Research, Respect, Reality: The Missing Ingredients in Today’s Indian War Films

Beyond Heroism: Exploring the unsung stories and truths of war in Indian cinema

A recent viewing of the film Fighter made many connoisseurs wonder whether Bollywood will ever stop flirting with a serious subject like war. The performances by Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone appear cavalier. They desperately try but fail to look convincing as soldiers. The script has many lacunae and it goes haywire. The war scenes are not at all appealing. There is no attempt to make a realistic war film like the evergreen Hum Dono and Haqeeqat.

The issue of war is not something to flirt with. Five decades ago in the background of Hindustan Ki Kasam, writer, director, and actor Chetan Anand’s voice narrated, “Ladai mein kab kis ka jeet hota hai. Akhir har hi hoti hai”. A saying which no other filmmaker has dared to reveal. Hindustan Ki Kasam, the first Indian film on aerial combat was not a classic. Yet, the dog fights were realistic, the performances and music haunting. Its later continuity in Vijeta a decade later directed by Govind Nihalani was memorable but not comparable to Hindustan Ki Kasam.

The problem with war films in India is that the majority of the directors do not have any vision or knowledge about the lives of soldiers, the background of battles and how they are wedged. JP Dutta may have given a big hit like Border. His magnum opus LOC was not very successful. When compared to Haqeeqat(1964) they appear as damp squibs. Even today the majority of defence personnel admit Haqeeqat was the best war film of International standards India ever produced. General Jayanta Chowdhury and Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw also praised Haqeeqat.

Uri-The Surgical Strike was certainly a more well-made film compared to Fighter. Yet what it lacked was the true emotion of a battle backdrop. Above all the political scenarios behind each war are never touched. Nevil Maxwell’s famous book, India’s China War which was banned in the 60s by the then Congress government has showcased many facts which prove that the 1962 Sino-Indo conflict was not merely a total Chinese aggression. India also had many faults. This is the biggest drawback of even a classic like Haqeeqat which has a pro Nehruvian socialism oriented thought.

The People’s Liberation Army of China appeared ridiculous and was not portrayed properly. Bhutanese and Ladakh dominants who performed as Chinese soldiers could not rise to the occasion. The scene where Chinese soldiers open watches of dead Indian infantry, was certainly not called for in a classic by a stalwart like Chetan Anand.

Indian films can never be compared with European or Hollywood war classics. They are much more well-researched, pinpointed, well mounted and better made. General George Patton (George C Scott) says, “What a waste of a brilliant infantry” in the film Patton (1970). He compliments Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s efforts to lead a great army which gets defeated by Allied Forces due to wrong ambitions of a desperate bid to conquer power. Only a soldier can understand his counterpart even if he is his enemy.

In this aspect, Chetan Anand never ridiculously showed the Pakistani soldiers in Hindustan Ki Kasam. True, it was a stylized fiction film on the 1971 air combat but had memorable moments. Who can forget Bharat Kapoor (Usman) the Pakistani air force officer embracing his aunty (Beena) saying, “Khalajaan aaj ammi ki yaad taza ho gayee. Bilkul wohi shakal.” There were tears in Bharat Kapoor’s eyes, real and not created by glycerin.

Coming back to Fighter one can only forget it even when the show is on. Such banal films disturb one’s senses. War is not merely heroism and chivalry. There is a big tragedy and countless teardrops behind each battle or war. Ironically, typical pot boiler film-makers rake in money at the cost of false propaganda and synthetic sentiments. When will this stop?

Ranjan Das Gupta

is a Kolkata-based independent journalist. He has been doing freelance work for more than 3 decades and writes on arts & culture, cinema, politics, healthcare and education

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