Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

State of Siege: Temple Attack begins with Major Hanut Singh (Akshaye Khanna) and his team of NSG commandoes carrying out a daring search and rescue operation of what seems to be an important female political leader in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). As luck would have it, Hanut and his team are also able to grab another important target, Bilal Naiku who they drag back to India. Sadly as Hanut is incapacitating the leader of the terrorist group, Hamza (Abhimanyu Singh), his team is brutally ambushed resulting in the death of his second-in-command and Hamza narrowly escaping captivity. Hanut is seriously injured. Months later Hamza plans to attack a fictitious equivalent of the Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple in Gujarat. 

Their idea is to first massacre and then take as many hostages as possible. They would then bargain with the government to release Naiku in return for the hostages. Once Naiku reaches Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, the terrorists would then blow the temple with high explosives along with all the hostages. Once the attack begins, Major Hanut and his team, who are in Gujarat babysitting the Chief Minister, are hurried to the spot to retaliate before additional teams of NSG arrive. Hanut once again faces off against an enemy from not so distant past and he is prepared to do anything to save the hostages and arrange the meeting of the terrorists with the 72 virgins. 

Before I take a plunge into praising every other aspect of this film, it is only fair that I mention a few things that didn’t go down well for the film. The film was evidently plagued by a lack of substantial budget that made the aesthetics and the set designs falter from time to time. It was evident in certain scenes that they were shooting against green screens and then adding architecture in post-production. It was the duty of the VFX team to cover up for the lack of real architecture and location and they evidently didn’t do a good job. They might not have had a substantial budget for the VFX work which we all know is dependent a lot on human resources and the technology that is used to render the graphics. However, the bravura feeling that runs throughout the film and the engaging performances go down a long way into making these inadequacies of the production bearable.  

The film is wonderfully structured into five major action sequences and the story is played out between these action sequences. The first rescue operation setups the premise of the film and lays down the need for the terrorists to attack the temple in the first place. The second actions sequence involves the takeover of the temple by the terrorist and this sequence is used to build up the necessary hate for the terrorist and to show them for the rabid dogs that they are. Following this attack, the NSG mounts its first attack to take back the temple from the terrorists. This action sequence is tense, gripping, and culminates in one of the most heroic and badass reentries that we have had for a protagonist in an Indian action film. There is one more action sequence in between before the film arrives at its nerve-wracking and bravura climactic action sequence that made me jump up and down in my chair. 

I loved the fact that Ken Ghosh didn’t pull any punches. He made it a point to not liquidate or give romantic reasons to justify or for that matter downplay the horrific actions of the antagonists. On the contrary, he shows them in their true colors. We see them gun down elderly people for no rhyme or reason. We see them lust for blood and break promises that they have taken in the name of Allah. We see them fire at people just because they don’t want them to escape. I loved the fact that there isn’t a single character among the terrorists that are shown in grey shades. They are all black here. That is something unexpected as it has become customary for Bollywood to justify terrorists or makes brothers out of the enemy nation of Pakistan and they go to extreme lengths to achieve that. Not in this case.

Akshaye Khanna breathes fire as the character of Hanut Singh. He loses his compatriot to the same villains in the opening sequence of State of Siege: Temple Attack and is tormented by the memory of that loss throughout. He is also blamed for the debacle by his Colonel and is even looked down upon by his own teammates. Thankfully, destiny gives him a second chance to redeem himself and one can see the hunger and the determination to set history straight in his eyes. 

Akshaye Khanna should be lauded for not only nailing the mannerisms and characteristics of a commando but also for expressing his character’s inner workings through his eyes alone and ensuring that the audience gets it. He moves like a pro in the film and doesn’t overdo the aggressive bits. It’s very easy to go overboard in these sequences but he only puts his best foot forward. I just loved the looks that he gives the temple priest at the end of the film who is howling about international peace and its need for world order after reading a prayer for the hell-bound terrorists. The look says it all and says it louder than any words. For all this and more I loved Akshaye Khanna’s performance in State of Siege.

The most important thing for a film of this nature is to ensure intrigue, tension, and a proper release of the tension at the end of it all. State of Siege: Temple Attack achieves this with clinical ease and sensational results. In every scene where the commandoes go after the terrorist, my heart was in my mouth. Every action sequence in the film builds and culminates like it is its own film with a three-act structure. The antagonists are so well rendered by even the minor actors that we feel the necessary hate that surges our emotions and need for redemption. Major Hanut is merely the audience’s expression of hate and fury on the terrorists and the character serves the audience well. The story unfolds over a limited period of time and there are practically no subplots. This further ensures that our focus is on the central narrative and attention is never diverted. While the film is about 110 minutes long, it feels like it is 90 minutes. That is how engaging and relentless it is.  

To sum it all up, State of Siege: Temple Attack is an essential watch for every Indian. The film has been shockingly ignored by the woke mainstream media as it must have evidently hurt their delicate sense of liberalism. I, on the contrary, had a blast with it and that will be the case for most of the Indians. The fact that it is so tense, gripping, and inspiring only adds to the charm of the experience. 

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