Ishaan Khatter plays a fierce Army Corps officer in 'Pippa'
Ishaan Khatter plays a fierce Army Corps officer in 'Pippa' Image Credit: Supplied

War films from Bollywood tend to be jingoistic and shallow, but actor Ishaan Khatter’s new movie ‘Pippa,’ streaming now on Prime Video, bucks that creative curse.

Based on the novel ‘The Burning Chaffees,’ written by Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta, this searing war drama is a tale of three siblings who unite inadvertently against the backdrop of the 48-hour Battle Of Garibpur, which took place during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971.

Khatter plays the rakish and valiant Balram Singh Mehta, while his siblings are played by Mrunal Thakur and Priyanshu Painyuli.

Khatter, who steps into the uniform and shoes of author Balram Singh Mehta, begins as this the rakish and cocky ‘Balli’ but becomes grounded when he is in charge of spearheading an amphibious war tank, Pippa, to victory. It’s a coming-of-age story of a bold soldier who drives Pippa and his squad to the finish line alive.

Ishaan Khatter in a still from 'Pippa', out on Prime Video now
Ishaan Khatter in a still from 'Pippa', out on Prime Video now Image Credit: Supplied

Excerpts from our interview with Khatter,28, on being a part of a war film so early in his career, criticisms about being too young to play this role, and more...

First things first, do you miss your war tank, and do you feel weirdly proprietorial about it?

You are the first person who asked this very fitting question. My answer is yes, and I do miss it. It has been an experience of a lifetime to shoot with that war tank. We first started training with it back in 2021, and it was just insane. Who gets to do something like this… It’s a decades-old amphibian war tank, and every shot has me on the tank. I do miss it.

‘Pippa’ isn't your run-of-the-mill war film from Bollywood that’s heavy on chest-thumping patriotism…

Yes, I would agree. It’s certainly one of the reasons that I felt attracted to it. I felt there was some novelty in terms of plot material and in the substance of the story itself. Plus, the movie dives into a remarkable chapter of our history that we haven’t yet spoken about or made a film about. Also, it’s possibly one of the only wars that was ever fought for a just or noble cause. We [India] went into the war to support the freedom struggle for another country [Bangladesh] and liberate them. We literally stepped out of their land the next day that we achieved that goal. It’s unprecedented and has not been repeated since. So I wanted to be a part of that incredibly story. It’s a chapter of our history that needs to be a part of our conversations.

A still of Ishaan Khatter in 'Pippa', out on Prime Video now
A still of Ishaan Khatter in 'Pippa', out on Prime Video now Image Credit: Supplied

There’s criticism around your casting that you looked too boyish to play this role… Your thoughts…

All the guys that I have seen in cantonments or all the guys I trained with were younger than me. Agreed, I am probably one of the youngest male actors doing lead roles in films right now. I am keenly aware that I look young, and I would lean on those good genes in the future. I look younger than my age, but I was aware that we were trying to make a film that is authentic… I was with Raja sir [director Raja Krishna Menon] in the trenches from the beginning, fighting all the fights to make sure that we make something unique. I don’t think any actor has received a role like this at a young age, so I was aware that there will be conversation around that. I know I looked very young in some portions, but we were telling the story of a young man. In the early parts of the film, you’ll even notice that Balli is all about proving himself. He was selfish and for a lack of a better word, a moron.

Perhaps, cocky is a better word…

He had that arrogance of youth. These are all traits in someone young. You see my character arc when he begins to feel the responsibility on his shoulders and when he realizes that he could lose people or they could die… And remember, we wanted to make a film that was not too on the nose… Over the last few days, I have been flooded with messages and calls from army personnel and fauji [army] families saying that we can relate so much to this film. In terms of military lingo and the youngsters in this film, we were accurate and bang on.

One of my favorite scenes was the one towards the end where you reunite with your elder brother. There were no hugs or warm embraces…

It was a very subversive approach to that kind of scene. Normally in a Bollywood film, you would imagine a conventional approach where the first instinct is to show them embrace… But remember these two brothers had parted on a note where they were cussing each other before they went to war. It was bad juju. So when they get together, there’s an acknowledgment of that and some closure. Words are exchanged, and there’s renewed warmth. There’s catharsis in that scene because you sense the closeness and intimacy between them… Another scene that stood out was when my character shared a cigarette with his sister (Thakur), and they have this deep conversation… There’s reluctant respect among us, and it’s not on the nose. It was a very interesting approach to that scene and was definitely one of my favorite scenes to enact.

War movies are done by actors at later stages in their careers… But you have ticked it off the bucket list quite early in your life…

When you say it like that, it makes it sound as if we put no effort and preparation into it. And that’s the farthest from the case. If you know anything about armored regiments and tank men, their physicality is very lithe so that they can get into a tank and jump out quickly. So agility takes precedence over being big and beefy like what you see among Navy officers from the US. My physical regimen to prepare for this role mostly consists of cardio, not my personal preference. In terms of physical prep, we did two workshops with the Army where they put us through the wringer. We covered every physical routine, including marching, strength-training, endurance… We also took a few leads from Balram sir when he was 26. Armoured Corps officers usually wear their hair a little longer than traditional army men, and they are more suave and cool. And I am glad that we paid a lot of attention to the tiniest details…

First look of 'Pippa'
First look of 'Pippa' Image Credit: Supplied

So do you wake up hoping that you won't do ordinary films in your career?

I can’t escape who I am. While my single-point agenda is not to do the run-of-the-mill stuff, I have actually been lucky about getting good opportunities. I was lucky that Raja sir came to me with this film and wanted to cast me as opposed to an actor who’s 10 or 15 years older with a longer career behind him. Plus, I am glad that this film has received so much love and affection… The love for it has been unanimous. The love feels gratifying and is validation… There are a lot of people who put in their sweat, blood, tears, momentum, and energy into making this film.

Don’t Miss It!
‘Pippa’ is out on Prime Video now