Tejas Runtime: 112 minutes
The plot has it all. A woman in the cockpit, her comrade in arms another female pilot. Camaraderie, daredevilry, desh bhakti and a tense rescue mission that gets extra fuel from a personal tragedy.
Writer-director Sarvesh Mewara also makes an effective beginning. A plane has crashed into the sea, the pilot’s parachute is spotted on an island. Tejas Gill (Kangana Ranaut) with teammate Aafiya (Anshul Chauhan) are ordered to return. Abort mission, the island’s out of bounds. But saving a soldier’s life is more important than obeying an order.
Tejas Gill’s tunnel-visioned courage that puts mission before rules is established without much ado. Top Gun has competition.
Described as an oddball by her seniors in the IAF who also admire her duty-driven guts, Sarvesh has a good story to mould into good cinema. Tejas has always had a fascination for the indigenously manufactured fighter plane, beats the boys hollow in her homework and hard work and when the fight against terror has a personal sorrow, her line (which was in the promo) is spot on: ‘Terror should be personal for everybody’.
There is much that works for the film.
Early into her training, when Tejas is asked what she sees before her from the cockpit, she comes up with a nice line: the runway is the path to serve her country.
Kangana’s earnestness and the strength in her slim frame give substance to Tejas.
The plot points are also interesting: a bit of the Daniel Pearl beheading is mixed with the story of an Indian spy being caught in Pakistan (both true events) which has a strong connect with the on-ground reality of terror.
A rescue mission from inside Pakistan using our Tejas fighter plane with Norwegian help is a refreshingly new plan, as is the power of illusion.
There is nail-biting tension from the time the plane lands in Pakistan till it finally takes off with Pak army men sniffing all around and inside it. The dog that raises an alert was also a good addition to the building tension.
A climax that has a dogfight over Pak airspace intercut with a terror attack on the Ram mandir in India is cinematically correct grammar.
Saving the best for the last, Tejas is the first film that has two women pilots (not lesbians, fortunately) working together in perfect sync and standing up for each other. There is a bit of wit too over Aafiya’s breakup story, her tendency to be filmi and her line, “Fortunately for you, I’m not free,” when a male colleague wants to date Tejas.
But most of all, it is the danger-fraught two-women rescue mission that really uplifts the pilots from the ordinary. When Aafiya wonders if failure would have people asking why two women were sent on such a mission, Tejas’ promise sums it up: a time will come, she predicts, when people will ask why women weren’t sent to get the job done.
But there are weaknesses in Sarvesh’s storytelling that set back this feisty tale.
One, thechoice of comic book animation in the credits takes away the grounded gravity of this kind of cinema. This is not a sci-fi Marvel film for God’s sake.
Two, the back-and-forth timelines at the beginning are a bit hazy before it settles down to the clarity of the mission.
Three, we are tired of watching the training regimen with a background song that’s become such a cinematic bore. It’s topped with no take-home music too, though Tejas’ moment of romance is with Ekveer, a singer.
Four, however sincere Kangana may be, every hero needsa strong support staff.With the exception of Ashish Vidyarthi who plays her senior, there are far too many unfamiliar faces. Anshul Chauhan as Aafiya, Varun Mitra as Ekveer, Rohed Khan as Sarqalam the terrorist, the lost goes on.
Some of the situations and dialogues are too contrived. Among them count the time Tejas and Aafiya rescue hardened Indian spy Prashant. He who has borne the torture and imminent beheading by Sarqalam with professional stoicism needing to be energised by Tejas who throws his own line at him is too pat, too convenient. Losing the impact of ‘Hum udteudtejaayenge, is desh ka kaamaayenge.’
The last dialogue of what a soldier wants needed to be written with more punch, more energy, more memorable lines. You miss the ‘How’s the josh?’ kind of booster shot.
However, the patriotism, the tense edge-of-the-seat moments, the unconventional rescue plan and Tejas’ determination to use her last missile are huge pluses.
Tejas – Watch Or Not?: Watch it to applaud the women in the cockpit.