Post-independence, foreign relations between India and Pakistan have been unstable, to say the least. The 1970s were the peak of the conflict between the two nations, and many stories are still left untold of the unsung martyrs who sacrificed themselves. Such stories need to be presented with finesse and utmost subtlety instead of joining the jingoism bandwagon. Directed by Sankalp Reddy, IB 71 is the story of a mission that is put in motion with the only goal of stopping war from being waged. The irony remains, the conflict still happened.
The movie begins with a history of East Pakistan, which was on the brink of a civil war, and IB agents are also trying to get as much information as they can to understand the situation. This is just a prologue to the film that gives context by presenting the subcontinent’s history. It is implied that the events portrayed in the film were among the reasons that led to the 1971 war.
There is also a scene where a high-ranking Pakistani official meets with Chinese officials to discuss their plans. It is again implied that one neighboring nation is in cahoots with the other larger nation, discussing the imminent attack on the country. I’m not sure how historically accurate this could be, and it’s not like the viewers expect the makers to do much research because presenting stories inaccurately has become the norm. All this is just another setup being made for the bigger subplot of the movie.
War Is Coming
As informed by the IB Chief about their man stuck in the camps of East Pakistan, an Indian Intelligence Bureau agent, under the garb of being a Pakistan Army officer, is sent to rescue the man. The mission is successful despite the obvious obstacles; this entire extraction operation was meant to introduce the protagonist of the film, Agent Dev Jamwal. A rather predictable manner to present the lead of the film, even though it seems a lot of thought has been given on the lingo of the characters. This presents the movie as a spy thriller, and going forward, how Agent Dev and his superiors use intelligence to make sure things go in India’s favor takes the narrative forward.
The information gathered from then East Pakistan proves that even though Pakistan is on the brink of a civil war in the eastern side of their country, they are also planning an elaborate attack on India using China. The only way to stop Pakistan is to bar them from using Indian airspace, but to be able to do that, India would require a concrete reason, such as an actual act of war or aggression, to make it official. There are plenty of parts in this subplot that do not make sense. If the country is on the cusp of going bankrupt because of a civil war, it would have been ideal to mention how Pakistan is ready to attack India as well. This portion of the film was not made clear at any point. The entire intelligence team only has ten days to come up with a plan to avert an attack. Setting the story against a ticking clock also gives way to plenty of over-the-top theatrics to look forward to.
Agent Dev was adamant about banning them from the airspace, but his senior officials were strictly against it because that would mean the neighboring countries would be alerted by the fact that India was aware of their plans. The whole idea is to surprise them. It is rather a convenient way to present the plot because the story from this point on is predictable, and it is only a matter of time before things go in favor of the Indian officials in the film.
An Elaborate Plan To Hijack A Flight
One of Dev’s colleagues, Joshi, lets him know that Qasim, a member of an extremist outfit that is fighting for Independent Kashmir, has been arrested on charges of plotting to hijack a flight and has now become a police informer. Dev comes up with a foolproof plan and presents it to his senior, N.S. Awasthi. The man is not sure if it will be successful, but seeing Dev’s confidence allows him to give the go-ahead to this elaborate plan of action. The game plan would include luring Qasim and his accomplice Ashfaq into hijacking a dummy aircraft that would be filled with IB agents, and flying the plane to Pakistan. Qasim will demand the release of his comrades who spoke in favor of a free Kashmir. Once the flight is in Pakistani airspace, the Indian government can only wait for their neighbors to acknowledge the hijackers, and they will declare it an act of war, allowing them to close the airspace.
This seems like an elaborate setup, and carrying this out in only a handful of days seemed like a monumental task, but again, it is showcased that within days, Dev and his colleague Joshi can execute the first half of the plan. What does not fit in this plan is that nobody notices the two men tailing Qasim and Ashfaq, especially the local police. Such oversight is what made the entire narrative almost border on unconvincing, but since this is a commercial film, a lot of these elements are expected.
Pakistan has an informer that is keeping an eye on Qasim and Ashfaq so that they do not take any untoward action as per the orders sent from the top. The enemy nation is not keen on letting India know about their elaborate plan, which is why there is radio silence. India trying to make the neighboring country seem naive and incompetent is the running theme of the movie, and it gets repetitive, just like any other film in this genre. There was “Bell Bottom,” which dealt with the same 1970s conflict decade most bizarrely.
What Was The Intelligence Bureau’s Plan?
