There’s a certain appeal about films featuring the armed forces that immediately gets our salute. Sadly, the scenario invariably changes after a viewing…
Our hopes, for instance, recently rode high on Aiyyary. After all, its director, Neeraj Pandey had described it as ‘shape-shifting’, something a soldier resorts to in the face of extreme crisis, which not only bedazzles his own troop but also earns him the respect of his enemies. That sounded intriguing. Sadly, the film fell short by a long margin. Despite its pace and bluster and a Manoj Bajayee in fine form, the lack of substance was too glaring to ignore.
Bollywood loves its men in uniform - that much is clear. However, we apparently love our love stories more. One common factor in many so-called films about the armed forces is the mandatory love angle. Even Aiyaary has its ‘honey trap’ for the audiences in the form of Rakul Preet Singh, the girlfriend-cum-software specialist who had precious little to do besides look attractive.
Attempts have been made to create the perfect film about the armed forces; unfortunately that is something easier said than done. The Shahid Kapoor-Sonam Kapoor starrer Mausam (2011) was praised for its story and characters which were imbued with a delicate, old-fashioned charm by the actor turned filmmaker, Pankaj Kapur. However, this tale of a Kashimiri girl and an Indian Air Force pilot spanning 10 years, turned out to be both slow and illogical. For a film that included references to the Babri Masjid demolition, the Bombay riots, the Bombay bombings of 1993, the Kargil War, the attacks of 9/11 and the post-Godhra riots, that was damning criticism.
Similarly, 1995’s Param Vir Chakra, written and directed by Ashok Kaul, took sacrifice to slightly far-fetched levels. It portrayed the lives of three friends at the National Defence Academy, who fall in love with the same girl. The trio goes on to become an army officer second, a naval officer, and an air force officer respectively. On her birthday, each decides to propose to the girl. However, war is imminent and though the girl loves the naval officer, she decides not to break the others’ hearts as they leave to protect their nation. Touching? The audience didn’t think so!
J P Dutta’s LoC Kargil, which released in 2003, failed miserably in trying to replicate the thrill of the real life Kargil War, which was zoomed into homes via newsfeeds. This multi-hero film was found to be long-winded and not gripping enough to keep viewers hooked. This was surprising, given that till today real-life accounts from the Kargil War continue to grab interest.
2004’s Agnipankh, directed by Sanjiv Puri, focused on pilots in the Indian Air Force. The film, starring Jimmy Shergil, Rahul Dev, and Divya Dutta, attempted to portray the escape of three Indian Air Force pilots who are captured by the ruthless Pakistan forces. Their travails in the wilderness of the border of no man's land between India and Pakistan - with a ruthless Pakistani Military Commander hot on their pursuit, did not elicit much success.
The same year Milan Luthria’s Deewar – Let’s Bring Our Heroes Home brought together Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt and Akshaye Khanna in a tale about a group of Indian POW (Prisoners Of War) rebels against the Pakistani army. It portrayed their attempt to escape from captivity during the India-Pakistan war of 1971. The film, however, failed to receive the thumbs up from audiences and was given an average verdict at the box office.
Anil Sharma’s Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyo, which completes the trio of armed forces films that released in 2004, starred Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Bobby Deol, Divya Khosla Kumar, Sandali Sinha and Nagma in a film that is largely forgettable. It portrayed the inner conflict of its characters against the tensions between India and Pakistan, with matters escalating as Pakistani militants, backed by the Pakistani armed forces, try to rain terror during the Amarnath pilgrimage. The timely intervention of the Indian army officers saves the day, and the film ends with India and Pakistan deciding to fight terrorism together. The film eventually fell way below expectations and met with mixed reactions at the box office.
Hindustan Ki Kasam, the 1999 actioner directed by Veeru Devgan and starring his son Ajay Devgan (in a dual role), along with Amitabh Bachchan, Manisha Koirala and Sushmita Sen, was a tad hackneyed though it did averagely well at the box office. It told the story of a pair of twins who are separated when their Indian Army officer father is celebrating the win of their battle against Pakistan. One of the twins is brought up in neighboring Pakistan by a terrorist, while the other grows up as a Hindu in India.
Dealing with the themes of insurgency and extremism in different parts of India, Tango Charlie (2005), was written and directed by Mani Shankar. Starring Ajay Devgan, Bobby Deol and Sanjay Dutt, it followed the journey of a paramilitary man from being a young police recruit to a war-hardened fighter in the Indian border security force. The film promoted the idea that real soldiers are not born but bred. However, again it failed to find resonance with audiences.
Shaurya (2008), revolved around the court-martial of a Muslim soldier in the Indian Army for shooting his commanding officer. Set against the backdrop of the Kashmir conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, India, the film depicted the investigations of the defense lawyer into the circumstances leading up to the shooting. Loosely based on Hollywood’s A Few Good Men, the film did not manage to sustain interest on release.
Also revolving around an army officer was the 1993 film, Sainik, starring Akshay Kumar. The film was replete with twists and turns, as he is presumed killed on a mission, till he reunites to save his sister who had been kidnapped on the day of her wedding. Melodrama galore, this film definitely wasn’t aiming for posterity!
On the other hand, Shooji Sircar’s Yahaan (2005) won praise for being warm and intimate; however, the film was washed out literally in the infamous Mumbai rains of July 26. It told the story of a Kashmiri woman torn between her army officer lover and her jihadi-insurgent brother. The film portrayed the woman’s valiant attempt to save her lover, who is implicated as an accomplice, from the perils of a court-martial even as the terrorist brother is torn between his family's happiness and safety and his own jehadi cause.
The film 1971, which released in 2007, went on to win the National Award for Best Hindi Feature Film. However, it fails to ring a bell today, despite being a fairly gripping account of the escape of six soldiers of the Indian Army who were taken prisoner by the Pakistan army during the Indo-Pak war of 191.
The Ghazi Attack (2017) won positive reviews last year for its portrayal of the mysterious sinking of the PNS Ghazi in the 1971 war. Strangely, box office success eluded the film, perhaps owing to its lack of big names headlining the cast.
For every Lakshya, Haqeeqat or Border that hit bull’s eye, winning critical acclaim and box office success, there have unfortunately been many more that have missed the mark. Come on Bollywood, you can do better!