Bhuj airbase was one of the prominent IAF (Indian Air Force) territory that took a massive hit.
On the night of December 8, PAF (Pakistan Air Force) jets dropped more than 14 Napalm bombs on the Indian Air Force airstrip in Bhuj. The impact rendered the airstrip useless and the Indian combat aircrafts dysfunctional. The IAF expected the Border Security Force (BSF) to restore the airstrip but time was ticking, and labour was scarce. It was during this time that 300 villagers—mostly women—from Madhapur in Bhuj, decided to step in to defend the country by repairing the damaged airbase within 72 hours. In Bhuj: The Pride of India, director Abhishek Dudhaiya remembers these unsung warriors and the story of their incredible bravery, that deserves to be told. Credit to Ajay Devgn for bringing this act of valour to screen. However, can the execution match the intent?
Over the years, the demeanour of Indian war movies has seen a dramatic shift. From chest thumping jingoism to humanising the war heroes and seeing them as people first — we have come a long way. Even Uri: The Surgical Strike (2019) had a restrained sense of personal loss and grief and showed the consequences of war beneath the high josh. War heroes are respected, even revered, but they aren’t projected as invincible anymore. There’s a certain honesty in their heroism. That’s not the case here.
Bhuj’s makers make it clear right in the disclaimer that this film is a work of fiction inspired by true events. This explains its dramatic approach to retelling history. The film often forgoes the nuances to play to the gallery. Though made in contemporary times, Dudhaiya’s expression is more true to the 90s school of thought, where everything is literally spelt out. Think, JP Dutta’s Border (1997). This one resorts to hyper nationalism as well. One might argue that everything’s fair in love and war, right? Well, not really when the film risks making a military operation look irrational to amp up the emotional quotient. Loud bhajans being sung with dhols at the reconstructed airstrip defies logic because it was supposed to be a covert operation that had to evade further incoming bombings. In reality, it was reported that the Bhuj women had to wear green and cow dung was used on the strip to camouflage it from the PAF planes. One can overlook the drama, but in a premise such as this, trading off logic at the cost of dramatisation, seems hard to digest. The writing could have been more mindful.
The first half is scattered with various characters in cameos giving brave speeches without a context. The depiction of events leading upto the attack on Bhuj airbase are disorderly. The film however, redeems itself in the second half as that’s where the real action and drama unfold. Thereon, it’s a gripping thriller that keeps you invested. From 120 soldiers guarding the Vighakot post and defending the country to witnessing a plane rest its front on a truck for landing — the action game, (realistic and unrealistic) is on point. Even the aerial combat scenes keep you invested.
The sound and visuals are made for the big screen. While the VFX is strictly passable, the sound is competent enough to transport you to the battlefield. Ajay Devgn’s template slowmo shots are plenty and he gets the intensity of his character right. Sanjay Dutt, Sonakshi Sinha, Sharad Kelkar and Ammy Virk are decent as well. Among the cameos, casting Navni Parihar as former PM Indira Gandhi works well.
If you can ignore the religious propaganda and focus solely on the story, Bhuj makes for an interesting watch, despite the initial hiccups.