Yodha Review: Sidharth Malhotra-Disha Patani Are Both Fighting for ‘Best Action’

I had forgotten how enjoyable nonsense can sometimes be. By the time a flight attendant delivers a kick in a saree inside a cockpit or a hijacked plane pulls a Tokyo Drift in Pakistan, you’re left enjoying Yodha for just how silly it is.

Sidharth Malhotra in a still from Yodha.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

To the film’s credit (and I can’t believe this is something to be appreciated for but that’s the world we live in), it isn’t blatantly jingoistic. The Indian saviour still has to go to Pakistan to avert disaster because the security at Pakistan instantly crumbles in the face of the threat. So in comes Arun Katyal (Sidharth Malhotra) to save the day with his flying kicks and laser-like precision shooting. And, if you haven’t already guessed it, the film is set against a India-Pakistan peace deal in motion.

The concept of Yodha isn’t particularly novel or refreshing – a disgraced hero gets a second chance at redemption. Arun, having lost his father (Ronit Roy) in the line of duty, grows up with a dream to join Yodha, a special task force. This is the anti-Animal father-son relationship where a seemingly healthy relationship is what drives a son to make his father proud. It might be a trope we’ve seen multiple times before but, I’ll be honest, it gets me every time.

'Yodha' is currently running in cinemas.

Ronit Roy in a still from Yodha.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

We first see Arun in action during a hostage sequence in 2001 set at the Indo-Bangladesh water border. Arun moves and fights with such speed that you never know where he will next pop up from. He, of course, doesn’t follow orders and likes to fight alone. Usko hero banne ka bahut shauq hai.

The first person he sees after he returns from the mission is his wife Priyamvada (Rashii Khanna) who is ready to give him an earful for flouting orders. Priyamvada, who works at the New Delhi Secretariat is the additional secretary and is thus part of the same bureaucratic structure that her husband constantly challenges. I was wondering if there was scope for some delicious Mr and Mrs Smith-esque drama here but the drama here is more Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge.

'Yodha' is currently running in cinemas.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Honestly, that isn’t 100% accurate but the DDLJ references feel equally awkwardly placed in the film as well (except a ‘I don’t like jokes’ sequence in the end that I admit I hooted for). Now, we have a brief introduction into who Arun is (he is Tom Cruise from…well most of his films).

During a flight hijack at the Amritsar airport (I’m still wondering how that hijack situation ended the way it did), Arun finds himself stranded in a rescue operation. Stranded not because he isn’t equipped to handle the situation but mostly because protocol and an incompetent government official (and a target that just isn’t listening to him) act as hurdles. Naturally, the higher-ups in the chain of command don’t face consequences for the way things turned out and Arun faces the heaviest fire.

'Yodha' is currently running in cinemas.

Sidharth Malhotra in a still from Yodha.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

As I mentioned above, even the hijack sequence here is silly but not in a way that had me rolling my eyes. Directors Sagar Ambre and Pushkar Ojha do understand how to create tension – something complemented by action directors Craig Macrae and Sunil Rodrigues. The way they use space to show action is incredible actually. Most of the action takes place in the cramped spaces in an aircraft – including the washroom which I don’t remember ever being this big.

But then again, I was left wondering how everyone was so easily accessing the plane’s hold. Some of the silliness and lack of logic does get to you.

After this failed rescue attempt, both Arun’s personal and professional life is in danger and yet, he holds one thing closest to his heart – Yodha. So when he gets a second shot, you’re excited to see if the lovers will reunite (and if he will reunite with his wife). But the film throws a twist at you. This could go two ways – if you’ve given in to the film’s silliness, you will enjoy this immensely but if you haven’t…an exasperated sigh will leave you. I was part of the former.

'Yodha' is currently running in cinemas.

Raashii Khanna in a still from Yodha.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Will Arun win the fight with the system? Will this fight drive him to the dark side? Can Arun even be trusted anymore? By creating an unreliable narrator out of Arun, the film does keep you interested. But then the film starts its descent (I had to, I’m sorry).

