“Pippa,” directed by Raja Krishna Menon, marks a departure from the typical Bollywood tropes often associated with war movies. In a genre saturated with exaggerated patriotism and bravado, “Pippa”
distinguishes itself by offering a realistic portrayal of war, focusing on authentic characters and eschewing melodramatic elements. Produced by Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP and Siddharth Roy Kapur’s Roy Kapur Films, the film unfolds a narrative that places a just cause and the people fighting for it at the forefront. Rather than relying on grandiose nationalistic sentiments, “Pippa” delves into palpable humanity.
The film’s setting is against the backdrop of the Battle of Garibpur in November 1971, and it features Ishaan Khatter in the lead role. “Pippa” takes its time to warm up but eventually delivers a nuanced portrayal of battlefield valor. Unlike many war films, it avoids shallow bravado and bravura, offering a genuine depiction of the internal and external challenges faced by the characters.
The story revolves around three siblings: two army boys and their spirited sister, Radha, who is a Delhi University student activist. Radha is recruited by India’s spy agency to intercept and decipher secret wartime messages. The film begins with a voiceover by Captain Balram “Balli” Singh, a real-life war hero, providing a brief historical context for the 140-minute film.
One of the film’s strengths lies in its refusal to succumb entirely to the action and violence associated with war narratives. Instead, it retains a focus on the human aspect of the story. The portrayal of soldiers as heroes is not devoid of personal challenges, doubts, and misgivings, adding layers of complexity to their characters. “Pippa” underscores the familial bonds and camaraderie among soldiers, avoiding the shrill chest-thumping often found in similar war films.
The impetuous Balli serves as the film’s protagonist, representing the twentysomething generation of soldiers. The film draws inspiration from the book “The Burning Chaffees” by a brigadier, who is also Balli’s elder brother. Balli’s journey involves facing an internal inquiry for defying a superior’s order during a joint Indian-Russian military exercise. Despite being banished to a desk job at army headquarters in Delhi, Balli remains adept at handling the “Pippa,” the 45 Cavalry’s PT-76 battle tank.
His elder brother, a 1965 war hero, goes incognito and infiltrates East Pakistan with Mukti Bahini fighters, while Radha finds her way indirectly into the war as a military intelligence code-breaker. The film aptly balances drama, action, and character development without veering into jingoistic territory.
“Pippa” captures the essence of the 1971 Indo-Pak war, not merely as a conflict against an enemy but as a response to a genocide unleashed by a ruthless government. It invokes the spirit of courage and victory when necessary, but equally crucial to the narrative is the camaraderie developed among soldiers fighting together. The film emphasizes that it was humanity that propelled India into the conflict, despite the human and financial costs involved in accommodating ten million refugees.
While “Pippa” is not without imperfections, such as the dissonantly remixed song, it stands out for its overall tone, which remains far from jingoistic. Cinematographer Priya Seth and editor Hemanti Sarkar, both women, contribute to the film’s distinctive texture. Their work adds a contemplative rhythm, setting “Pippa” apart from run-of-the-mill military action films.
In conclusion, “Pippa” emerges as a war movie that successfully navigates the complexities of its subject matter. By maintaining a focus on genuine characters and their human experiences, it transcends clichés and offers a nuanced portrayal of the 1971 war. The film’s commitment to storytelling that resonates with palpable humanity distinguishes it as a noteworthy addition to the war movie genre.
Ishaan Khatter, Mrunal Thakur, Priyanshu Painyuli, Soni Razdan
Raja Krishna Menon