Sandeep Unnikrishnan was an officer in the Indian Army serving in the elite 51 Special Action Group of the National Security Guards. He was killed in action during the November 2008 Mumbai attack and was consequently awarded the Ashoka Chakra, India’s highest peacetime gallantry award. Major is a fictionalised account of his life. As his father K Unnikrishnan (Prakash Raj) proudly says as a commemorative function, “My son’s life was not about the way he died but about the way he lived.”
In the film, we meet the person who later became the martyr, giving his everything for the love of his country. We see Sandeep (Adivi Sesh) grow up with the love of uniform in his eyes, mesmerised by the white of the Navy. Circumstances force him to choose the Army, where after completing the regular course, he joins the commando training course and tops that, and later becomes a training officer. We see him boldly crossing the L.O.C. in Kashmir and playing cricket with the local kids in the no-man’s-land, we see him training fellow-soldiers with eagle-eyed vigilance and we also see him struggling to strike a balance between personal and professional life. We’re also introduced to the love of his life, childhood sweetheart Isha Agarwal (Saiee Manjrekar). She doesn’t want to just be an army wife and has ambitions of her own. They both share a deep bond but tensions surface in the relationship because of the nature of his job. Isha’s character states in the film that while everyone talks about the sacrifices made by the soldiers, but no one realises the sacrifices made by their families. Their love story isn’t your typical Bollywood fare but has the ebbs and flows of a normal relationship.
The second half of the film is dedicated to the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 26 November 2008. The notorious acts of Kasab and other infiltrators are shown in gory detail. The terrorists took over the iconic Taj Mahal hotel and the NSG commandos managed to rescue the hostages and kill those responsible in a multi-day operation. While creative liberty is taken in recreating the events happening inside the hotel, they still leave an impact. Seeing so many people being mercilessly killed shakes you up. Sandeep is shown as a one-man-army taking on the rescue operations single-handedly and jumping back into action even though injured. Parallel to his track, we also see Sobhita Dhulipala, who plays a guest named Pramoda Reddy. She helps rescue a little girl from the clutches of the terrorists and goes through some edge-of-the-seat moments. The sequences add another twist to the film’s plot and acquaint us with the terror faced by the innocent bystanders.
The media gave a blow-by-blow account of the rescue operations and the Pakistani handlers watching TV were able to communicate the moment of the commandos through that. Editorial discretion was sorely lacking at that juncture and that point too is raised by the film. A media blackout surely would have saved more lives but that was a command decision that should have been taken by those in power. It was a bitter lesson learnt.
Sandeep’s last words reportedly were, “Don’t come up, I’ll handle them.” The poignancy of the last scene stays with you, as he’s shown firing in the enemy’s direction till his dying breath. Adivi Sesh, who has also written the film, gives an inspired performance playing the titular role. He seems to have understood what Major Unnikrishnan stood for and brings in the late soldier’s pride and commitment to his performance without going over the top. The sincerity with which he essays the role is palpable indeed. Adivi is destined for bigger things after this. Saiee Manjrekar looks good as the partner who finds she isn’t getting what she asked for and is unhappy about it. It’s a balanced performance from the young actor, depicting both love and frustration. Veterans Revathy and Prakash Raj make their presence felt as the grieving mother and father. The little nuances that they bring to their gestures sets them above the rest by a mile. Murli Sharma plays the stern commander with a golden heart and pulls it off without a hiccup. Sobhita Dhulipala too is effective as the braveheart hotel guest who does her best to save a child.
All-in-all, Major is a fitting tribute to Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, a soldier who went beyond the call of duty to help his fellow countrymen in their time of need. He showed us what true gallantry looks like and Adivi Sesh’s performance gives us a glimpse of what kind of a man he was – a true warrior who lived and died by his own code.
