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IB71 Review: A consistently engaging spy thriller

If you feel jaded by watching patriot spy stories with formulaic storytelling, IB71 shall come as a ‘surprisingly so good’ film.



Vidyut Jammwal in IB71

When an action hero is cast in a spy film, you expect him to do a lot of action. Martial artist-turned-actor Vidyut Jammwal, who rose to fame as John Abraham’s nemesis in Force (2011) has played an action hero in all his films. His production company is called Action Hero Films which serves as one of the producers of IB71. Surprisingly, there is only one full-blown action sequence in the film involving Jammwal.

And that’s a good thing for Vidyut has really worked on his performance in the film. He plays Dev Jammwal, an undercover Indian agent who is deployed on a mission during the 1971 war between West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

The basic premise is that the West Pakistani forces are aiming at an air strike on the East because that’s the only way they can attack them. But they have to pass through Indian Air Space. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) head (Anupam Kher) and Jammwal come up with a plan that would stop the West Pakistani forces from flying through Indian Air Space and attack East Pakistan. The details of this premise are best witnessed than described. Also, I hate to give spoilers.

Director Sankalp Reddy (The Ghazi Attack) has crafted a consistently engaging thriller with a team of writers. The film excels in almost all departments which are typically called technical departments. What’s a good thriller without kickass background music and sound? Without knowing the correct terminology of the profession, the common audience also marvels (or criticizes) at the value a great production design adds to the authenticity of the story, no?

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IB71 sets the tone from the word go. Jammwal walks into a Pakistani intelligence and security hub with absolute ease and rescues a captured Indian agent. Midway, he goes back to get some important ‘reels’ which he forgot at the security hub and secures them by tricking the Paki officials with convincing storytelling. Apart from 3-4 exciting action sequences, Jammwal and Co. have to play the waiting game. Just like it must be happening on any secret spy mission.

It was refreshing to see that Sankalp doesn’t force action set pieces or songs or contrived drama or jingoism. There’s only one shot of Tiranga (Indian tricolor flag) in the breezy climax, unlikely for a spy thriller. Despite having an action hero headlining the film, there’s no desperation to film him in as many ‘money shots’ as possible. For a substantial part, Jammwal remains observant of Qasim Qureshi (Vishal Jethwa, always in form), a terrorist who is planning to hijack an airplane.

It is evident in Jammwal’s performance that he has worked on himself as an actor. Never does the martial artist in him shows in his performance. He is in the company of two solid actors – Anupam Kher and Vishal Jethwa who continue to shine with every outing. Ashwath Bhatt as a Pakistani Official Afsal Aga is particularly good.

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IB71 doesn’t necessarily show the Pakistanis as fools which some Hindi films have done despite being based on true events. IB71 is also inspired by true events which we are acquainted with in the end credits. The fight in IB71 is about outsmarting each other by intelligence, not warfare, which is so rare for a mainstream Hindi movie. It is not about calling a war (which eventually did happen and India won it in 13 days), but it is about preventing an attack and saving many lives.

Credit must go to production designers and costume designers for creating a world as authentic as possible. The action by Lee Whittaker is edgy and it kills with skill. I couldn’t find many loopholes in the narrative except for the continuity of a character in the climax. One of the Indian agents disguised as an air hostess (Niharica Raizada) is hurt during a fight before the climax and is bleeding. But she is not shown in the last walk in the rain. It was an easy way out I felt. Rain would have easily exposed her bleeding and the evacuation.

But other than this minor hiccup towards the end, IB71 makes for an engaging spy thriller. If you feel jaded by watching patriot spy stories with formulaic storytelling, IB71 shall come as a ‘surprisingly so good’ film.

IB71 Director: Sankalp Reddy

Cast: Vidyut Jammwal, Anupam Kher, Vishal Jethwa