Form: Parineeti Chopra, Harrdy Sandhu, Sharad Kelkar, Rajit Kapur, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Shishir Sharma, Sabyasachi Chakraborty and Deesh Mariwala
Director: Ribhu Dasgupta
Rating: One and a half stars (out of 5)
Faced with a particularly challenging undercover mission aimed at taking out a terrorist hiding somewhere in Turkey, the head of the Indian spy agency claims “we need our best man for the job”. Turns out “the best man for the job” is a woman, an elite secret agent with a track record to die for.
The gender twist at the heart of the Codename Tiranga The story is about the only facet of the film that deserves serious attention. The rest of the rambunctious but sputtering spy thriller, for all its fireworks, is all smoke and no fire.
Codename TirangaDirected by Ribhu Dasgupta, is a series of yawn-inducing gunfights interspersed with fleeting sequences in which the characters are given lines to speak. They deliver the banalities with all the zeal they can muster before plunging with equal enthusiasm into the next action scene in which firearms and grenades do the talking.
In a spy thriller where meaningful conversations and heartfelt dramatic moments take on a secondary status, after the globetrotting hurly-burly is out of the way, the heroine makes light of a personal tragedy she has suffered because it’s for a patriotic spy to come first. Always.
She turns to the public, claiming that her struggle was not just to protect the country from harm, but to strike a blow on behalf of all women. The undercover agent doesn’t stop there. Every time the tiranga is played, a Durga — her name is Durga Singh and she’s a Special Ops officer — appears and takes out the enemy, she adds.
This grueling sequence comes on the heels of a big showdown with the villain in which the infallible lady wields an automatic weapon to shoot the henchmen guarding the hideout, only to fall like nine pins as a remixed version by Vande Mataram blares on the soundtrack. In her final attack on the terrorist, Durga Singh puts down the gun and wields a knife. Like the movie, she’s out of ammo.
The man Durga Singh (Parineeta Chopra, who last year teamed up with Ribhu Dasgupta on the equally forgettable The girl on the train) has been deployed to smoke out is a prime suspect in the 2001 attack on parliament (Bollywood’s favorite flashpoint) – Khalid Omar (Sharad Kelkar, whose voice does his part to make up for the emptiness of the lines he utters ).
Durga Singh is a super spy in the classic form – she’s a marksman, a hand-to-hand combat expert that no one can match, a highly skilled intelligence collector and most importantly a survivor blessed with an uncanny ability to dodge bullets.
The first time we see and hear her, she is in poor physical condition after coming out of a violent skirmish that left her bloodied. In an introductory voice-over she says something about tearing life from the jaws of death. This sets the tone for what’s to come.
With a man hailing a taxi in Kabul. Durga jumps into the vehicle without even leaving. The surprised male passenger introduces himself as Dr. Mirza Ali (Harrdy Sandhu). The two speak first in Pashto, then in English, and finally in Hindi. I am a half-Punjabi Turkish citizen, the man reveals.
Durga, in an abaya, says her name is Ismat and that she is on the run from a family that wants her to marry against her will. I don’t like Punjabi men, she adds. The doctor takes the barb in his stride. The next thing we know is that they are a couple.
Durga’s real motive is revealed at a wedding she attends in the company of Mirza with a plan to trap and kill a deadly terrorist. The mission fails. Indian intelligence launches a new operation and “the best man for the job” is pushed into service. Not that there are no men around the intrepid Durga Singh. Ajay Bakshi (Dibyendu Bhattacharya), a spy who, according to his bosses, has become a villain and can no longer be trusted, makes regular appearances. Kabir Ali (Rajit Kapur), India’s all-season man in the Middle East, is ready to solve problems when danger lurks.
Codename Tiranga is not about jung (war) alone. The film also has a substantial strand that depends on pyaar (love). It concerns the relationship between the heroine and Mirza, a UN official who returns to Turkey after completing his stint in Kabul. It is predictable that Durga and Mirza will meet again, but in changed circumstances.
Durga faces two battles – one to prove her loyalty to the nation, the other to make sure she doesn’t lose the man she loves. But can she win on both fronts? That is the question Codename Tiranga answers in the second half. The methods it uses are anything but gripping.
Halfway through the film, the intelligence agent ends up in the good doctor’s clinic with gunshot wounds. She apologizes for the way she dumped him in Kabul. “Goli mujhe pehli baar nahi lagi hai by pehli baar dard ho raha hai.“That’s the effect that love has had on the otherwise rock-solid Durga Singh.
The pain of losing the love of her life overshadows the pain caused by two bullets piercing her during a solo attack on a terrorist’s secret, heavily guarded residence near the border between Turkey and Syria.
In a film that literally goes in all directions, the actors have their jobs gone. They struggle to rise above the deafening noise and be heard and understood. The script, credited to a quartet of writers, including the director, rides on the most trite action movie conventions, leaving far too much for the cast to save.
Codename Tiranga Parineeti gives Chopra a role that is clearly outside her comfort zone. Her mission isn’t exactly impossible, but she’s not an Atomic Blonde either. With a screenplay that’s more action than talk, Chopra only hits her tires occasionally.
Harrdy Sandhu, in the guise of a self-effacing, mild-mannered man, may seem like an ideal reflection for a girl of incessant action, but he is paralyzed by sketchy characterization. As for the other actors in the cast, Codename Tiranga will certainly not go down in the books as an unforgettable outing. The film waves a flag that flutters and flutters without much purpose.