I was a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force and have done two tenures in Bhuj. Having spent five years flying over and driving around Kutch, I was keen to relive the happy memories of my days in the IAF and in Kutch.
I must confess, the movie brought tears to my eyes. Tears of mirth, because it is so ridiculously hilarious, despite the makers being so serious.
First, the Commander of a forward airbase is partying when the PAF planes bomb his base, and shoot at our planes parked in the open like sitting ducks. Then, among all the dazzling explosions, a lot of suicidal men run helter-skelter, happily injuring themselves, while Devgn, like an indestructible God – Dev, sans a gun – rams his burning jeep into an inferno of a blazing plane, flies a few feet into the air above that fire, falls on a concrete runway, and ends up with nothing more than a gash on the forehead. Rubber bones, eh?
Then he fires an anti-aircraft gun and shoots down half the Pakistan Air Force in seconds, before going out to kill a spy, and exchange jingoistic dialogue with a Paki commander on a landline telephone.
Next, an invincible Indian fighter pilot runs a mile through the explosions, jumps into a MiG-21 that is loaded with rockets and bombs meant to attack ground targets, and takes off from a crater filled runway to defend the country. After an impossible dogfight, he crashes into the sea, purportedly the Rann of Kutch, and walks out of the water without a scratch, onto a beautiful beach even the Goans would envy.
Then a Pakistani husband discusses grand strategy at home, while his wife, who is an Indian spy, hears it all, then kills him and walks away, with his blood still on her forehead, killing innumerable soldiers with her bare hands.
Next, an Indian Army Colonel defends Kutch with 120 men and one Pagi (scout), against 100 tanks and 1800 soldiers of the Pak army, by using unconventional and unconvincing tactics like throwing petrol filled bottles in the air and then shooting at them. How would that hurt the enemy, unless he dies laughing?
On the advice of the Pagi, that Colonel also builds a dam across the creek and then destroys it, all in one night, flooding away half the attackers. Meanwhile, the Pagi carries out ‘pest control’ against the remaining Paki soldiers, who respectfully refuse to shoot him, even as he uses only an axe, like Thor, to hack a hundred of them. Why bro, why?
Next, we meet a local lady who kills a computer-generated leopard with a single stroke of a sickle and then sings a patriotic song before leading a group of women to the airfield to repair it. Don’t forget, she also breaks her home to provide rubble to fill the enormous crater created by a bomb that did NOT explode!
So, they repair the runway, just when a spoilsport Paki plane promptly drops another bomb and creates another crater, which they immediately repair, even as the Commander – and his wife – drive a road-roller on top of it! They do this all in a few hours, while our ubiquitous pilot friend is orbiting overhead Bhuj airfield.
This is the same fighter pilot who had crashed his MiG-21 and walked out unscathed; who went to Punjab to console his friend’s grieving mother; who apprehended a spy by hitting him on the head with a soda bottle, wasting perfectly bubbly soda instead of adding it to his rum; and who has now learnt to fly a transport plane, as if shifting from one aircraft to another is as easy as driving an Indica after driving a Maruti – all in a matter of a week. Makes us wonder if the IAF had only one pilot those days!
But he has damaged the nosewheel of his plane during take-off, so he pulls off a stunt copied from a fake video that did the rounds last year, and lands with his plane’s broken nose resting on a fast-moving truck, driven by – who else – the omnipotent Base Commander! Then the 450 soldiers still standing – yes, standing – inside the plane drive off to the border post, but all in vain, because the Paki tanks, scared by our bottles and bullets, have already turned tail and gone home.
Finally, everyone lives happily ever after. Everyone, except the viewer, who is either laughing hysterically at the incredulity of it all or is in tears at the realisation of having been duped into wasting two good hours.
We can grant the filmmaker an ‘artistic licence’ to dramatise a few scenes and allow for the ‘suspension of disbelief.’ But here, they’ve distorted history, geography, science, strategy, tactics and civil engineering so much, that they demand a ‘suspension of intelligence!’
The OTT platform showing this film has declared the movie as suitable for ages 7 and above. I believe it should be age 7 and below, because only 6-year-olds might enjoy it.
