The 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008 are indelibly inked in the city’s memories. Among the people who showed extraordinary courage, a few stand out. The list includes Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who led a National Security Guard unit into the besieged Taj Mahal Palace Hotel to tackle well-prepared terrorists and saved hostages at the cost of his own life.

A problem with making films about real-life heroes is that they may not have led very interesting lives. If the mythologising is to work, a large dollop of fiction, or at least some embellishment, has to be added to the narrative.

However, heroes are not all born that way. Circumstances make them shed their ordinariness and perform superhuman feats, digging into reserves of valour they may not even be aware of – that’s what makes their stories great.

Major has been directed by Sashi Kiran Tikka in Hindi and Telugu and written by leading man Adivi Sesh (the Hindi dialogue is by Akshat Ajay Sharma). The film actually takes off well into its running time, when Sandeep insists on going to Mumbai with his team, when, as a training officer, he isn’t expected to.

Before that, there are scenes of his happy childhood with his parents (Revathi-Prakash Raj) and sister and his fascination for the uniform. In college he falls in love with Isha (Saiee Manjrekar), goes against the wishes of his parents to join the Army and excels at it. Some conflict is induced when a jealous fellow cadet tries to trip up his romance, but that is quickly resolved.

Adivi Sesh and Saiee Manjrekar in Major. Courtesy Sony Pictures International Productions/G Mahesh Babu Entertainment/A+S Movies.

These are place-holding sequences to pad the script, but give no real insight into the man’s personality. For instance, a basic internet search reveals that Sandeep’s father worked at ISRO, Sandeep was in the college choir and was fond of films – minor points, but some more research might have shaded the soldier’s portrait better.

Once the action shifts to the terror attacks in Mumbai, the attention moves from Sandeep to the carnage at various spots in the city and eventually to the Taj, where terrorists start shooting the guests.

The Taj hotel set is grand (production design by Kolla Avinash), and the action sequences (by Naba) are well choreographed and shot (Vamsi Patchipulusu. But again, there are needless distractions, such as a businesswoman (Sobhita Dhulipala) protecting a foreign girl. Perhaps a little time could have been spared for the hotel employees who went beyond the call of duty to help guests.

There are scenes of a ravenous media foolishly providing intel to the terrorists, which has already been analysed and criticised. There is hardly any interaction between Sandeep and his men, though the commanding officer (Murali Sharma) gets some footage.

There were more unpredictable action set pieces needed, like the one at the hotel pool, because there is not much visual variety in guns blasting and grenades going off. The right emotional and patriotic buttons are pushed (accompanied by Sricharan Pakala’s loud background score).

Who would not sympathise with Isha, feeling neglected and lonely, or the anguished parents, who learn about their son’s death from television reports? Their grief gives the film its lump-in-the throat moments. Adivi Sesh looks the part and plays the soldier with sincerity. Revathi and Prakash Raj imbue their scenes with warmth.

Films that remind audiences of the tough tests thrown at a city and its people are required from time to time and the right heroes placed on pedestals (as opposed to gangsters and other low-lifes). It would help if these films were not so formulaic, and if attempts were also made to better understand the psyche of those who risk their lives for others, instead of getting by with sloganeering short-cuts. The audience applauds in the end, if not for the film’s strengths, then for those heroes, who, for a while, made them feel invincible and proud by proxy.

Major (2022).