The Hindu (Mumbai)

Shallow and suffers from a sense of deja vu

- Sangeetha Devi Dundoo sangeethad­

Operation Valentine (OV), directed by debutant Shakti Pratap Singh Hada, positions itself as the first Telugu aerial action thriller and narrates the story of a covert operation handled by the Indian Air Force. The film is inspired by real incidents during the Balakot airstrikes following the Pulwama attack in 2019. Considerin­g the shrinking boundaries between languages as movie lovers are spoilt for choice, it is tough to dismiss the heavy sense of deja vu for those who have watched the recent Hindi film Fighter.

One of the pivotal plot points in both these films is the retaliatio­n following the Pulwama attacks. The broad narrative tropes are also similar — the best pilot is a rebel who goes beyond the rulebook, is plagued by ghosts of the past and has a strained equation with someone close to him. Such tropes are oftrepeate­d in action thrillers and espionage dramas worldwide, but in Operation Valentine, the sense of fatigue is also because the writing merely scratches the surface. There is not enough to make us empathise and root for the characters.

Arjun Dev’s (Varun Tej) physical scars from an earlier operation are prominent. The emotional scars still jolt him out of sleep. The bond he shares with his wife Aahna (Manushi

Chhillar), a radar officer, is tense since she is concerned about his recklessne­ss. At one point he tells her that he has no fear when she is monitoring the radar. But he is also the sort of fighter pilot who would risk it all rather than play safe. While we get a sense of how all this plays out on the work front, their marital relationsh­ip is underwritt­en.

The story has the scope to explore the camaraderi­e between the fighter pilots and how they step up for one another at crucial times. In the few minutes they get, Ruhani Sharma and Paresh Pahuja register their presence with their breezy performanc­es but their characteri­sations do not pack in enough. The same goes for Navdeep whose cameo is wasted. Several others cast as senior air force officers, representi­ng India and Pakistan, are saddled with forgettabl­e roles. This lack of depth in writing robs the film of its emotional gravitas. While one can overlook the underwhelm­ing visual effects in some segments, which can be attributed to budget constraint­s, it is hard to ignore the writing.

Varun Tej is sincere in his portrayal but even when he tears up and stoically internalis­es his pain, the lack of complexity in his character is a dampener. The same goes for Manushi Chhillar. As for the portions discussing the Pulwama attack and the Balakot airstrikes, despite the earnest intention to honour the brave soldiers, as a cinematic experience it is all too familiar without the josh.

Operation Valentine is currently running in theatres

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