WTF ASIA 197: The Ghazi Attack (2017)

In 1971, a Pakistani submarine sunk near the Eastern coast of India. The Indian government and the Pakistani government provided contradictory claims regarding why it sunk. With the truth hidden from the public, others could step in to make up whatever story that they felt might make them some money. This is one such story.

The Ghazi Attack (2017)

Available in AustraliaCanadathe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 123 minutes.




Note: I watched the Hindi version of this movie. There is a Telugu version called Ghazi that is around 6 1/2 minutes shorter, though I am not sure what is cut.

We begin with a HOLY SHIT!

How quickly can you read that? Well, the movie provides a voice-over for it and it takes 66 seconds. Also, spoiler alert.


Oh fuck, a voiceover narration AFTER that huge voiced-over disclaimer? Okay. Okay. So, Amitabh Bachchan tells us that in 1971, East Pakistan attempts to secede from West Pakistan and become Bangladesh. With West Pakistan clamping down, some Bengalis fled to India, while others…failed to. During this, we see a woman fleeing her home as her parents get gunned down inside.

Okay…are we in the movie proper? Okay. This is the 14th of November, 1971. We are in Visakhapatnam, a city on the East Coast of India, but about halfway down the coast, so it is pretty far from East Pakistan. Lieutenant Commander Arjun Varma is at home, listening to a radio report about the tensions in East Pakistan. Apparently, Pakistani President Yahya Khan accuses India of supporting Pakistani opposition groups while Indian President Indira Gandhi denies any Indian intervention in Pakistan’s internal conflicts, but does claim to be ready to strike if provoked. Arjun’s daughter walks up to him and asks if he is going to war. He says no; just as the radio said, this is simply something between East and West Pakistan. And Visakhapatnam is far away. Yeah, I just said that at the start of this paragraph. Anyways, he tells his daughter that they have nothing to fear.

On the 15th of November at the Pakistan Navy Headquarters in Karachi, two military men discuss their objectives in keeping East Pakistan and their options. Not many options. East Pakistan is surrounded on three sides by India, so sending supplies to Pakistani troops by land is out of the question. Going by air will be too inefficient. Only bypassing India and Sri Lanka by sea will work…if they can sink the INS Vikrant, which is defending the waters near East Pakistan. To do that, they will need to dispatch Commander Razzak Khan of the submarine Ghazi. If he fails, then they will have to launch a surprise attack on one of the Indian ports to shift the focus of India’s military and open up the sea routes to East Pakistan.

It is the 17th of November, back in Visakhapatnam, this time at Eastern Naval Command. Codebreakers have intercepted and decoded a message sent from Karachi to Chittagong in Bangladesh. The message is not overt, but the Admiral and Vice Admiral understand that it involves use of specialized naval vessels. The Vice Admiral believes that Pakistan will attack one of their ports. The Admiral orders that the final undeployed vessel, the submarine S21, be launched to perform a recon operation near the waters of East Pakistan. The Vice Admiral points out that Captain Rann Vijay Singh commands S21. Oh, that hothead. But the Admiral says that they cannot afford another Pakistani port attack like what happened in 1965. The Vice Admiral warns that Captain Rann Vijay will not wait for orders to attack if he spots an enemy vessel, and will trigger a war. Well, the Admiral does not want that. So, he calls for Lieutenant Commander Arjun Varma.

The Admiral and Vice Admiral brief Captain Rann Vijay and Lieutenant Commander Arjun. The Vice Admiral stresses that the mission will be passive, that this is just a search operation, and he is to merely report back if he spots the enemy. Rann Vijay asks whether he should just report back and await instructions if he comes face to face with the enemy. Noticing the sarcasm, the Admiral says yes. This is a classified mission, and they are not at war.

Rann Vijay’s second-in command, XO Devaraj, arrives at the dockyard with his pregnant wife. He puts his hand on her tummy and assures her that he will return soon. Oh, he is going to die, huh.

The crewmembers are setting things up and settling in, but Rann Vijay still has to wait outside for Arjun. He is still at headquarters as the Admiral gives him explicit instructions to prevent Rann Vijay from attacking first. Devaraj says that they are almost ready to leave, but Rann Vijay says that they have to wait for the political…erm…for the officer. So, they wait…and wait…and wait.

Arjun finally arrives and apologizes for the wait. The mission is to go as planned, but Rann Vijay and Arjun are each given half of a key that will let the submarine launch torpedoes if and only if necessary.

