Actor-filmmaker Adivi Sesh has been fascinated by the courage and the story of late 26/11 hero Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan since he first saw the latter’s passport size photo on a news channel in San Francisco in 2008. Adivi has been a fan of Sandeep since and has collected every news clipping he could find on the braveheart. And the admiration for the real-life hero culminated in a three-hour-long action drama Major.
26/11 is not like the wars that play out at the edges of our land, whose ground conditions fall beyond our grasp of understanding. It was a war that took place right at the heart of our country. It had turned Mumbai into a war zone. And India’s elite force NSG (National Security Guard) was called in to lead the urban warfare. Sandeep and his hit team were put in alien terrain. They didn’t know where the terrorists are hiding. How many terrorists are in the building? What’s their plan? All they knew was they were duty-bound to protect the country against an unimaginable threat.
Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was just 31 when he died fighting terrorists at the Taj Hotel in 2008. A chapter in the book Black Tornado: The Three Sieges of Mumbai 26/11 has a detailed account of the last-minute decisions of Sandeep and how he single-handedly charged at the terrorists, pushing them into a corner and achieving a breakthrough in a deadly siege that had rattled the Indian security forces. In the process, he lost his own life, thus becoming the first NSG commander to die in action.
The siege itself provides such an explosive background to whip up an edge-of-the-seat movie. In an interview, Adivi Sesh had told me that the events of 26/11 were just a chapter in Sandeep’s life. And Major was not a film about how he died. But, it was an account of the colourful life he lived.
And Adivi Sesh gets most of it right. Major is not an authentic war movie. It’s very far from realism. Instead, Adivi, who has also written the movie, adds a liberal dose of familiar romanticism that’s typical of such movies made in India. The themes of this film are cliche. Director Sashi Kiran Tikka and editors Vinay Kumar Sirigineedi and Kodati Pavan Kalyan, however, weave the familiar themes into a non-linear narrative, which ebbs and flows.
Major is a very subjective narrative. Adivi has taken immense creative freedom tracing Sandeep’s evolution into an elite soldier from a gentle and kind young man. The film may just work for you if you just focus on the emotional component of it. The training montage of Sandeep feels rather inadequate in its staging as it doesn’t give us a sense of the towering power structure of the Indian army. The boot camp scenes would have benefited from a rather better production value and research. Instead, what we get is a frugally staged training camp, where our hero rarely runs out of breath, breaks into a sweat, has messy hair or loses the glow on his face. In every scene, Adivi looks as if he just got out of a saloon.
The narrative switches into thriller mode, when the story shifts to the Taj Hotel. Again, the staging is carried out without any regard for the rigid pecking order of the army. There are moments when the commanding officer takes command from the subordinate. Some consequential decisions in the military operation are taken based on emotions, rather than objective and strategic cues. A little authenticity would not harm the drama, no?
Prakash Raj and Revathy get to us with their performance as the parents of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan. And the romantic story between Sandeep and Isha, played by Saiee Manjrekar, also strikes a chord, thanks to the youthful exuberance. The camera explores Adivi’s face from different angles. And the camera has been put to use with the sole purpose of showing how good he looks in the movie.
Major is far from being perfect. Nevertheless, it’s an effective homage to the hero of 26/11.