Tejas Movie Review: Kangana Ranaut’s film is high on nationalism and shoddy special effects

The short shrift given to supporting cast is another gripe

By Lekha Menon

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Published: Fri 27 Oct 2023, 7:52 PM

When in doubt, cut it out. In journalism, this aphorism has saved many a sub-editor from making embarrassing errors while editing articles. In Kangana Ranaut’s high-octane air force thriller, Tejas, directed by Sarvesh Mewara, this newsroom maxim undergoes a makeover to become ‘When in doubt, think about the nation’.

In the realm of military action, thinking about the nation one would assume, means making risky yet practical decisions in the nick of time, spending months researching your enemy’s movements, crafting brilliant plans and saving lives. In Tejas, however, it means coming up with hare brained ideas and carrying out optical illusions that would embarrass a true illusionist. But everything works and anything goes because….when in doubt, call on nationalism and good, ol’ Bollywood style one-liners (more on that later).

Tejas is about Tejas Gill (Kangana Ranaut), a wing commander in the Indian Air Force, who, a senior describes as ‘oddball’. Frankly, there is nothing too odd about Tejas except for a fantastic skill to convince her superiors to allow her to play with planes and send her on deadly missions by just declaring her passion. As a student, she answers a question about Tejas, India’s indigenously built Light Combat Aircraft, and her trainer is impressed enough to let her fly a mean machine . Years later, she gets crafted into a rescue operation after she similarly persuades her seniors with her determination and patriotism. Is it that easy to lead a mission in the air force? Well, the experts can answer that question.

The mission, in this case, is to rescue an Indian agent from terrorists in Pakistan. He is being held captive by a light-eyed, hooded and accented baddie who threatens to behead him. Clearly, the inspiration is the murder of American reporter James Foley whose killing by Daesh had shocked the world in 2014. The Pakistanis don’t just want the blood of an Indian soldier, they also want the destruction of India and all Indians. So we have the chief of a terrorist organisation yelling his intentions to kill, cause mayhem and bomb the Ayodhya temple (which hasn’t been built yet so one wonders what the timeline of the film is!) Of course, Tejas, a soldier of ‘New India’ won’t allow him to, driven as she is by fierce patriotism and a personal vendetta against terrorists after losing her family in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Off she flies, with a fellow female fighter jet pilot into the deserts of Pakistan to kill all terrorists, rescue the agent and ensure India is not bombed. Does she manage? No prizes for guessing!

War and action films, especially those dealing with high-risk rescue missions, are about two things - mind-blowing VFX and nail-biting suspense. It’s what makes us willing to suspend our disbelief and root for the soldiers as they carry out daring and impossible deeds. For an audience that has been spoiled by the visual effects of Top Gun Maverick and the wit and dare of Argo (the inspirations of these two films are evident in Tejas), the shoddy special effects and simplistic ideas are inexcusable. The background score is rousing but the fighter jet action scenes almost have a video-game effect. The overdose of slow-motion walks of the leads do not compensate for the lack of real thrills neither do some gender-equality lectures.

Secondly, for a film that also delves into the motivation and mind of a soldier, there is remarkable lack of depth. In a tense moment, when the captive agent gives up saying he doesn’t have the energy to run anymore, Tejas and her fellow soldier narrate a two-line poem on love for the nation he had written years ago. It’s enough for the agent to get enthused and energised again. Yup, just like that. Needless to say, the nuances or complexities of international geo-politics are also completely missing. Even terrorism action films need strong antagonists but here they are just weak cardboard caricatures, easily defeated by the all-conquering Tejas.

The short shrift given to supporting cast is another gripe. Father, boyfriend, friend, superior (the latter played by resident military boss Ashish Vidhyarthi)…they are all there to service the cause of Tejas Gill who dominates every single frame in the movie.

What works for the film is the pace. At a little less than 2 hours, it doesn’t have a single boring moment and credit also goes to Kangana Ranaut for owning the screen space. She is convincing as ever, in her action and dramatic scenes but is that enough?

Kangana has given Tejas her all but alas Wing Commander Tejas is no Capt. Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell.