Movie Review: The Ghazi Attack (2017)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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This is a review of the Hindi version of The Ghazi Attack.

The novelty factor of an Indian submarine movie is plenty of reason to watch The Ghazi Attack, though the film itself is only so-so.

Set in 1971, when Bangladesh was East Pakistan, the film follows an Indian submarine as it tracks the Pakistani sub PNS Ghazi through the Bay of Bengal. The story is based on real-life events, though both countries differ on what actually happened.

Tensions are high as Pakistan cracks down on suspected Bengali militants in East Pakistan. India sends an aircraft carrier to the Bay of Bengal to disrupt the seaward supply route, and Pakistan dispatches the Ghazi in response. With all of its vessels otherwise occupied, the Indian Navy sends its own sub — the S21 — to investigate.

The S21 isn’t the Navy’s first choice, because its captain — Ranvijay Singh (Kay Kay Menon) — has a reputation for a hair-trigger. Singh is under orders not to fire on the Ghazi, but the admiral (played by Om Puri) doesn’t trust the captain. The admiral sends Lt. Commander Arjun Verma  (Rana Daggubati) on the mission to stop Singh from starting a war, no matter what.

Cynicism regarding institutions is expected in Hindi movies, with the government, the police, and the judiciary frequently portrayed as inept or callous, if not outright hostile to ordinary citizens. The Navy brass aren’t depicted that way in The Ghazi Attack. The admiral and his staff take a wide view of the conflict that seeks to minimize civilian casualties by avoiding war, if possible.

Captain Singh is cut from the same cloth as many Bollywood heroes: a man of action whose inherent righteousness empowers him to define morality as it suits him. He sees his only job as killing the enemy — the enemy being anyone in a Pakistani military uniform.

Singh’s sense of purpose stems from personal revenge, not any virtuous higher calling. He’s not fundamentally at odds with his military superiors — he just sees them as overly cautious — but his vendetta against Pakistan compels him to ignore the chain of command. Anyone harmed in his pursuit is collateral damage.

Verma’s presence serves not only as a check on Singh’s actions but provides an alternative moral point-of-view. Verma risks his own life to rescue two refugees from the wreckage of a merchant vessel sunk by the Ghazi: a little girl and a doctor named Ananya (Taapsee Pannu).

As debutant director Sankalp Reddy’s film progresses, Singh’s “shoot first” morality is unexpectedly endorsed as the preferred code of conduct, at least in terms of dealings between India and Pakistan. Singh is not only willing to risk the lives of the soldiers under his command in order to sink the Ghazi, he doesn’t care what happens as a result of his actions: not to himself, and not to the hundreds of thousands of civilians who would be endangered in the event of all-out war.

Things get downright silly when Indian patriotism is weaponized. The captain of the Pakistani sub (played by Rahul Singh) is driven into a blind rage just by hearing the Indian National Anthem.

Despite the movie’s questionable moral compass, The Ghazi Attack is enjoyable, thanks to compelling performances by Menon and Daggubati. Atul Kulkarni also deserves kudos as Executive Officer Devraj, a man whose personal views have more in common with those of Verma, but who trusts Singh enough to follow his dangerous orders. Pannu is wasted as a token female character who doesn’t even get to use her medical expertise when a pivotal emergency cries out for a doctor’s assistance.

It’s especially fascinating to see the kind of technology that powered Indian Naval submarines in the early 1970s. Maneuvers are executed by turning wheels and opening valves, which all looks ancient by contemporary post-digital standards (even though military submarine technology was already more than half-a-century old by the time of the events in the film). It’s a poignant reminder of the uniquely challenging conditions under which sailors wage war.


4 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Ghazi Attack (2017)

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  2. Vijay Dhawan

    “It’s especially fascinating to see the kind of technology that powered Indian Naval submarines in the early 1970s. Maneuvers are executed by turning wheels and opening valves, which all looks ancient by contemporary post-digital standards.”

    They are vintage subs already at the time of the movie. The Pakistani Ghazi was actually the USS Diablo, which was commissioned towards the end of WW2 in 1944. It was leased to Pakistan in 1964 after it was retired from the US Navy. The Indian S21 was the INS Karanj, which was technically only 2 years old at the time, but followed the Soviet Foxtrot design from 1957.

    But the reason for all the wheels is because that’s how submarines operate, even modern billion dollar subs. When you strip away the fancy electronics, a sub is just a tube with multiple compartments in which you can pump water in or out. Wheels control the valves between those compartments. And I don’t mean “strip away” figuratively, I mean those digital panels can actually be stripped away with your bare hands to expose the wheels underneath. Subs operate far from base and can’t pause mid battle to repair broken electronics, so they are designed such that access to mechanical controls is only seconds away, just a few inches below the glowy lights.

    There is also the plot point in the movie that the S21 is damaged by Pakistani mines and loses all movement in four directions. It can only go up or down, which is how they evade the Ghazi’s torpedoes. And up/down movement reduces to turning a wheel to open a valve to pump water.

    I agree with you that Tapasee’s character was wasted in the movie. Probably someone thought it would be funny to have her sing “Shonar Bangla” on an Indian sub, but that’s as far as he took that line of thought. Sometimes I think these story writers are just overgrown kids trolling the public. Or they should have left her out, why bring women into a 1971 story set aboard a submarine.

    The “weaponized patriotism” isn’t that cringy in context. The S21 is damaged and can only move up and down, it can’t even turn to bring its torpedo tubes to bear on the Ghazi. Meanwhile, the Ghazi sits at a safe angle and fires 11 torpedoes at the S21, which the S21 manages to evade by moving up and down. The S21 wants to lure the Ghazi to a better angle so it can shoot back.

    From the perspective of the Ghazi’s captain, it must have been frustrating. He’s wasted 11 of his 24 torpedoes on a disabled sub, and it’s still alive. He’s cautious so he doesn’t want to move from his safe spot to get a better angle, but he must worry that his crew interprets his extreme caution as cowardice. In that situation, to have everyone on his crew hear the Indians singing “Jan gana man” could be the last straw that prods him to move and line up for a better shot.

    It seems like an unlikely situation but similarly unlikely events also transpired between the US and USSR sub crews playing wargames beneath the waves during the cold war.

    1. Kathy

      Vijay, thank you so much for this thorough explanation of submarine mechanics! This is great. The continued reliance upon easy-to-manipulate, non-electronic parts makes perfect sense, though I’d never given it any thought before. Your explanation of the captain’s choices of how to maneuver the subs are terrific as well. This is one of my favorite comments. 🙂

      Oh, and I totally agree regarding Taapsee’s role in the film. I’m all for increasing the presence of women onscreen, but there has to be context for it.

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