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‘Yodha’ review: Actioner more or less gets the job done

This Sidharth Malhotra hijacking film is enjoyable, surface-level genre fare

Sidharth Malhotra in 'Yodha'
Sidharth Malhotra in 'Yodha'

The opening 15 minutes of Yodha are pure military-patriotism porn. There's the formation of a special task force called Yodha, its founder (Ronit Roy) passing on the legacy to his teenage son, Arun, before dying in the field. Then, in 2001, on the Indo-Bangladesh border, Arun (Malhotra), now a Yodha soldier himself, disobeys orders (“No one taught me how to negotiate”), single-handedly wipes out a contingent of terrorists and sets off a saffron, white and green flare. One love song later, Arun is back in action, this time aboard a hijacked plane. At this point, something weird happens. The film starts to get better.  

It may seem like I’m damning Yodha with faint praise, but I really didn’t expect Sagar Ambre and Pushkar Ojha’s film to tighten its hold on me as it went along. This is partly because commercial Hindi cinema of late has erased hope from my life, and partly because of Malhotra’s track record. His last two actioners were the dunderheaded spy film Mission Majnu and the risible Rohit Shetty series, Indian Police Force. It’s a familiar problem with Hindi action: the stars best suited for it—Malhotra, Tiger Shroff, Vidyut Jammwal—are usually in terrible films.

Yodha kicks into gear as Arun’s fortunes plummet. He's unable to prevent the hijack, and the plane takes off with a nuclear scientist; though the government negotiates with the terrorists, they return his dead body. Yodha is blamed and suspended indefinitely. The film then jumps ahead a few years, with Pakistani terrorists planning to disrupt a trip by the Indian ‘head of state’ (the film indicates, but seems reluctant to say, ‘prime minister’) to Pakistan by activating an unnamed Indian spy. In the next scene, Arun, about to board a flight to Dubai, gets a text message to get on a flight to London instead. With the plane about to take off, he gets another message saying a hijack is underway. 

This is the best passage of the film: a hijacking with no outward signs of one. It’s a while before the spy’s identity is revealed, and the film makes good use of Malhotra’s confused energy as he engages the help of flight attendant Laila (Disha Patani) and trainee pilot Tanya (Kritika Bharadwaj), and keeps an eye on a shifty-looking passenger. A brutal, quick fight in the bathroom keeps the pressure on. The tension is only relieved with a stunning, chaotic sequence where Arun battles the now-revealed terrorist as the plane shudders through turbulence and they’re tossed around the cabin.

Sunil Rodrigues and Craig Macrae continue their fine run as action directors after Pathaan and Jawan. They build everything around their star’s grounded style: a faux one-er, a couple of close-quarters brawls, gunfighting and explosives at the end. Malhotra doesn’t have the expansive skills of Shroff or Jammwal, but he’s a very convincing no-nonsense fighter. There’s barely any slo-mo or stop-start action—a welcome change for an Indian film. 

Ambre (also the writer) and Ojha are first-time directors; like Macrae and Rodrigues, they worked on Pathaan. Their film follows Tiger 3 in staging a terrorist threat on Pakistani soil so India can play saviour. It’s difficult to say whether this patronizing attitude is better than the pantomime villainy of the Pakistanis in, say, Fighter. As usual, Kashmir is the hook to hang all the nation's problems on. Having Arun’s estranged wife, Priyamvada (Raashii Khanna), as secretary to the PM who doubles up as hostage negotiator and Big Decision Taker is about as convincing as these things usually are. This is solid genre fare without a single deep thought. In 2024, in Hindi cinema, it’ll do.

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