Paltan is a Tired Tale of Brave Men in Battle
Movie Review by Surangama Guha Roy (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
J.P. Dutta is known for his aggressively macho projection of manliness. With Border (1997), he created sensitive, vulnerable characters, that stayed with us long after the end credits rolled. L.O.C Kargil (2003) was an interminable saga, but Paltan, the third part of his war trilogy, is by far the weakest link.
The Indo-China war of 1962 has long receded into the background amidst the hype surrounding Indo-Pakistan clashes. Yet, the 1962 conflict remains an important chapter in the nation’s history, leading to major changes within the military, bringing to the fore the necessity to prepare the army for surprise attacks. Paltan, though, is based not on the war itself but on the violent skirmishes that took place in 1967 between the two countries, at the Nathu La Pass, that led to the Indian army finally perpetuating the barbed wire fencing demarcating the line of control between India and China.
Yet, in spite of the subject matter, the film disappoints. The script lacks clarity and feels unnecessarily long. Dutta applies the same methods of character development that he did for Border in the late 1990s. And, well, that is so late 1990s! The plot swings tediously to and from the barren Nathu La Pass, and the back stories of the soldiers. We see the Rambo-esque Punjabi laundas who go all gooey eyed when they gaze at their fiancés. They make promises we know they would fail to keep. Yet, the heavily loaded melodrama that worked over two decades ago, fails to make an impression in 2018. The sequences drag, especially since we know where the narrative is headed. Moreover, the plotline is heavily reminiscent of scenes from Border. For instance, when members of the paltan start receiving letters from home, you almost resign yourself for the sandese aatein hain tune to start wafting to your ears. But, whereas the heartening music was one of the main highlights of this classic war movie, it falls flat in Paltan. There is no freshness — the movie for its entire runtime, feels like a déjà vu.
In terms of the cast, when Jackie Shroff, Arjun Rampal and Sonu Sood are the only veterans in the ensemble, you do sense a few moments of apprehension, especially when all the actors are playing real life figures from India’s military history. They get the job done adequately, though, and it helps that their roles require them to look macho and emote less. In their sketchily conceived characters, all of them get to spout one liners that are expected to lift the army’s morale. We get to hear phrases like ‘No guts, no glory, no legend, no story.’ Such lines, uttered mechanically from time to time, might motivate men on the battle field. But it did little to lift the audience’s mood in the theatres.
The rest of the cast, including Harshavardhan Rane, Gurmeet Choudhary, Luv Sinha perform admirably in their respective roles. The plot does pick up in the final moments, with Dutta’s masterful crafting of war scenes stealing the show in the climax. As the screen is filled with the stark image of the soldiers carrying away the bullet-ridden bodies of their dead brothers, against the darkening landscapes of the evening sky, you do feel a tad bit teary-eyed.
Yet, the director asks too much when he expects his viewers to sit through two and half hours, only for the plot to take off in the last half an hour. The movie is a tired attempt to tell a little-known story of India’s brave men, but it is told exhaustingly, and it misses its mark completely.