IB71 is a spy drama with no intrigue. Characters have access to so much information that there’s no sense of mystery, and obstacles are manufactured in silly ways. It’s a forgettable movie that feels designed to be forgotten.
Vidyut Jammwal chose IB71 to be his first film as a producer. He stars as an Indian spy named Dev. It’s late 1970, and Dev and his fellow intelligence officers are monitoring multiple threats. There’s unrest in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), and Pakistan and China plan to use that as pretext to take over India’s North Eastern Region. To do so, Pakistan would have to fly its military planes over Indian airspace to reach East Pakistan — an action India is powerless to stop without a formal declaration of war.
However, Dev thinks they might be able to trick Pakistan into committing an act of war, thereby allowing India to close its airspace. The intelligence bureau knows that separatists in Kashmir plan to hijack a plane in order to draw international attention to their cause. If India can get the separatists to hijack a plane of the Indian government’s choosing — one full of Indian spies, including Dev — they can trick the hijackers into landing in Pakistan and pin the blame on their neighbor to the west.
This plan gets rolling very early in the film thanks to India’s spy network already having access to all the relevant information. When there’s actual spying to be done, it’s goofy. Dev and his partner Sangram (Suvrat Joshi) make it very obvious that they are tailing one of the prospective hijackers in a Kashmiri town that seems like it only has a couple dozen residents, yet the guy being followed never notices them. When a Pakistani spy named Sikander (Danny Sura) needs to report to his superiors, his phone is out of service. He drives for hours to report in person instead of just finding another working phone.
Jammwal is renowned martial artist, but IB71 only has two major fight scenes. One scene is shot in a hallway during a blackout, so it’s hard to see what’s happening. In the other, Dev and the other characters wear baggy winter garb that obscure their movements. Jammwal’s fight scenes are usually the highlight of his films, but these feel utilitarian.
If Jammwal opted to get into production to expand his body of work beyond action films, IB71 was a poor choice because it offers him little to do acting-wise, despite his being onscreen almost the whole time. Dev appears to have no connections to anyone outside of work. His relationship with his partner Sangram is the closest we get to anything resembling friendship. Unfortunately, Sangram’s wife is pregnant, which bodes about as well for Sangram’s survival odds as if he were two days from retirement. Yet even that relationship lacks emotional impact.
IB71 feels so flat because the only emotion that matters in this kind of pro-India historical film is uncritical patriotism. The same problem plagued Mission Majnu earlier this year, but the main character in that movie had a wife, which raised the stakes for him and created internal conflict. Dev has nothing to choose between, since his life revolves entirely around his job. If he died, would anyone besides his co-workers even notice?
On top of that, the film is so pro-India that there’s a total mismatch between the countries involved. There was never a chance that Pakistan was going to achieve its goals, what with its unreliable telephone network and inferior pop music (something Dev scolds a Pakistani soldier about while in disguise). With the outcome telegraphed from the beginning and no emotional hook to the story, there isn’t much reason to watch IB71.