Ex-Uri Brigade Commander: ‘You Watch a Film for Fun, Not Facts’

Ex Uri Brigade Commander Syed Ata Hasnain watched Uri, and this is what he has to say. 

5 min read
Image of ‘Uri’ film poster (L), and ex Uri Brigade Commander Syed Ata Hasnain (R), used for representational purposes.

If you are looking for judgement on the film –‘Uri: the Surgical Strike’, then it is good to commence this film review by being upfront.

I can do this by unequivocally stating that the Ronnie Screwvala film is a highly-entertaining film – well-acted, story-lined and well-directed.

However, if you are going to watch it for the sake of gaining some insight into how military operations at the LoC are conducted, then forget it. As a former Commander of the Uri Brigade, I can say that realism is not the strongest part of the film, but then again, I did not expect it from the film.

So, let’s start by examining what exactly appealed to me as a soldier, and one who has seen much of this through one’s career.


A Clear Theme

The film chooses a clear theme; the terror attack and the tragedy of losing 20 good men who were killed virtually in their sleep; and the revenge operation across the LoC which saw the Indian Army’s Special Forces (SF) launched against multiple terror bases, causing immense damage to terrorist life and property.

The director has done well to divide the film into clear chapters, and the initiation is not with Uri or anywhere in J&K, but with Manipur.

It’s the 4 July 2015 NSCN (K) ambush on a de-inducting army unit that sets the story of Major Vihaan Singh Shergill (played with aplomb by Vicky Kaushal), a Para Special Forces (SF) officer. Vihaan and his sub-unit are tasked to carry out the retribution against the NSCN(K). In fact this is one of the best parts of the film.

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Meticulously Directed War Action Scenes

The raid into wherever, against the rebels, executed as a heliborne operation, is meticulously directed and filmed as one of the best war action scenes in Indian films that I have seen.

The SF commandos all look physically fit and probably trained genuinely with the uniform, weapons and equipment of the SF; quite evident from the brisk and tactical movements, quite unlike most Bollywood films.

Post this operation, Vihaan Singh seeking premature retirement to look after his ailing mother is prevailed upon, to instead take a desk job at the HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS). This sets up the story of his close friend (also an SF officer) being killed in the Uri terror attack while responding to and neutralizing the terrorists. The esprit de corps of the Para SF is well captured in the intervening scenes.

Then comes the opportunity to seek retribution once again through the surgical strikes across the LoC. Major Vihaan volunteers for this task by walking up to the Army Chief, and receiving approval and his brief.


More Fiction, Less Fact

The rest of the film is all about the setting up and preparation for the surgical strike, with details of the intelligence build up, planning, equipment and execution. It keeps the viewer glued, delves much into fantasy, and remains entertaining right through.

It’s however, the lack of detail which is disheartening, especially since a veteran Army officer was the film director’s advisor. A critique of this is necessary lest the viewer is left to believe that operations are planned in the manner shown, and ‘fantastical equipment’ is available for the asking.

Firstly, the planning. It is acceptable that a strategic operation of this nature will probably have the involvement of the highest executive authority.

However, it isn’t a very encouraging commentary to see that the Army, of which the Para SF is a part, is not trusted to come up with the first plan in its Military Operations (MO) Directorate, and instead it’s the HQ IDS which becomes the nerve centre; the exact opposite happens in reality.

That is still good enough, but here, the Army Chief and the Northern Army Commander, standing out because of their poor character and personality representations, appear to be just resource providers, and ready to receive orders such as when to commence firing at the LoC, reduce and increase its intensity. The DGMO is of course nowhere to be seen.

The service community is already rather upset with the way planning for the strategic operation is seen to be presented in the film.

But as said before, it is not reality that one is seeking from the film; in fact this is where the film steps into the world of fantasy which remains glaring hereafter.

Inaccurate Use of Military Symbols

A young Para SF Major is tasked directly by a civilian authority; actually a Commanding Officer of a Para SF unit is the lowest-ranking officer who could receive such orders considering that such units are considered strategic in nature; the orders would only follow the Army’s strict hierarchical chain of command. Further, it is not even Major Vihaan’s unit which is performing the service in the Northern Command, because that remains a northeast specialist force.

Of course, it is pointless pointing out to Bollywood directors that formation signs in the Army have some meaning. Major Vihaan works at HQ IDS while sporting a Southern Command sign.

The Army Chief wears his rank correctly but his sahayak seems to have put his older formation sign of Eastern Command on his uniform forgetting that the Army Headquarters has a sign of its own.

Of course Vihaan’s other Para SF colleague chooses to wear a sign of the HQ ARTRAC. As a matter of detail the director should have been told that Para SF officers never wear a ceremonial peak cap (Vihaan wears one in the wreath laying scene)


Fantastical Inputs By the Director

All this being said, the narrative is interesting, which depicts a high- level civilian security executive being taken to select a proto-type mini UAV being developed by a young rookie scientist, and getting it employed in the intelligence and surveillance build up for the operation.

Of course, the idea comes from existing technology in the world, also showcased in the Hollywood film ‘Eye in the Sky’. Such penetrative technological capability however, does not exist in India as of now, although it is likely to be available in the future much to the chagrin of terrorists.

The terror attack on the Uri base is well filmed, revealing the deception carried out by the terrorists, but here too, some advice may have added to the portrayal of ‘reality’. A tank looms in the background a la the Samba terror attack; Uri has no tanks.

In reality, the entire operation was restricted to a 200x200 metre patch of buildings, dugouts, bunkers and temporary sheds. There were no resident Para SF men there. So, the dimensions of the base shown in the film and the type of buildings are not representative; neither is the chain-link fence, as, all Uri had for protection was a single-strand wire fence with some lighting and sentries.

Similarly, the terrorist camps which were raided in reality are a couple of ramshackle ‘kothas’ (improvised gypsy-type dwellings). But then, as stated at the beginning, you don’t go to watch a film to find fault, but to get your money’s worth of entertainment. And that in ‘Uri: the Surgical Strike’, is in plenty.

(The writer, a former GOC of the Army’s 15 Corps, is now associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies. He can be reached at @atahasnain53. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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