In the second hijack, a number of ‘characters’ are introduced but some of their character arcs become clear from the get-go. There’s a student pilot on her way to get verified with over 200 flying hours under her belt, there’s an annoying uncle, a suspicious doctor, and a formidable but shifty man. Everyone is supposed to seem suspicious but only a few do. But when the screenplay lulls, the questions at the back of your head become louder.

'Yodha' is currently running in cinemas.

Sidharth Malhotra in a still from Yodha.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Why would someone trained to handle crisis situations just get on a random flight because of a cryptic text? Would I personally take a free trip to London? Yes, maybe but if it came with the mandate that I literally might not make it there, I would take a step back and question.

And why is the plane, or how is the plane, doing somersaults in the sky? And what are the passengers up to in all this? Have they just accepted their fate and are now just flying around the plane in limbo or stuck terrified to their seats with little to no consequence? Maybe the film just didn’t have the space to explore all that because that would take attention away from our ‘hero’.

'Yodha' is currently running in cinemas.

Disha Patani in a still from Yodha.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Disha Patani as the flight attendant on board matches Malhotra’s action – the way she performs fight sequences is arresting. Maybe there is potential for an action star there. Her dialogues too, fail to have an impact mostly also because they’re a little predictable. I would’ve loved to see more of Raashii Khanna – her chemistry with Malhotra was easy and convincing and so was her act as a bureaucrat stuck between work and love. The hostage negotiation scenes didn’t seem like the work of a professional but that too is mostly because of the shoddy dialogues.

Tanuj Virwani and Sunny Hinduja, though in considerably minor roles, do justice to every scene they’re in.

Towards the end, everything becomes way too convenient. I don’t understand airplane mechanics well enough to tell you if any of it makes sense but going by their track record, it probably doesn’t. Everyone is picnicking till Arun swoops in, Arun’s mother randomly shows up in scenes. Nobody is as capable as Arun.

I was more invested in Arun and Priyamvada fixing their marriage than I was in the rest of the film and maybe that doesn’t bode well for the genre. However, there is something at the center of the film that makes it an enjoyable movie to while away time at. And sometimes you really just need to kick back, relax, and watch some nonsense fun.


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Mission Majnu Review: Lively Performance By Sidharth Malhotra Helps Espionage Drama Spring To Life

Sidharth Malhotra in Mission Majnu.(courtesy: YouTube)

Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Rashmika Mandanna, Parmeet Sethi, Sharib Hashmi, Mir Sarwar, Kumud Mishra, Zakir Hussain and Rajit Kapur

Director: Shantanu Bagchi

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

An espionage drama that takes its own sweet time to warm up, Mission Majnu centres on a fictional RAW operation aimed at scuttling Pakistan’s secret nuclear programme in the 1970s. Woven into the patchy thriller is the love story of an Indian secret agent and a blind Pakistani girl. Neither strand of the narrative is able to keep flaccidity at bay.

The protagonist of Mission Majnu, streaming on Netflix, is an intrepid field operative torn between his duty to his nation and his fidelity to his wife. One poses a threat to the other. Much of the intrigue that the film generates hinges on the hero’s head-versus-heart conflict.

Mission Majnu, headlined by Sidharth Malhotra, flits between the personal and the professional to showcase the selfless patriotism of fearless spies who do their jobs in oblivion without any hope of ever being recognised and rewarded for their bravery. In this respect, it is no different from other spy thrillers of the day.

Mission Majnu, directed by Shantanu Bagchi and written by Parveez Sheikh, Aseem Arora and Sumit Batheja, wants us to applaud the heroic sacrifices that unsung undercover agents make in the list ne of duty. However, since the story isn’t set in contemporary times, it isn’t driven by brazenly bellicose chest-thumping.

It does not peddle the sort of shrill jingoism that Mumbai movies of this genre are wont to do these days. That welcome plus is, however, stubbed out by a major minus – a plot with weak sinews. It prevents the film from acquiring genuine heft.

Mission Majnu does not plunge into relentless action from the outset. It is well over an hour into the film that the first major fight sequence occurs. It takes place in a running train and atop it as the hero, on the run from the Pakistani army, dodges them bullets and fights back with all his might.

It is followed by several more action scenes and shootouts, including a climactic one in an airport, crammed into a space of about 30 minutes. Until Mission Majnu reaches its big turning point in its last quarter, it does not deliver any real explosions. More talk than action for the most part, the film struggles to hold our attention.