The S21 is off. Rann Vijay and Arjun are up in the…uh…outside thing. Rann Vijay notes that there is a cyclone forecasted in a certain area. Arjun sees this as good news, as that means that the enemy will not come that way. So it will be easier to find where they are coming from and…he mimes shooting them. Arjun is…not too comfortable with that.

The two go back inside just as all of the tests are completed. So Arjun has Devaraj order the submarine to dive to forty meters.

It is the 18th of November and S21 is in the Bay of Bengal. In his quarters, Rann Vijay takes a couple of items out of his briefcase. One being the book The War As I Knew It by General Patton and a photograph of…is this his brother? He puts the book on his desk and puts the photograph in a drawer. Yeah, okay.

In the crew quarters, a man named Surya ties a string from one side of the room to another, making it straight and tight. After some jokes about drying clothes, one crewmember asks how they can dry clothes with such a shaky line. This guy, who has been previously shown wondering around like he is lost, gets a brief lesson on water pressure with the help of an egg and a glass of water. So, the S21 can go 250 meters and maybe even 300, though no one has attempted that. I presume that the guy will bring this all back to the string eventually, but the scene ends as the guy crushes the egg, getting yolk everywhere. Yeah, this lesson was totally necessary and not something that even the most ignorant audience member could work out later on.

Rann Vijay has Devaraj conduct an emergency drill. Devaraj is unsure about this, as the crew has not completely settled in. Rann Vijay sarcastically notes that enemy will not wait for the crew to settle in. So, Devaraj starts the drill and everyone scrambles. Rann Vijay checks his watch and occasionally throws out orders to fix everything.

Eventually, the drill stops and a disappointed Singh tells the crew that they are not fit to row a boat. Devaraj tries to assure Singh that they will get better in time, but Singh is not hearing it. He orders Devaraj to train them mercilessly.

Some time later, Arjun goes Devaraj’s quarters, where Devaraj is kind of moping and trying to write in his records. Arjun notes that Rann Vijay had been suspended for two years due to such tyrannical behavior, slapping two of his subordinates. Devaraj, however, is not standing for that kind of talk. He replies that those two whom Rann Vijay had slapped later won medals. Rann Vijay always does what is right, Devaraj claims. Wait…so, Rann Vijay slapping those two men put them on track to get those medals? Or he was wrong to slap such future medal-earners. Devaraj and the music imply the former. Also, “won” medals? Maybe that is a mistranslation; whatever. Devaraj bids Arjun goodnight and Arjun leaves.

Devaraj gives Rann Vijay a radio message to open the safe in his quarters (with keys that he and Arjun have) to set of locations. Devaraj pulls out one, which tells them where to go. Rann Vijay proposes a toast to their first mission while Arjun notes the Patton book. Rann Vijay says that Patton is every soldier’s role model; they even made a movie about him that won an Oscar this year. Rann Vijay asks Arjun if he has seen it; he hasn’t. Also, Arjun thinks that Patton was too aggressive, which makes Rann Vijay laugh. Oh, here comes the music again, as Rann Vijay says that Patton’s aggression is what made him successful. He won by killing the enemy.

Hours pass and the submarine receives various messages to clear various areas of the bay. They do not find anything or anyone. So, Rann Vijay agrees to dub their first mission is a success. The crew celebrates.

At Eastern Naval Command, Girish Kumar from the Research and Analysis Wing meets with the Admiral. RAW’s sources in Karachi have confirmed that Commander Razzak Khan is on an offensive mission against India in the submarine Ghazi. Wait…does this mean that Raazi is a prequel/side-quel to this movie? No, probably not, but…anyways. The target could be the Vikrant. The admiral is concerned. The Ghazi is Pakistan’s most decorated submarine, having alone given cover to all of Pakistan’s naval vessels during the war in 1965. And it outclasses Indian submarines in all aspects. And with Razzak as commander?

Oh, well, here is the PNS Ghazi already in the Bay of Bengal.

And here is Commander Razzak.

He is looking at what looks like just a regular merchant ship, not the INS Vikrant. Apparently, they were given the wrong coordinates.

Razzak, however, does not believe that the information need be wrong. Perhaps the Indians got wind of the plan and changed Vikrant’s course. He says to initiate plan B. So, attack a port? Wait. Hold on. They must divert the Indian Navy’s attention. That means… Oh, shit! The Ghazi launches a torpedo at the merchant ship, blowing it up.

Ladies and gentlemen: Razzak and the Ghazi.

