Holiday: A Soldier Is Never Off Duty is an unapologetically patriotic film. Sadly, the flag-waving gets in the way of the plot and ultimately makes the film feel exploitative.
Writer-director A.R. Murugadoss puts himself in a pickle by making a standard issue one-man-wrecking-crew character into a government official. Akshay Kumar plays Virat, an army officer who’s also a covert agent of the D.I.A. (Defense Intelligence Agency).
He’s not a rogue agent or an officer who’s been wrongly accused and is trying to clear his name. As far as the movie explains, Virat is an agent of good standing working within the chain of command.
Virat interrupts his military leave to single-handedly dismantle a terrorist organization planning to bomb Mumbai. Virat tortures suspects, endangers civilians and his fellow officers, and coordinates complicated missions entirely outside of the justice system and without ever informing a superior officer of his actions.
If, as happens in the movie, a solitary D.I.A. or C.I.A. agent coordinated the public executions of a dozen people before a crime had been committed and without first trying to apprehend the suspects, everyone from the head of the Defense Department to the President would descend on that agent like the wrath of God. And what citizen in a democracy wants individual government agents to have the power to decide who lives and who dies without due process?
But there’s no time for ethical questions in Holiday because Virat needs to get married! As is the case for the protagonist in every one-man-wrecking-crew/supercop movie, Virat’s only character flaw is that he starts the movie without a girlfriend. He falls in love with Saiba (Sonakshi Sinha), who is only interesting for the duration of a dance number that showcases her athleticism. She spends the rest of the movie begging Virat to kiss her.
Holiday would’ve made more sense tonally had the first half been devoted to Virat romancing Saiba and the second half devoted to the terror plot. Instead, Murugadoss asks the audience to change gears on a moment’s notice. Ignore the fact that we just watched a bus full of children explode and cue the wacky sound effects: here’s Virat’s dim-witted Army commander, and he’s played by Govinda!
As with the wacky sound effects, Murugadoss always makes it explicit what emotions he’s trying to provoke. To instill fear, characters utter the phrase “sleeper cell” about a million times. There’s a lengthy montage of families saying tearful good-byes to soldiers as they ship out and a needless scene set in a home for wounded veterans. Since there’s absolutely zero chance that a character played by Akshay Kumar will be permanently maimed or killed in the course of a movie, these scenes feel like exploitation.
The movie also goes out of its way to paint police officers as less noble than army officers. Virat’s best friend, Mukund (Sumeet Raghavan), is a cop, and Virat spends most of the movie explaining the basics of terrorist cells to him. (Apparently, police don’t get any training in counter-terrorism, since it’s not like they’re the front line of defense in attacks on major metropolitan areas or anything.) Mukund responds by praising the selflessness and bravery of soldiers, as though police-work is totally safe.
Though the unnamed terrorist leader (played by Freddy Daruwala) comes up with some clever schemes, he fails to make use of the most obvious way to get to Virat. He threatens a bunch of Virat’s fellow soldiers, but never Mukund or Saiba, even though that’s who Virat spends all his time with.
In Holiday‘s defense, the fight scenes are better than those in most Hindi action movies, and there are a couple of catchy song-and-dance numbers. Besides that, Holiday is a potentially entertaining thriller wasted on behalf of a political agenda.