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PALTAN: JP Dutta's outing on the Indo-Sino conflict

In the opening scene of Paltan, a postman sweeps through a quite lane in an undisclosed village in Northern India in 1962. The job of this postman is to deliver the news of the untimely death of the martyrs of the Indian army to their families. The alleys are dark with no lights, no form of communications and it looks like the beginning of a war movie which could have been great.

Paltan is directed by J.P.Dutta and stars Arjun Rampal, Jackie Shroff, Sonu Sood and others. The film is out in theatres.

This post is aimed at giving the review of "Paltan"(Hindi for Platoon) with some analogies of Indian war films and the facts on the Indo-Chinese military conflicts portrayed in films. The post also looks at the evolution of the Indian war films and its relevance in the current hyper nationalistic narrative of our nation.

The Plot of Paltan

The film is set in 1967 and talks in detail about the battle of the Nathu La pass in Sikkim where an Indian platoon known as The Rajput Regiment created a historic upset by pushing the Chinese from the border. A fascinating study of a mini cold war where both sides pretend to be friends but both are actually harbouring the urge of a war secretively. From the plot perspective, Paltan could have re defined the India war film genre. The Indian side is captained by General Sagat Singh while a Chinese Commisar handles the Chinese post. Both posts are divided by the Indo Chinese border in Sikkim. Its been shown that the Chinese wanted to capture Sikkim and hid their intention under the guise of the "Hindi-Chini bhai bhai" rant. The film plays out the 'secretive conflict' between both sides quite nicely. Had it not been a slow narrative, Paltan could have been much better. This film clearly highlights the Chinese strategy of blow hot and blow cold to perfection.

Pluses :-

J.P Dutta is the father of Indian war films and his eye for detail is the key to his vision. Everything "about the war" looks real in Paltan, Be it the stunning setting of Ladakh where they have shot most of the film or be it the trenches, the guns, the tanks. The film scores a high when it comes to production design. Nobody in Indian films can capture the Indian army's realism like Dutta. Dutta also skilfully portrays the Chinese side of the plot. Some of the Chinese speak fluent Hindi and it looks a bit odd. In addition, the scene in rain and storms have been captured beautifully. In the beginning of the film, Arjun Rampal and his baton are pulling a large gun on the hilltop. It is these images which may look larger than life to a lot of people.

Shortcomings of Paltan:-

So, after pulling of this monumental feat of shooting in impossible conditions, Dutta makes a gaffe of a lifetime. The cast of Paltan is its weakest point. No matter how great the writing has been, if the actors are not good, any story can fail to make a mark. I mean why for the love of God, Dutta has roped Arjun Rampal as the leader of the contingent. Sonu Sood as his deputy looks a bit decent as he does leave a mark with a reasonably put performance. Dutta has also cut corners by roping in TV actors like Gurmeet Chowdhury, Harsh Rane and countless others who play out "Saas Bahu" type performances and thereby killing the essence of the story. Consistent hamming and long long dialogues literally butcher the script. Rampal who is a bad actor tries very hard to make an impact. Jackie Shroff as General Sagat Singh is simply horrible in his mannerisms. He doesnt speak clearly in the film and eats half his dialogues. On the other hand, the Chinese speak fluent Hindi which one can understand well. Also Dutta's obsession with Punjab and its hinterland is not a secret. He shows villages of Punjab very well. In fact they look quite authentic. But the bad acting, the hamming doesnt save the movie one bit.

The Depiction of Indo-Sino Conflict in Bollywood

"Haqeeqat" directed by Chetan Anand in 1964 was considered a Gold standard by many as the reference film for the Indo Chinese wars. "Paltan" is the second film in Hindi which has been made on the 1960's conflict between India and China. The relevance of these films also brings to light the long standing border conflicts which erupted in Doklam recently. "Haqeeqat" chronicles a particularly tough time when India lost the war very badly to China. It actually captures the agony of defeat quite beautifully but "Paltan" talk of the war which we won. Albeit, its a smaller conflict but Indian soldiers emerge victorious here. There is also a sense of upliftment in "Paltan" as Indian forces end up defeating the Chinese platoon quite effectively.

Final Verdict:

The Baniya meter gives "Paltan" a 5 out 10 despite bad acting and bad direction. The saving grace is the stunning production design and photography.

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