Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan’s story is the stuff legends are made of – the 26/11 martyr saved several lives and went down fighting terrorists in one of the deadliest terror attacks in India; NSG commandos remember his last words to be “don’t come up, I will handle them”. It’s with these very same selfless last words that the 2022 movie “Major” begins… a biopic celebrating the Major’s life and saluting his sacrifice.
Directed by Sashi Kiran Tikka, the film stars Adivi Sesh as Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and explores his life before he joined the army. So we get flashbacks of a little Sandeep completely in awe of men in uniform; the boy dreams of being joining the Indian forces when he grows up. Saiee Manjrekar plays Sandeep’s high-school sweetheart Isha, so there’s a romantic sub-plot before the story moves to how the Major and his team battled through the 26/11 siege at the iconic Taj Hotel.
The first 45 minutes of the film focussing on Sandeep’s personal life is slow, uninteresting and it’s largely because Adivi Sesh looks completely unconvincing as a teenager/high-school student. It makes you wonder why the makers didn’t use CGI to make him look younger/lankier, despite having an evidently lavish budget at their disposal; especially considering how older actors like Tabu (Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2) and Aamir Khan (Lal Singh Chaddha) have had their youthful charms digitally restored in onscreen, they look more fresh than Adivi Sesh. Prakash Raj and Revathi play onscreen Mr & Mrs Unnikrishnan, and despite having small cameos, they kind of steal Sesh’s thunder with their powerfully poignant performances as parents who lose their only son.
‘Major’ shines best when the action-packed part of the 26/11 attacks unfold – from the terrorists’ arrival by boat, multiple bombings, the takeover of Taj hotel, a murderous massacre and the eventual face-off with armed forces. Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan leads NSG commandos to battle an unknown number of terrorists rampaging through the gilded corridors of the Taj hotel. Some of the violence is surprisingly mellow, perhaps to make the material more family friendly, so the intensity of bloody-trail doesn’t register the way it otherwise would’ve. Sobhita Dhulipala plays a hotel guest called Pramoda Reddy, and is the only victim who gets some sort of story to herself. The rest are just nameless animals in a slaughterhouse.
The second-half feels like a completely different film altogether, it’s paced like an action thriller, with tense moments and well-crafted combat scenes. But just when the plot thickens, the pace is unduly disrupted by the nonlinear story-telling – we get a flashback of Adivi Sesh’s private life amid the carnage, to drive home the point how soldiers are made to put their family life on the backseat to drive the country forward. Prakash Raj literally says it in a voice-over – soldiers make many personal sacrifices for their nation. Sashi Kiran Tikka and team forget the golden rule of “show and tell” and feel the need to blatantly voice the obvious. But thankfully, they don’t do it too often.
The climactic battle is slightly over-the-top, Adivi Sesh is almost Terminator-like in his final moments, a one-man army against a gang of terrorists. The exaggerations felt unnecessary, because when the pall of death finally falls upon Major Sandeep, it feels unreal, since they made him seem invincible. The emotional catharsis comes only after the news of his death reaches his parents ears and the couple breaks down. Revathi and Praskash Raj deliver gut-wrenching moments of grief, making the viewers feel their devastation. The film wraps up with a tearful farewell to the martyr and honors his memory as the hero he was.
You can stream the film on Netflix. It’s a 7/10 from me.
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