By: The Cinema Cynic
The Ghazi Attack is one of the most ambitious films ever undertaken by a relatively new Director. Given the fact that India has made relatively few war movies and even fewer involving the navy, Sankalp Reddy must be credited with attempting the challenging task of directing a submarine based tale.
At the outset, let it be clear that it is highly unlikely that any incident involving the real Indian submarine S21 (the INS Karanj) caused the PNS Ghazi to sink. Very few submarines – perhaps as few as three – have been sunk by other submarines and had the INS Karanj pulled off such a feat, it would not have been kept a secret. The ship that did more to sink the PNS Ghazi than any other, was the decrepit ex-Royal Navy World War Two destroyer INS Rajput – D141 (formerly the HMS Rotherham – H09) which receives short shrift in this movie – sad since the INS Rajput faced the PNS Ghazi under no illusions about its chances for survival.
That said, as much as I have some reservations about fictionalizing a historical event to this extent (especially when the actual wreck suggests that the PNS Ghazi was sunk by an internal explosion probably triggered in part by damage inflicted by the depth charges of INS Rajput), it has to be remembered that this is a movie based on a novel based on the PNS Ghazi’s sinking. This is nowhere as egregious as the nonsensical and offensive rewriting of history in the Hollywood movie U-571 where the Americans claimed credit for a British operation.
Sankalp Reddy’s film may attract differing views on the quality of acting and on the characterization of the different sides. I take a somewhat generous view of this as the acting was better than many Western war movies and the caricaturing of the Pakistanis was not especially obnoxious and certainly less so than Hollywood’s penchant for stereotyped and racist portrayals of Indians, Arabs, Russians or any other group it considers fair game (the men that is – the women are always shown as fetishized objects who fawn over American male leads).
However, a question that has to be asked is – how much did the director get right? Was this movie fact, fiction or farce? We can immediately say that the sinking of the PNS Ghazi by S21 is not fact. But does fiction degenerate into farce?
At about the 8-minute mark, the lack of research or directorial laziness comes to the fore. I know of no naval officer in Pakistan – past or present – who would refer to the Breguet Alizé (which was seriously mispronounced) as a “jet” (it was a turboprop aircraft). There was some additional laziness with the otherwise decent CGI rendering of the INS Vikrant, which seemed to be carrying S-70 Seahawk helicopters (the Sea Hawks the INS Vikrant carried were jets). Then the icing on the cake – the implication that the INS Vikrant had long-range rocket launchers. For the record, until its decommissioning in 1997, the INS Vikrant carried no missile launchers.
This is absolutely inexcusable nonsense and at no cost could have been avoided. Another bit of garbage was the revolver the Captain of the S21 draws on his subordinate – I think that was supposed to be a Colt Python (or an airsoft replica) – was totally wrong as the Indian navy has never used such a sidearm and again a completely avoidable error was made.
What is quite accurate, however, are the silhouettes of the submarines. The S21 looks like the Foxtrot-class vessel that was the real INS Karanj. The PNS Ghazi’s representation is externally almost correct. As far as the interiors were conerned, I thought that the S21 was well recreated. It is hard for a modern audience to appreciate how primitive conditions and machinery was on the Foxtrot-class which had its genesis in late model German U-boats from World War Two. As far as the PNS Ghazi was concerned, the last Tench-class boats (PNS Ghazi was originally the USS Diablo) left service a long time ago and I thought that the director did a good job under the circumstances. The claustrophobic, cramped and miserable working environment within submarines was well portrayed.
I was pleasantly surprised at the torpedo launch and eventual torpedo duel scenes. It is clear that the director drew inspiration from Das Boot (probably the finest submarine warfare program ever made) to convey the emergencies and scenarios faced by submarines in their battle to survive. I have noted some uninformed reviewers commenting on the number of torpedoes fired as opposed to the number of hits. That reflects their ignorance. A ratio of 8 launches and two hits would have been deemed quite good against another submarine.
Another aspect that was good were the scenes at Eastern Naval Command when they begin to suspect the PNS Ghazi is on the loose. It is a matter of record that it was an intercept requesting the stockpiling of lubricants only used by submarines and minesweepers tipped off the Indian navy to Pakistan’s plan to sail the PNS Ghazi to then East Pakistan. This scene, while too short, was well captured by the director.
The CGI work was not impressive, particularly in the final scene – played for some melodrama – showed an Indian warship coming up to the surfaced S21. For the life of me, I could not identify what that ship was supposed to be. Some of this could be due to the lighting of the CGI images which didn’t work out as well as it might have done.
While I enjoyed The Ghazi Attack and credit Sankalp Reddy for some very good work and ambitions, I cannot but be appalled at the continuing avoidable errors in detail that continue to plague Indian cinema. In a war movie, these are magnified into cringe-inducing blunders. The chalta hai attitude in these circumstances is unacceptable.
However, I would like to suggest that the whole premise could have been even more gripping had it portrayed events as they actually happened. The Indian deception campaign and incredible intelligence campaign which saw the sailing of the INS Vikrant and her air group out of harm’s way and then deceiving the Pakistanis by using the ageing INS Rajput to mimic the carrier and her signals culminating in the depth-charge attack on the PNS Ghaziand her subsequent destruction could have made for a thrilling movie. Sometimes the truth is more incredible than fiction and should be told without embellishment.