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Operation Valentine Review

Operation Valentine soars to great heights in the skies but struggles to find its feet on the ground, writes Srivathsan Nadadhur 


Arjun Dev, married to his long-time colleague Aahna, is yet to come to terms with a near-death experience and the passing away of a co-pilot Kabir. After a deadly terror attack that kills several CRPF officers, will he rise to the occasion and stand up for his nation?


The timing of a film’s release has a fair say in altering the aftertaste it leaves behind. Had Operation Valentine released as per plan in December 2023, a month before Hrithik Roshan’s Fighter, there’s a good chance that you would’ve looked at it differently, and probably been kinder to it. Both films deal with the IAF’s response to the Pulwama attack that killed 40 CRPF personnel in 2019.

It doesn’t need to be said that every film centring on aerial combat in recent years is inspired by Top Gun: Maverick at some level. Many have given a shot at recreating its striking aesthetic, featherlight treatment and effortlessly slick action. Looking past such distractions, Operation Valentine remains surefooted whenever the protagonist is at work, flirting with danger in the skies.

Operation Valentine, as the opening credits reveal, is designed to ‘revere’ the unsung efforts of the armed forces. Shakti Pratap Singh Hada is conscious of the inner workings of the IAF – the dynamics of the workspace, the bureaucracy, instinctive strategies while dealing with a warring nation, the calculated risks and the little details that complete the officers’ lives.

The film aims to be a realistic aviation drama and a hero-centric tale at once – both worlds struggle to meet. While the success/failure of an operation is a result of teamwork, the tale restricts itself to the world of the protagonist Arjun Dev and his internal/external demons. He’s married to his colleague, is guilty about the death of a friend, ready to risk his life for the country’s greater good.

At a point his wife Aahna tells him – ‘the only problem with you is that you’re too generous.’ She doesn’t want him to be reckless with his decisions but Arjun rarely goes wrong at work. Arjun’s superior doesn’t entertain any conversation beyond their immediate tasks and a colleague Yash is busier cracking PJs and flirting with his squadron leader on and off the skies.

The story keeps harping on two emotions – patriotism and Arjun’s need for redemption (and undoing his mistakes). There’s desperation to generate antagonism through provocative dialogues of the Pakistani officers and verbal banters with the Indian counterparts. A dialogue even suggests a Pakistani pilot to start ‘loving’ more and stop instigating.

Operation Valentine still has many edge-of-the-seat, nail-biting moments in its 130-minute-long narrative. It helps that the protagonist doesn’t go by a rulebook and is a rebel at heart. The tale soars in the aerial combat sequences – the emotional highs, lows and the characters’ vulnerabilities keep the narrative alive. Back on earth though, the film struggles to find its groove during the interludes.

Call it the ‘bilingual’ curse, there are distracting dialogue-sync issues, the songs are staple and unmemorable. There’s class written all over Hari K Vedantam’s cinematography – watch how he draws you into the film’s ambience in the title credits. The visual reference of the green-eyed Afghan girl (she appeared on the cover image of National Geographic – June 1985 issue) to depict the aftermath of terrorism through a peace-loving young girl, is impressive.

There’s little to complain about Varun Tej’s conviction in picking scripts defying box office formulas. With his assertive physique and cool-headed persona, he is a natural choice to play an IAF pilot and does complete justice to his role. Manushi Chhillar gets a meaty part, yet you only discover Aahna as a professional and not as an individual (unlike Arjun).

Paresh Pahuja’s flirty character doesn’t quite ease the film’s nerves in the way it aims to. The decision to ‘underutilise’ Navdeep’s presence is hard to believe. Ruhani Sharma and Mir Sarwar are effective in their brief cameos while Shataf Figar’s domineering screen presence helps him handle a full-length character as a stern superior with ease.


Operation Valentine is a worthy attempt at documenting the IAF’s retaliation to the infamous Pulwama attack. While the film boasts of slick action and cinematography, the writing isn’t always sparkling enough to complement the efforts of the cast and the crew. Varun Tej, still, is an ideal choice to headline the film and displays considerable maturity as a performer.

Rating: 2.5/5

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