The backdrop is known history. It’s undivided Pakistan in 1970-71, it’s Pak-Chini bhai-bhai time and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (Dalip Tahil) with the Pak army and the ISI, is all set to attack India on its eastern front with an eye on breaking up India’s north-eastern states.
Indian Intelligence had got wind of a plot hatched across the border to hijack the Indian Airlines flight piloted by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv Gandhi, one of the triggers for India playing her hand in carving Bangladesh out of East Pakistan.
But India is ill-prepared for another war, this time with two inimical countries joining forces to attack stealthily and suddenly. Confidence is high among the ‘Janab’ spouting men in Lahore; lives and land will be lost when 40 planes fly into India and wreak havoc to bleed her.
With half-a-dozen names contributing to the screenplay and dialogues, writer-director Sankalp introduces fearless Intelligence officer Dev (Vidyut Jammwal) who uses equal measures of fearlessness and quick thinking to go into enemy territory, outwit the Pakistanis and rescue an Indian agent caught by them.
And then the main plot takes off with a flutter in the South Block. Intelligence has picked up news of the plot that has been hatched by China and Pak. IB Chief Awasthi (Anupam Kher) creases his forehead with worry. How can India thwart an attack that’s due to happen in 10 days?
It’s brainy Dev who comes up with the bright counter to the devious plot. We get Pakistan to block our air space.
It’s a bold and brilliant plot. Even more exciting because it is based on true events.
Stage a hijack, force land on Pak soil and mislead young ‘Azad Kashmir’ fighter Qasim (Vishal Jethwa) from PoK to create circumstances that lead to Indian air space being legitimately blocked.
With quick thinking and undaunted Dev in the pilot’s seat and 30 trained agents on board to take care of the unexpected inside Pakistan, the IB plot is executed with precision.
Unfortunately, the potent story (Aditya Shastri) handed to Sankalp isn’t executed with the same precision when it’s transformed into cinema. Falling short on his story-telling skills, the take-off is messy. Even if you know your history, the writing and direction are so confusing that Dev’s smart deciphering of the enemy’s mind and methods doesn’t get clearly conveyed to the viewer who’s left wondering what’s going on in Srinagar or who’s chasing whom and why. It’s here in Srinagar that Dev allows Qasim and accomplices to board the plane in order to use them to the Indian advantage at a crucial time.
But Dev’s ingenious thinking is lost with Sankalp’s weak handling of a plot that should be evoking patriotic fervour. What could’ve been another thrilling Uri-like triumph thus turns flat for a bunch of reasons. The initial unclear writing improves after the plane lands in Pakistan and is followed by a bit of watchable action when the going gets tense. At least you finally know who the Indian forces are, who they’re up against and what’s their goal before they fly back, mission accomplished.
However, with loud, obvious background music that almost spells out what each scene is about, the confusion at the beginning and the lack of well-written excitement lead to the viewer not exactly standing up and cheering. Which should have been the spontaneous reaction when a brave Indian officer thwarts Pakistan and China and returns home victoriously. Honestly, an Indo-Pak cricket match has more excitement than Sankalp’s film.
Additionally, Vidyut Jammval is best at bone-crunching action which is at a minimum with more emphasis on his brainwork which is not his strong suit. Vishal Jethwa happily hams it up with his passion for ‘Azad Kashmir’ that brings an intended chuckle now and then.
Sitting in India, Anupam Kher gives gravitas to his role. But it’s the men out in the field who had to do the heavy lifting. Regrettably, a lightweight screenplay grounds to a large extent what should have been an important cinematic document chronicling the brilliance of Indian Intelligence that foiled a monster plan against the country.
Watch the trailer of IB 71:
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