Agni Pankh manages to walk into every single trap it should have sidestepped: the unnecessary glamorising of the air force, soppy patriotism and incessant Paki-bashing. Scenes like the one in which Indian POWs threaten to take all of Kashmir and bits of Lahore in "dowry", if only India wasn't the benign, tolerant country she is - stuff like this doesn't help anything. So what is the point of wasting all that reel just to give us the same old song and dance?
The story is set in the Indian Air Force base at Kashmir, where Jimmy Shergill and his buddies fly the unfriendly skies everyday to keep an eye out for trouble across the border. Back on the ground they fall in love, dance in the snow, and form tragic love triangles. That is when they're not using their fighter planes to settle petty squabbles in mid-air, or discussing crucial defence strategies on the golf course where it can be overheard by the Pakistani caddy. This, we're given to believe, is how intelligence is received by the enemy. An alarming prospect.
The characters in the film are whittled down so much, you wonder why they had to cast talented actors like Benjamin Gilani and Khulbhushan Kharbanda to assume bit roles. But it's Rahul Dev's character that's the most cruelly handled. The poor man is killed a total of three times during the course of this movie. First in a cruel joke, then when his plane explodes over hostile territory but he actually survives, and so for the last time in an enemy encounter. This time it's for real, so you can rest assured he won't get up and put us through it again.
All-out war is declared between the countries when a terrorist is caught trying to bomb the Air Force bastion, and our heroes take to the skies. But their luck runs out when their planes are bombed and they're arrested as prisoners of war. After many scenes of verbal bravado against the enemy, who for some reason are not too bothered by assaults on their national pride, Jimmy and his friend Sameer escape along with an Indian POW from the 1971 war.
They team up with the resurrected Rahul Dev and run toward the border, and India. On the way, there are skirmishes and casualities, till only Jimmy and Sameer remain to be rescued by the Air Force chopper.
The movie is said to have some serious special effects as one of its USPs: we suppose they aren't bad, but they are nothing to write home about either. Wish they'd picked a script with more spit and fire than this one, and not been so unambitious as to assume we'll love the zillionth retelling of the same story. India good, Pakistan bad, Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Yawn.