IB 71 is set in the 1970s, has a storyline that dates back to that decade in Hindi cinema, and is silly fun like movies from that period. The new film from The Ghazi Attack director Sankalp Reddy takes potshots at the sorry state of the Pakistani security establishment, represented here by a worryingly overweight Army general and an intelligence chief who runs his own errands, including driving his car.

It’s 1971, and the latest Indo-Pak war is around the corner. Indian spy Dev (Vidyut Jammwal) comes up with an outlandish plan to stall Pakistan: stage a hijack involving Indians.

The plan is to be carried out by two of the most incompetent fliers since the folks from Airplane! Kashmiri militants Qasim (Vishal Jethwa) and Ashfaque (Faizan Khan) are among the enemies of India who are simply too bone-headed to represent a serious threat to the omnipotent Dev and his boss Avasti (Anupam Kher).

The comic book-level scenario, based on a story by Aditya Shastri, claims to have been inspired by actual events. IB 71 is the latest movie to suggest that espionage played an equal, if not more important role, than military strategy, in the 1971 war.

Leaving aside what armed forces veterans make of this undermining of their contributions, IB 71 doesn’t exactly make a great case for privileging spooks over soldiers. The Argo-style scheme to bluff the adversary is as sophisticated in conception as it is clumsy in execution.

Reddy has a good thing going, and salvages what he can from the debris of overwrought performances and groan-worthy plot-holes by focusing on the look, period detail, and action scenes. Among the highlights of the handsome-looking production, shot by Gnana Shekar VS, are a high-speed shikara chase set on Srinagar’s Dal Lake and a fight sequence filmed in near darkness. Vidyut Jammwal, looking way too dandy for his character’s line of work, is also in fine form as the fast-thinking Dev.

Reddy’s staging skills abandons him when it comes to getting his characters to sound credible. The film is always better off when the actors say nothing. Some of the most risible dialogue emerges from Qasim, played by Jethwa with bulging eyes, flapping hands and a wild Kashmiri accent. Ashwath Bhatt, as Pakistan’s spy chief Afsal Aga, is in second place when it comes to supplying the giggles.

IB 71 (2023).