Neeshita Nyayapati, May 31, 2022, 12:15 AM IST
Story: “What is a soldier?” is a question Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan has had to grapple with since he joined the Indian Army. It’s a question he asks himself even as he fights terrorists in Mumbai on the fateful day of 26/11.
Review: You know how the saying goes, that funerals are for the living and not the dead? If you thought that Sashi Kiran Tikka’s Major was just a tribute to the 26/11 martyr, you’re wrong. This film is a tribute to the sacrifices a lonely wife had to make whenever her husband is off fighting bad guys, sacrifices parents have to make while praying their son is not the one called to war. This film is for those whose sacrifices are seldom acknowledged while they’re most often the ones left mourning.
Sandeep Unnikrishnan (Adivi Sesh) has a protective instinct embedded in his DNA. He feels fear but he doesn’t think twice before putting himself in harm’s way if it means saving someone’s life. It’s no wonder that even as a little boy, he finds himself fascinated with the ‘uniform’ and a soldier’s way of life. But what does being a soldier mean? Does it mean forgoing being a good husband and son, does it mean putting oneself first on the battlefield or going to the extremes of being a sacrificial lamb with no self-preservation? Even as he contends with these questions, a tragedy strikes the nation and Sandeep, who’s an NSG major now, must do his bit.
Going into Major, you already know how the 26/11 terrorism attack in Mumbai will play out; you also know that Sandeep will end up a martyr. So how does one tell a tale where the audience is already familiar with the major beats? While one could nit-pick and think of various other ways, director Sashi Kiran Tikka and Adivi Sesh, who wrote the story and screenplay, decide to focus on Sandeep the human as a whole rather than just Sandeep the martyr. When the inevitable happens, you mourn not just a soldier who sacrificed his life for the country but a life that he could’ve lived. To reveal anything more about this coming-of-age tale would be an injustice.
Aiding Adivi Sesh, Saiee Manjrekar (who plays his childhood sweetheart Isha) and Shobitha Dhulipala (who plays a businesswoman called Pramoda) are a strong technical team. Saiee gets a character with heart, one that is fully fleshed out instead of existing for the sake of it. Shobhitha’s Pramoda too is as detailed as it can be; given the circumstances she’s introduced in. Abburi Ravi’s dialogues and Sricharan Pakala’s music blatantly play on your emotions but they do it well for the most part. In fact, it’s one of their best works. Vamsi Patchipulusu’s cinematography goes from dreamy to suffocating, depending on the scene playing out while Vinay Kumar Sirigineedi and Kodati Pavan Kalyan make some smart editing choices that stand out in key scenes. The action sequences by Naba also stand out.
The film is not without his flaws though. Abburi Ravi’s dialogues and Sricharan’s music do get a little too heavy handed in some scenes, forcing you to feel a certain way even before you feel it organically. Sandeep and Isha’s meet-cute doesn’t have the desired effect even if their story does get stronger as the film progresses. Certain tracks regarding Sandeep’s army-mates seem incomplete. There are a few other things one could nit-pick too but the way the film is crafted with a non-linear screenplay, it doesn’t really let you think much. But it is to be noted that the film isn’t factual, both in the way the events of 26/11 played out and how Sandeep presumably handled it.
Adivi Sesh gets the role of his lifetime and he grabs it with both hands. He does a good job of playing both a smooth faced teenager who might come across as naïve to a man who knows what he wants from life and is willing to fight for it, even if circumstances don’t always allow it. Saiee fits the role as far as her age is concerned but she comes across as raw and inexperienced in the emotional scenes. Shobitha breezes through her role, so do Murli Sharma and Anish Kuruvilla. Prakash Raj and Revathi, who play Sandeep’s parents, give the role their all. Everything from the way they love their son to grieve him comes across as heartbreakingly realistic.
Major might be an action drama for the most part where guns and bombs become the norm after a certain run-time, but the film does a good job of opting for a personal tone instead of a jingoistic one, when the latter might have been easier. This one deserves to be watched on the big screen, you won’t regret it.