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Bunker, Review: Half-baked war debunker

You have to concede that the premise is brave. The makers describe Bunker as India’s first anti-war film, and it is being released at a time when war mongers are itching for all out military action against Pakistan. Laudable and lofty ambitions, however, seldom translate into cinematic excellence, and we have one more case in point. Skeletal and simplistic, Bunker fails to grow beyond its own line of control.

Lieutenant Vikram Singh is the lone survivor of Company 42, with near fatal injuries to his eyes and one leg, in a secret bunker, at the Line of Control, in Poonch, Kashmir, which was hit by a mortar shell, during a ceasefire violation by Pakistan. Such violations are a common occurrence. To further confound matters, a shell lands near his foot and gets entangled in his clothing. His radio is working, and he contacts Company 72 for help. When he informs them that there is an unexploded shell attached to him, he is advised to lie absolutely still. The slightest movement will cause the shell to explode.

Faced with endless difficulties and the mental trauma of missing his wife and four-going-on-five daughter, whom he has not met for eight months, Vikram must fight panic, despair and delirium, while still fulfilling his duty, as he awaits a rescue team that might not arrive in time. When he contacts Company 72 again, he is told that the rescue party has been killed as it was crossing a bridge, and that he should keep firing to prevent the enemy from taking the bunker. Since he cannot even open his eyes, shooting is an extremely tall order. Just then, an armed Pakistani soldier makes his way to the bunker.

Written and directed by Jugal Raja, Bunker does not have much of a script. Notes released by the production house remind you that the bunker is a metaphor for the soldier’s mind, lest you missed the symbolism. There are 1.4 million soldiers in India (that number refers to active soldiers only, excluding reserves and para-military forces) and 100 soldiers commit suicide annually, since 2003. 96% soldiers feel that discussing mental health issues has a stigma attached to it. Very little of this, if anything at all, is conveyed in the film, which rolls on at an uneven pace, for a mere 93 minutes, including some slo-mo and fast-mo shots.

Some flashbacks, one well-crafted rewind scene and some delirious moments are the only deviations from the plight of Vikram Singh, in the 8 ft. x 12 ft. bunker, where 95% of the movie was shot. Claustrophobia is well-captured and one scene of Thermal Imaging used to pick hostile movements far away makes interesting viewing. For the rest, audiences will have to keep looking at the prosthetics on Vikram’s face, which are a gory sight. Why the censors allowed so many close shots of his bleeding face and swollen cheeks and forehead shall remain a mystery. Vikram’s encounter with the Pakistani infiltrator is too contrived to appear credible. There is no relief, or lighter moment. Even the scenes featuring the daughter are meant to depict longing and helplessness. Making Vikram’s wife a TV newsreader who reads the report on the incident was a cliché that could have been avoided. The only song included in the film is a very sad song about death and separation.

Abhijeet Singh is cast as Vikram Singh and he looks the part. There isn’t too much acting involved except for the flashback and delirium scenes, because of the prosthetics. Strangely, in spite of being critically wounded and virtually blinded, he maintains composure and his speech never betrays his condition. Rather odd, even for an army-man. Arindita Kalita is Swara, his wife, who has some three scenes, including the TV news reading sequence. She does well. Cute as kids come is Yashavi Varia, daughter of the film’s editor, Karan Varia, who plays Vikram’s daughter. Also in the cast are Arnav Timsina as Sukhram, a fellow soldier, and Devavrata Ronsa, who was not identified.

Sound effects and background music (AHMON) are in consonance with the subject. Shakeel Azmi’s lyrics, Rekha Bharadwaj’s singing and Kaushal Mahavir’s tune, in the only song featured, are all inspired. Cinematography by S.R. Sathishkumar must be commended, considering the constraints of the location. However, the Thermal Imaging scene needed more clarity and magnification. Editing by Karan Varia has apparently been brutal, considering the length of the film. Flashbacks, rewinds, superimpositions and hallucinations are effectively conveyed, and kudos are in order.

Shot in a record five days, Bunker spent five months on post-production and another year in the film festival circuit. A Vkaao (PVR and BookMy Show) nationwide release, on 17 January, the film can only be seen on demand by booking cinema-halls, and not in regular screenings.

Beginning with a quote from Albert Einstein, “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones,” Bunker does highlight some elements of the trauma that soldiers go through, but it uses the popular milieu of an Indian soldier holding the fort against Pakistani infiltrators as the peg to hang it on, which dilutes the message. It needed a much stronger script and a much deeper probe if it hoped to make significant impact. As it stands, Bunker will contribute little towards debunking of the monster called war.

Rating: **