It is a tale of a man with a dark family past that he is determined to live down. He stops at nothing to obliterate his identity as he seeks to gather intelligence about Pakistan’s covert counter-moves in the wake of India’s first nuclear test in Pokhran in mid-1974.

Amandeep Singh (Malhotra), lives in Rawalpindi under the assumed name of Tariq Hussain. He works as a tailor’s assistant. He falls in loves with the tailor’s sightless niece Nasreen (Rashmika Mandanna) and marries her in the face of stiff opposition from the girl’s father.

Post-Pokhran, word leaks out that Pakistan is furtively developing its own nuclear bomb with the help of a scientist who has returned from the west at the behest of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (Rajit Kapur). Alarm bells begin to ring in Delhi.

The then Indian Prime Minister (Avantika Akerkar, in her third onscreen impersonation of Mrs Gandhi after the 2019 Thackeray biopic and the 2021 cricket drama 83) – Indira Gandhi isn’t actually named and is referred to only as Madam Prime Minister – greenlights an urgent mission under the guidance of RAW chief R.N. Kao (Parmeet Sethi) to ferret out the details of Pakistan’s plans.

Amandeep/Tariq is made the kingpin of the operation, named Mission Majnu. Among the people he works with is Aslam (Sharib Hashmi), a dhaba owner whose approach to intelligence gathering is far more aggressive and, therefore, prone to missteps.

Cliches like “Woh ek kattar desh hai” and “India is counting on him” – both of which are uttered by the PM, the former in obvious reference to Pakistan, the latter alluding to the halo around the hero who is about to be given his most important assignment of his career – abound in the first hour or so, giving the film a dull, hackneyed feel.

As it makes its way towards the finale, Mission Majnu gathers some momentum and takes a step away from the usual spiel about deshbhakti without succeeding in completely eliminating its vestiges. The hero has a point to prove to his detractors and his nation, but he resolves to perform his duty without sacrificing the well-being of his Pakistani wife.

One of the characters with whom Tariq works asserts that patriotism does not flow in one’s veins but resides in the soul. Deshbhakti khoon mein nahi rooh mein hoti hai, the man says, referring to the courage that the hero demonstrates in putting his life on the line in spite of knowing how that would put his wife in harm’s way.

Bolne waale toh bahut milenge par nibhane waale… (There is no dearth of those who harp on patriotism, but those that walk the talk…). It isn’t hard to grasp the drift of the man’s statement, especially when seen in the context of today’s hyper-nationalism.

The hero talks about love and peace, vows lifelong allegiance to his wife, is loath to lose his composure even in tight situations, and thinks twice before he acts. He isn’t a conventional man of ‘action’ but he knows what he is in Pakistan for. In every move that he makes, there is a dilemma at play, which makes him a far more interesting figure than most spies we encounter in Hindi cinema. Unfortunately, the film itself does not measure up.

Mission Majnu tells what is clearly a fictional, at times even fantastical, story. It reimagines the circumstances that forced Pakistan to abort its nuclear programme in the 1970s. It rustles up a bunch of field operatives who go about the job of locating the site of General Zia-ul Haq’s planned nuclear test.

Mission Majnu does not deliver a thrill a minute nor does it produce any exceptional degree of tension and suspense. Yet, parts of the film, especially in the second hour, do spring to life. This is in part due to the lively performances from Malhotra, Hashmi, Kumud Mishra and Zakir Hussain.

Many of the key political players of the era, including General Zia (Ashwath Bhatt), Morarji Desai (Avijit Dutt) and Abdul Qadeer Khan (Mir Sarwar), are identified by name, but the undercover agents on the ground are all figments of the screenwriters’ imagination.

So, when Tariq is confronted by a bunch of Pakistani soldiers, he is a handful. But he isn’t projected as a high-flying superspy but only as a super-enterprising secret agent committed to a cause. Someone calls him a genius in a surprisingly matter-of-fact manner. His only mode of transport is a modest scooter.

It is the protagonist’s ordinariness that is as special as his valour. But this hero and Sidharth Malhotra’s interpretation of the character might have had a greater impact had this been a film less ordinary.

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