With Qasim and Ashfaq falling for the plan, there is nobody that can stop them from carrying out this ghastly act. The two of them are victims of rampant brainwashing, and banking on their agenda, Agent Dev, as the pilot, takes off from Jammu. At the right moment, the young men make sure to do the deed, and the flight is taken to Lahore due to low fuel. It is not clear if the fuel reduction ploy was the plan of the entire team or was just an impromptu emergency they faced. Despite having no permission, the flight landed in Lahore and thus putting the plan in motion, and they can only hope things will go in their favor. Agent Dev, as a pilot, also encourages Ashfaq and Qasim to burn down the plane if things do not go in their favor. Just another way to make sure they push the men to go to the extreme and worsen the situation between the two nations on the cusp of war.
Unfortunately, Joshi is caught by the Pakistani informer in Srinagar, not far from the airport, and is killed by him. The same informant finally learns of an elaborate plan to deceive Pakistan. This seems like stalemate storytelling because Joshi was introduced just so he could be killed off to tug at our heartstrings.
Qasim and Ashfaq got trapped hook, line, and sinker. It is the case of many young people who get carried away by extremist ideologues and are blind to the hypocrisy of the faction they join. Ashfaq recognizes Dev as the person who claimed to be fighting for their cause. Once their demands are being considered by the Pakistani government, led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the Indian High Commission, all the passengers, including the pilots, are moved to a local hotel for the night, and it is decided that they will be sent back to India in the coming days by road.
There is no mention of whether their demands of Qasim and Ashfaq were met, which seems like a rather easy way to forget about it as long as the actual plan of action begins. The agents, as passengers, are allowed to speak to their family back home, and all the phone calls made to India are fake because they know the calls would be tapped. Only one of the officials, Afsal Aga, can look through this facade, and he is very close to exposing the plan.
Afsal Aaga was under pressure from the army and the government to make sure no diplomatic incidents took place, wanting to find every detail that would help him bring down whatever the intelligence agency from across the border was planning. To seal his doubts, the informer from Kashmir reaches Lahore to let them know that the pilot is an IB agent. As the team in Lahore is about to arrest Dev, the entire entourage at the hotel is attacked by all the agents, and all of them overpower the existing security inside the hotel.
The above mentioned scene does not make sense because how was the informer able to reach Lahore? This is suspension of disbelief at its maximum because there is no way, especially in the 1970s, that traveling to and fro between the two nations was this easy. The attack on the security by the Indian agents inside the hotel comes across as a not-so-plausible scenario; plus, don’t they realize how the physics of sound works? The entire pre-climax tussle is a colossal wreck, and it does not salvage the film.
Afsal Aga and his team are tied up in a room. Meanwhile, the Indian agents posing as passengers are waiting for the new security team to escort them to the border. There seems to be confusion in the Pakistani entourage as they are tricked into believing that it was their Prime Minister’s order to release the passengers as a gesture of goodwill. Again, the whole scene was set up to let the viewers know that Pakistan could be conned, and they are on the verge of being fooled again.
The team safely reaches the border and is sent across to their home country, and this mission is close to being a success, even though Afsal Aga and his superior army officer were the first to crack the news that India was planning to close Indian airspace. None of them could stop the plan from being a triumph. On checking the belongings on the flight, all of them turned out to be fake, and they aggressively questioned Qasim and Ashfaq about their knowledge of the entire hijacking being a major trap. The two of them are angry, which makes them set the plane on fire, as Dev had suggested. Dev only took advantage of the already charged-up men, and it worked in their favor because setting the Indian plane on fire on Pakistani soil is seen as a way to get rid of the evidence and may be called an act of war. This was enough for the Indian government to put an embargo on the airspace against the Pakistani air force, putting all of their plans on hold.
The climax was decent enough, but one cannot look away from how formulaic the storytelling was. The sense of tension was lacking in a spy thriller such as this. There was more emphasis on hero worship and the man saving the day, but apart from that, there was nothing that kept the film engaging. The makers in the Hindi cinema space need to look beyond the Pakistan-bashing narrative and work on their actual lingo rather than relying on the age-old stereotype of how we think they talk. It is not sure why the movie was named IB 71. Was this the name of the case as per the records with the Indian intelligence, or was it the name of the entire mission? If only something as basic as this was made clear.
IB 71 ends with the prologue of incidents such as these that led to the 1971 war and the later formation of the country now known as Bangladesh. The makers conveniently give credit to the Indian government for freeing people from the hands of Pakistan and completely ignoring the efforts and struggles of the people in that country who fought for their own freedom.