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‘Operation Valentine’ movie review: Director Shakti Pratap Singh and actor Varun Tej’s film suffers from shallow writing and a sense of deja vu

Varun Tej in the Telugu-Hindi bilingual film ‘Operation Valentine’
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Operation Valentine (OV), directed by debutant Shakti Pratap Singh Hada, positions itself as the first Telugu aerial action thriller and narrates the story of a covert operation handled by the Indian Air Force. The film is inspired by real incidents during the Balakot airstrikes following the Pulwama attack in 2019. Also simultaneously filmed in Hindi, it marks its lead actor Varun Tej’s debut in Hindi cinema. Considering the shrinking boundaries between languages as movie lovers are spoilt for choice, it is tough to dismiss the heavy sense of deja vu for those who have watched the recent Hindi film Fighter. It might be a co-incidence that both these films were being made simultaneously, but the timing of the release makes the comparison all the more unavoidable.

One of the pivotal plot points in both these films is the retaliation following the Pulwama attacks. The broad narrative tropes are also similar — the best pilot is a rebel who goes beyond the rulebook, is plagued by ghosts of the past and has a strained equation with someone close to him. Such tropes are oft-repeated in action thrillers and espionage dramas worldwide, but in Operation Valentine, the sense of fatigue is also because the writing merely scratches the surface and fails to offer anything new. There is not enough to make us empathise and root for the characters. 

Operation Valentine (Telugu)

Director: Shakti Pratap Singh

Cast: Varun Tej, Manushi Chhillar, Navdeep, Mir Sarwar

Storyline: Some of the best fighter pilots are called in for the Balakot airstrikes as a retaliation to the Pulwama attack. Can the protagonist fight the demons of his past and rise up to the task?

Arjun Dev’s (Varun Tej) physical scars from an earlier operation are prominent. The emotional scars still jolt him out of sleep. The bond he shares with his wife Aahna (Manushi Chhillar), a radar officer, is tense since she is concerned about his recklessness and fears for his safety. At one point he tells her that he has no fear when she is monitoring the radar. But he is also the sort of fighter pilot who would risk it all rather than play safe. While we get a sense of how all this plays out on the work front, their marital relationship is underwritten. There are moments but not effective enough to create a palpable tension. 

The story has the scope to explore the camaraderie between the fighter pilots and how they step up for one another at crucial times. We get very little of this bonhomie as well. In the few minutes they get, Ruhani Sharma and Paresh Pahuja register their presence with their breezy performances but their characterisations don’t pack in enough. The same goes for Navdeep whose cameo is wasted. Several others cast as senior air force officers, representing India and Pakistan, are saddled with forgettable roles. This lack of depth in writing robs the film of its emotional gravitas, making it boring. While one can overlook the underwhelming visual effects in some segments, which can be attributed to budget constraints, it is hard to ignore the writing.

Varun Tej is sincere in his portrayal but even when he tears up and stoically internalises his pain, the lack of complexity in his character is a dampener. The same goes for Manushi Chhillar. As for the portions discussing the Pulwama attack and the Balakot airstrikes, despite the earnest intention to honour the brave soldiers, as a cinematic experience it is all too familiar without the josh

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