This explosion alerts the radar guy on the S21 in the form of a strange echo. Rann Vijay whispers to Devaraj to have the submarine go to periscope depth. Rann Vijay goes to the periscope and sees the wreckage of the merchant ship. Arjun looks through as well and notices survivors. After confirming nothing on sonar, Rann Vijay has Devaraj surface the boat. He has the radio room send a message to Headquarters about the merchant ship.

Meanwhile, Arjun and a crew member go outside. Arjun notices a little girl in the water and dives in to get her.

Devaraj sees Arjun’s actions in the periscope, but no sign of the enemy. He tells the latter to Rann Vijay, who says to prepare to die. Then Devaraj reveals that Arjun is outside trying to save civilians. Rann Vijay is exasperated. He tells Devaraj that they have 90 seconds before they have to dive. Arjun brings the girl back to the submarine and straps her to a lifebuoy so the crew member can pull her up.

But then Arjun goes back out to the wreckage. He does manage to make it inside on time, accompanied by a woman, the woman from the first sequence. Terrified, the woman starts singing a Bengali rebel anthem, but Arjun tells her that she is safe with the Indian Navy. It is unclear whether she understands him given the language barrier, but he has a crew member place her in a safe quarters.

With that all out of the Rann Vijay orders Devaraj to dive and be ready to bury the enemy. Arjun reminds him that they cannot attack without clearance. Rann Vijay says that this clearance policy will get Indian soldiers killed. He is not waiting. Arjun argues that this could have been an accident and they cannot act merely on instinct. Rann Vijay has a bit of an outburst, which is perhaps the worst time for Devaraj to hand him a message from headquarters to be on hold. He crumples it up and tosses it. But he has no choice. He tells Devaraj to dive to 40 meters and hold…just hold until the enemy kills him.

Arjun goes to see the woman and the girl. The woman says that they are refugees. She said that she thought that they were Pakistanis, and she had started singing the Bengali rebel anthem in the hopes that they would shoot her immediately instead of…something else.

Having learned that his wife has given birth to a boy, Devaraj comes in with a box of laddu and hands one to Arjun. Arjun congratulates him, saying that the whole sub had heard. Devaraj gives one to the woman as well. She congratulates him and says that his child is lucky to have been born on this side of the border. Speaking of child, he gives one to the girl as well, though she might not have understood what they were talking about.

Devaraj goes to Rann Vijay, who is going over the map. Rann Vijay congratulates him on his new son, joking that his wife did not stay on hold. He warns Devaraj against letting this divert his attention. But that gets Rann Vijay thinking. Sinking the merchant ship was a diversion to keep their attention on this area while the Ghazi goes to attack Visakhapatnam. He orders the S21 to move West.

Rann Vijay has the sonar guy check for anything in the West. Eventually, he gets sonar contact from 2 kilometers away. Rann Vijay tells him to continue tracking.

Rann Vijay meets with Devaraj. He says that they will dive to 250 meters, head West, and torpedo the enemy. Uh oh. Here comes Arjun, saying that they must stay on hold. Rann Vijay says that this is his submarine and this is his call. Arjun turns to Devaraj and says that the identity of the armed forces is discipline. That is what separates them from rogues. And one small mistake could lead to war. And anyways, the torpedoes cannot fire without joint orders. Devaraj at least concedes that last point to Rann Vijay, saying that he cannot proceed without Arjun’s say so. So, Rann Vijay asks if Devaraj needs joint orders to conduct a drill. Basically, doing the same thing as he had ordered earlier, but only as an emergency practice drill. No, he does not need Arjun’s say so. It is settled, then. They will dive to 250 meters, head West, and…pretend wink wink…to torpedo the enemy. Knowing full well what Rann Vijay really means, Devaraj complies.

Rann Vijay is going to start a war, isn’t he?





So, some context. The INS Karanj, also called the S21, was launched in April of 1968, commissioned in September of 1969, and decommissioned in August of 2003. Its history between those years is…not on Wikipedia. Meanwhile, the USS Diablo was built in August of 1944 and launched that December. It was commissioned in March of 1945. It served the US Navy until 1963, when it was loaned to Pakistan. It joined the Pakistan Navy in 1964 and took part in the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965. And it remained the Pakistan Navy’s flagship submarine until the 4th of December 1971, when it sank under mysterious circumstances off the Visakhapatnam harbor while conducting naval operations en route to the Bay of Bengal. What was it doing there? Who knows, but the Bangladesh Liberation War had begun on the 26th of March and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 had begun…just the day before this. Hmmmm…

The Indian Navy claimed that the destroyer INS Rajput sunk it. And, as said earlier, Pakistan’s military claimed that it got into an accident. And, since the Indian Navy destroyed all records of their investigation into the matter in 2010, the public may never know what actually happened. In any case, the war raged on for…not even two more weeks, ending on the 16th of December. India won and the nation of Bangladesh was formed. Disgraced and blamed for the breakup of Pakistan, Yaya Khan gave up the presidency and command of the nation’s military on the 20th. West Pakistan’s horrendous acts towards the Bengali people should have been a stain on the Nixon Administration, which had ties to Khan and supported his war despite dissent from diplomats. But that is beyond the scope of this movie.

