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Bollywood director JP Dutta, whose body of work is dominated by war films, believes firmly in cinema’s transformative powers. By bringing untold stories of armed conflict and destruction, the director behind Border and LOC Kargil which centred on India-Pakistan combats, hopes to awaken the pacifist in us.

“My intention with a war film is to immortalise my country men and our armed forces. Their sacrifices should be immortalised through the medium of cinema… Through my films,” said Dutta in an interview with Gulf News tabloid!.

The history graduate hopes that he would be able to cement American director DW Griffith.

“He was a filmmaker who taught us the grammar of cinema… He had predicted that cinemas would have shown that armed conflicts would disappear from the face of this earth through the help of cinema. I want to make his vision come true in a small way through my films. Cinema can influence and make sure that there is no armed conflict,” said Dutta.

His catalyst for brokering world peace? Paltan, his latest film, out in the UAE this Thursday, which concludes his trilogy of war sagas. The first two instalments from Dutta’s arsenal were Border (1997) and LOC Kargil (2013).

Led by a motley crew including Arjun Rampal, Sonu Sood, Harshvardhan Rane, Gurmeet Choudhry, Siddhanth Kapoor and Luv Sinha, Paltan focuses on an obscure chapter in Indian history: the 1967 Nathu La and Cho La clashes along the Sikkim border after 1962 Sino-Indian war.

We spoke to the actors, who play soldiers in the line of duty, to get to the bottom of the story:

 

MEET THE SOLDIERS …

Who: Arjun Rampal

You know him from: Rock On!!, Daddy and Om Shanti Om

His character in Paltan: Lt. Col. Rai Singh

His thoughts on Paltan: “This is a true story based on the skirmish that took place between the Indian soldiers and the Chinese. It wasn’t a full-fledged war. But it was an important one that took place in Nathu La on the border of China and Sikkim. At the time, Sikkim wasn’t a part of India. I play Lt. Col. Rai Singh who went to Nathu La with his platoon and joined the Rajputs stationed there and took command. What happened there was mind-boggling. There was no demarcation as to what constitutes the border. My character and Jackie Shroff’s character lay out a barbed wire fence and in army terms gave the Chinese a bloody nose. But our victory was kept under wraps due to political pressure. So those soldiers became our unsung heroes. They were a huge part of our Indian history.”

Rampal on his pride in playing a man in uniform: “I come from an army background as both my grandparents served their country in the Second World War and they fought the Chinese battles too. So in that sense, they were decorated officers and I was familiar with their heroic stories. Therefore, as an actor, it felt wonderful to play an officer in uniform… I feel a huge sense of responsibility playing a soldier. It was emotionally exhausting to play his role.”

His experience of working with director JP Dutta: “JP sir is a living legend and he’s known for his war films. He has a strong sense of our armed forces too. He understands them well and genuinely believes that they are unsung heroes. His quest with Paltan was to complete his trilogy of war films.”

What Paltan taught him: “This film has taught me that war isn’t a good thing. It’s violent and when a soldier loses his life, he leaves behind a family who feel his loss tremendously. Wars shouldn’t be promote. I hope Paltan evokes the feel of peace… But we also show that when the push comes to a shove, a war becomes a necessity. I also realised that it’s because of those armed forces that we can sit back and go to bed peacefully or go about our jobs as actors or journalists.”

 

Who: Sonu Sood

You know him from: Happy New Year

His character in Paltan: Major Bishen Singh

On being a part of Paltan: “Ever since I began my career as an actor, I wanted to do a war film. But you need a big heart to do one as there’s a lot of research and hard work that goes into creating that bloody world. When JP Dutta told me about the idea of Paltan, I told him I was interested even though I was shooting a South Indian film in Hyderabad. But I still shuttled between Hyderabad and Ladakh, where Paltan was being filmed, to make it happen. The role pushed my physical limits as the oxygen levels were low and we shot in minus 30 degree weather. Somehow, my fitness routine helped me survive. Usually, it takes two or three days for people to acclimatise, but I was whisked from the airport to the shooting location. It was physically gruelling, but emotionally scarring too.”

His most challenging scene: “There was a scene where the soldiers where in a sombre mood and I felt emotional. We filmed for around four hours and I couldn’t stop my tears.”

On whether there were egos at play in a multi-starrer: Paltan is a prime example of how team work can help in winning a battle. It’s important for actors to be on the same page. We enjoyed a good rapport with each other.”

 

Who: Harshvardhan Rane

You know him from: Sanam Teri Kasam

His character in Paltan: Major Harbhajan Singh (he replaced actor Abhishek Bachchan who walked out of the film at the last moment)

On being offered a role rejected by Bachchan: “It was divine intervention. I was in the mountains when I got the message from JP sir to be at his office immediately… I believe that heroes don’t choose their destiny, but destiny choose them. I am always thankful to JP sir for giving me a medium to portray this role of a Sardar soldier. The moment I wore my turban and costume, I felt transformed.”

On working with actors like Arjun Rampal: “When I was growing up, I used to watch him and he was like a Greek God on the big screen. The idea that now I have the opportunity to sit next to him and get feedback about my work or in the gym is just mind-boggling. Arjun Rampal is age-defying”

 

Who: Siddhanth Kapoor

You know him from: Haseena Parkar and Ugly

His role in Paltan: I play the youngest member of the Paltan. I am the hawaldar [constable] and the translator on the Indian army side as I speak Chinese in this war film. Mandarin was not an easy language to speak. But I hope I have done justice to it. My character is an integral part and holds a lot of importance.”

On nepotism and whether he’s a privileged actor in Bollywood: “I am the son of a legendary actor like Shakti Kapoor, but it’s your talents that speak ultimately. A doctor’s son will have a good chance at working in a hospital, but when he’s operating on his patient his father will not help him. Similarly, it’s the same for an actor. Being the son of a famous parent has its ups and downs. But an outsider isn’t compared to their sister, father or maasi [aunt]. It’s easier to create their own niche. Though the comparisons can get overwhelming, it’s hard work that counts. You need to be lucky in this industry to make it.”

His favourite war film: Lord Of The Rings and Ben-Hur.

 

Who: Luv Sinha

You know him from: Sadiyan

His role in Paltan: “I play a soldier who has just joined the army and gets thrown in the deep end. He’s expected to step up. He’s aggressive and conflicted. But he isn’t troubled because he is afraid, he just wants to make sure that his fellow soldiers aren’t hurt in the battle. He’s also intelligent and is prone to asking questions. There are many shades to my character.”

On nepotism and being the son of industry insider Shatrugnan Sinha and sibling of Sonakshi: “I haven’t had it easy even though I have a superstar sister and superstar father. There are outsiders who are manipulative or take certain steps that I would never consider… So we shouldn’t generalise or put everyone in the same frame… Every Friday, when a movie releases, it has the potential to change your life.”

His last words on Paltan: “We knew we are playing the part of a soldier. If we don’t play it well, then it’s a disgrace to them. If their duty is to protect our nation, our duty is to protect their reputations.”

His favourite war film: Border.

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Don’t miss it!

Paltan releases in the UAE on September 6.