If you are – or were – interested to know about the movie, you can thank me for saving you two hours and bid goodbye.
But if you want to know history and facts about the IAF and Bhuj, read on.
Let’s get the facts out of the way first and then we can deal with the film’s follies.
Yes, the brave ladies of Madhapar did come to the airfield and help repair the runway.
Yes, Squadron Leader Vijay Karnik did command Bhuj airbase before and during the 1971 war.
Yes, Ranchoddas Pagi did work as a scout for our Army in 1965 and 1971 wars.
This, I’m afraid, is all that is right with the movie.
And this is what is not.
No, Squadron Leader Karnik was not partying, singing and dancing the night the PAF attacked. Our armed forces had been on high alert for months and were quite ready when Pakistan launched preemptive strikes on 3rd December 1971.
Bhuj was a forward base, technically called a C&MU – Care and Maintenance Unit, to offer staging facilities for our aircraft going towards Pakistan and emergency recovery for those returning. The IAF conducted all operations from Jamnagar airbase, which is 100 km south of Bhuj.
No, Kutch is not 50% water and 50% desert as they repeatedly assert in the movie, which reminds me of Asrani, the jailer in ‘Sholay’, ordering half his men to go left, the other half to the right and the ‘remaining’ to follow him. So where is the ‘remaining’ land for the people in Kutch to live on?
No, Kutch is also not an island that Pakistan could cut off from India by destroying just three bridges.
No, by 7th Dec 71, India had not already captured Bangladesh, for Pakistan to want to capture Kutch in retaliation.
No, we don’t park precious planes in the open for the enemy to destroy them on the ground. We camouflage the fighter planes, in readiness for combat, inside strong concrete structures called ‘blast pens’ that protect them against bomb blasts. And we park bigger transport planes at airfields far away from the borders.
No, the pilots don’t have to run a marathon to reach their fighter planes. They sit in blast protected semi-underground bunkers nearby.
No, the Station Commander does not fire anti-aircraft guns. We have experts from Air Defence Artillery for that. Nor does he physically fight the spies or drive road-rollers.
No, the plane meant to ‘defend’ will not have rocket pods and bombs fitted on it. Those are meant for ground attack, not air defence.
No, we don’t run around like headless chicken when an airbase is under attack. We preserve our life, limb and energy to retaliate later.
No, we don’t hang around over enemy airfields to get shot down by the defending missiles and guns. We make one high-speed pass, drop the bombs and get away to fight another day.
No, you don’t have the time and the opportunity to stare at your opponent in air combat. That may have been possible from the slower airplanes of World War I in 1917, not in 1971.
No, we don’t discuss matters like Mom’s knee operation during dangerous wartime missions across the border. There are more urgent matters to attend to, during the flight.
No, you can’t send pilots – valuable and scarce assets – from Jamnagar in Gujarat to a village in Punjab to console a friend’s mother in the middle of a war that lasts just two weeks. They would deal with these matters after the war.
No, you couldn’t speak on a land line phone from Bhuj to some place in Pakistan in 1971. Those days, you could hardly get a trunk call through from Mumbai to Delhi.
No, it is not possible to drop a bomb with the precision of a jeweler placing a gem in a necklace. At least not in 1971. In Bhuj too, 90% of the bombs dropped by the PAF missed the runway.
No, the IAF did not have a transport plane big enough to carry 450 soldiers. And you can’t create space in the aircraft by making the passengers stand. It’s not a State Road Transport Corporation bus!
No, an IAF officer will not go around – even in war – with his tie half open. That would be a disrespect to his uniform.
No, the IAF did not wear the blue uniform in 1971. They wore khakis in summers and Bhuj is never cold enough, even in December, to wear the winter uniform.
No, you cannot replace research and logic with computer graphics and special effects.
No, we should not make movies without specialist consultants.
Please scroll to the bottom of the page for the author’s books.
Images courtesy the IAF archives.
On the top is the aerial reconnaissance photo of Dhaka runway after it was bombed by the IAF in 1971 war.
The second photo is actually of the brave Madhapar ladies helping to repair the runway, taken during the war.