The movie acknowledges both official reports at the end of the movie, saying that the truth may forever remain hidden. But if India’s official stance is that a destroyer…destroyed the submarine, then why would this movie claim that another submarine destroyed it? Because submarine battles are awesome, that’s why. And this was India’s first underwater/war-at-sea film. So, good on it for that. Is its depiction of military submarines at all accurate? I don’t know. Probably not. I know next to nothing about submarines, and currently have little incentive to learn more simply to judge the accuracy of this movie.

Given that Arjun Varma is among first characters whom we see and given that he is the one given a pre-combat scene at the beginning, it is obvious that he is the protagonist. Unfortunately for him, he is given the thankless task of being the reasonable military hall monitor to the goddamn hothead Rann Vijay Singh. And the movie kind of stacks the chips against him in three ways. First, there is the movie having that motivational music pop up whenever Rann Vijay does something badass or when Devaraj stands up for him against Arjun. Second, the spoiler that is history is that the Ghazi does get sunk and India does go to war against Pakistan, if only briefly. Sure, it does not necessarily mean that an Indian submarine was involved, but come on. Third is…well, a bit of a stretch. He is played by Rana Daggubati, who portrayed the outright big bad in 2015’s Baahubali: The Beginning and would play him again in Baahubali 2: The Conclusion that was released just over two months after this film was released. Sure, Daggubati’s Baahubali character may or may not have been a departure for him, but those two movies were huge; even the first movie made maybe as much as all of Daggubati’s previous movies since his 2010 debut all put together.

Perhaps I am making too much of this one, but anyways…

For such a jingoistic film, I do appreciate that it does not just make Arjun an obstructionist stick-in-the-mud. He is compassionate and concerned for the well-being of others, be they crew or civilians. Rann Vijay, on the other hand, thinks of saving people only in the general hypothetical sense, and considers Arjun a weak link. And while Arjun’s eyes can be either gentle or determined, Rann Vijay seems to look unstable all of the time. That or just sad; I am not sure whether that was a directorial decision by the first-time director, or the guy’s acting.

I guess that they still wanted to contrast his expressions with those of his counterpart Razzak, who primarily has a mustache-twirlingly evil smirk. And there is no counterpart to Arjun on the Ghazi, since the Ghazi is explicitly on a mission to blow up an Indian military installation while the S21 is not…at least according to this movie. A little convenient, maybe.

What was I saying? Oh, right. Despite the movie ultimately siding with Rann Vijay, it gives Arjun the characterization of being rational, reasonable, compassionate, sympathetic, and humanistic. Perhaps you kind of want to side with him, and the movie lets you, even as it pats you on the head and teases you for being a little bleeding heart. On the other hand, Rann Vijay often seems like he could explode at any moment. He accuses this prohibition of attacking as politics, as if war itself is inherently non-political. Is that who you want in charge of a military mission? Erm…maybe? In any case, it is almost inevitable that Rann Vijay and Arjun will come into conflict. There were times where I wondered if this movie would do a Crimson Tide scenario. It doesn’t, but it could have…sort of. I must say that I did not expect a certain turn that the movie took. I am not exactly sure that I buy it, at least from a character standpoint, but you know what, it is fine.

One thing to note is that, this is a pretty lean movie, at least for India. 123 minutes in Hindi, 116 minutes in Telugu. Yeah, it takes a little while to get going and I suppose that the pacing in some of the dialog could have been tightened up, but it is still pretty streamlined otherwise. There is a total of two songs and neither is a masala song and dance number. One of them is that Bengali rebel song that gets stopped. There are no flashbacks and, for better or worse, presence of the Bengali woman and girl add very little to the major storyline, particularly from a romance standpoint. Will these civilians pierce through Rann Vijay’s hard exterior and find the human within? Erm…may…be…? Really, though, the main draw to this movie is the submarine stuff, especially when the Ghazi enters the picture. Despite already knowing which sub will sink and which will not, the suspense and the gamesmanship are quite enjoyable.

Yeah, I like this one quite a bit.





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