By: The Cinema Cynic
In a year where the security forces have suffered heavy casualties in their seemingly unending and thankless battle against Pakistan’s proxy terrorists, Bollywood has been quick to express solidarity with the casualties, even as many members of its “ruling elite” have seemed more concerned about their ability to hire and/or work with Pakistani actors. The surgical strikes met with lukewarm support from the Bollywood fraternity though any attack on the security forces was usually met with strong condemnation.
It is all well and good to express solidarity with the military but we have to ask, when was the last time Bollywood made a good war movie that told the story of India’s military in combat?
2017 tempts war movie buffs like me with the prospect of Sankalp Reddy’s The Ghazi Attack which purports to tell the story of Indian submarine S21 and I await the results with some trepidation. Manoj Bajpayee’s superb 1971 aside (this was not really a war movie but a PoW story), there has not been an Indian war movie since J.P. Dutta’s valiant failure in LoC Kargil of 2003 and Farhan Akhtar’s impressive effort Lakshya of 2004. These two films followed the enjoyable but deeply flawed Border of 1997. In all three cases, the directors wrecked potentially superb war movies by some shoddy directorial work, poor camera positioning, corny dialogue and, worst of all, trying insert sickeningly cloying love-dramas into war movies, complete with singing and dancing.
This attempt to be everything to everyone does not work for war movies which must perforce be intense, violent and touching all simultaneously. There is no room in a war movie for anything other than the intensity of combat and the human drama that entails. There is certainly no room for choreographed dance sequences complete with lip-synching actors.
For a country that has fought four major wars, participated in a large-scale intervention in Sri Lanka and fought an intense but undeclared war in Kargil – not to mention combat in Siachen or with UN Peacekeeping operations and India’s very significant role in World War Two – India has made remarkably few war movies.
Of these, 1964s Haqeeqat stands out as a remarkably heartfelt tribute to India’s disastrous 1962 war with China. The next war movie of real quality was the 1973 version of Hindustaan ki Kasam which featured some superb footage of low-level air strikes and some of the best colour video footage of the Indian Air Force of the early 1970s. While the acting was decidedly mediocre, the plot was intriguing and the intensity of the aerial action made up for a lot. Aakraman of 1975 was a poor film. While there were some good combat scenes, the excessive melodrama, clichéd dialogue and very un-soldierly bearing and appearance of the lead actors combined to ruin the movie.
An unsung classic was made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Indian Air Force in 1982. Vijeta was probably the most technically accomplished India war movie to date. Not completely flawless, this film nonetheless took the story of an IAF pilot trainee through the phases of training and into combat in a MiG-21. While never naming the enemy explicitly, the movie culminates in a Longewala-type armoured attack being stopped by a combination of Indian artillery and air strikes.
Since then, what did we get? J.P. Dutta’s films did not live up to their potential and their battle sequences were contrived.
Having Suneil Shetty chase down a Pakistani tank with a mine in his arms in Border was just preposterous as was Akshaye Khanna shoving his pistol into his waistband despite having a holster. In addition, (just as in Haqeeqat) it was glaringly obvious that many of the actors were not firing their rifles but just simulating recoil. This was not repeated in either LoC Kargil or Lakshya but in both those films, some better camerawork and lighting could have improved the battle scenes – not to mention better scripting.
India’s restrictive weapons rules for cinema have hampered filmmakers quite badly, with the otherwise superlative Madras Café and Haider (neither of which are strictly speaking war movies) having to make unfortunate compromises for their combat scenes (in the case of the latter, the urban insurgency scenes). This seemed to change for the better with Baby where for the first time a variety of weapons were shown as actually being fired adding to the realism of the action (remember the prison van escape scene?). However, Tubelight seems to revert to mediocrity as [tooltip id=”88b6af99531f838ed90aed058b7d870a”][tooltip id=”c1b465420d07c688942ed18eadfd9f92″ keyword_color=”#000000″ background_color=”#ffffff”][tooltip id=”4db8f5608d45f5de7881d9bce162f4bf”]Salman Khan[/tooltip][/tooltip][/tooltip] is shown in combat gear carrying what is obviously a badly made mock-up of a rifle.
It is time that Bollywood shed its all-embracing cloak of mediocrity and make a war movie worthy of the Indian armed forces. We may be impressed with Hacksaw Ridge, or Saving Private Ryan, or harken back to Patton and The Longest Day but we have failed to tell the story of India’s heroes.
Will there be a story of the 21year old hero of the Battle of Basantar – 2nd Lt. Arun Khetarpal – whose ageing Centurion Famagusta took on Patton tanks of Pakistan’s 13th Lancers? Or will Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon’s story be told of one Gnat against six Sabres over Srinagar? Maybe even the story of the “Killers” missile boat raid on Karachi? Perhaps somebody will be willing to even recreate the Battle of Asal Uttar and CQMH Abdul Hamid’s heroic stand? What about Indian soldiers in the Western Desert against Rommel, in Burma against the Japanese or in Mesopotamia against the Turks?
These are stories of India’s military past that need to be told. Old soldiers are dying and military history is not something that has ever been India’s academic strongpoint. Will the coming generations know of India’s heroes? Or will they be treated to a view of war entirely through Western eyes with the only genuflection Bollywood makes in that direction being some nauseating love story set against a war?
India’s armed forces deserve better than that. Their stories deserve to be told honestly and properly with adequate attention paid to realism and visual effects.
The efforts to date have been at best honourable failures, with some undoubtedly better than others. It is a damning indictment of Bollywood ’s priorities that India’s best war movies were made between 1964 and 1982 with the 21stcentury producing at best honourable failures in this genre.
It is hoped that India’s actors, directors, producers, and the armed forces can collaborate in a venture truly worthy of the real heroes of the Indian nation. They have earned the right to be remembered with dignity, with honour and with some cinematic excellence.[tooltip type=”box” html=”Input Your Content Here” box_background_color=”#eeeeee” box_opacity=”0.95″ box_padding=”10″ box_border_color=”#3F3F3F” box_border_width=”1″ box_border_radius=”0″ id=”88b6af99531f838ed90aed058b7d870a” /][tooltip type=”box” html=”Salman Khan Bollywood Actor” box_background_color=”#eeeeee” box_opacity=”0.95″ box_padding=”10″ box_border_color=”#3F3F3F” box_border_width=”1″ box_border_radius=”0″ id=”c1b465420d07c688942ed18eadfd9f92″ /]