The take away from Director JP Dutta’s long-winded drama, Paltan, is that wars are an exercise in futility. But the bigger lesson is that no good comes out of making films that chronicle those crucial bloody episodes.
The film begins with the declaration that Paltan — starring a battalion of waning-but-winsome talents such as Arjun Rampal, Sonu Sood, Harshvardhan Rane, Gurmeet Choudhry, Luv Sinha and Siddhant Kapoor — is based on a “skirmish” that played out between rival nations India and China in 1967. The episode hasn’t been documented in our history syllabi, but Dutta is eager to add a chapter through cinema.
In Paltan, the morale and the mood among the scrupulous Indian soldiers stationed at the border in Nathu La in Sikkim is grim and belligerent. They are still balking from their humiliating defeat against the Chinese troops in 1962 and baying for their enemies’ blood.
Rampal plays the honourable army leader Lt. Col. Rai Singh, while Sood seems to be the second-in-charge as Major Bishen Singh. They are both on call to give rousing speeches to their foot soldiers and indulge in slogans that rhyme.
Sample this: “No guts, no glory. No legends, no story” (Don’t quote me verbatim because it was that forgettable). While the viewer may cackle at Rampal’s attempt to shake things up, the actor has little to sink his teeth into. A nod, however, has to be given to the Indian National Award-winning actor for keeping a straight face while mouthing those unremarkable lines.
But Paltan is filled with inane verses from honourable men in uniform.
“Brother on my right, brother on my left; if we don’t stand united, we lose the fight,” is one such gem.
The Indian soldiers, inspired by true army men, are stock characters. They are cloyingly good gentlemen without a mean bone in their body or a wild streak to add some drama. If the gloriously-muscled Rane is a stellar Sikh son to his ageing farmer parents, Choudhary as Captain Prithvi Singh Dagar is a golden bloke who dreams of leading a conventional happy married life with kids. But such good men don’t necessarily make for riveting cinema.
There’s also a blatant attempt at glorifying India, while dissing the Chinese. If the dapper, erudite Rampal is the team leader for the Indian platoon, a rotund, jocular man in the rival’s team leader.
Indian soldiers could all be swimwear models, while the Chinese side were relatively unremarkable in their looks department. Such vanity discrimination often highlights a filmmaker’s partiality towards controlling the pro-India narrative.
The plot isn’t particularly engaging either. The conflict, which is an obscure-but-remarkable victory by the Indian army, doesn’t have any sense of urgency. There’s also no clarity in why a battle, that saw hundreds of lives being sacrificed, was triggered. Instead of focusing on context and giving us a wholesome perspective, precious minutes are wasted on giving us an insight into a soldier’s love lives. An emotionally-charged song featuring soldiers reminiscing about their personal lives in a war drama jarred.
Actors Sinha and Kapoor are unremarkable in their roles and easily dispensable.
Paltan is a dangerously bland film with limited action. Watch this if only if you are a fan of conflict-driven films, otherwise the casualty could be your patience.
Director: JP Dutta
Cast: Arjun Rampal, Sonu Sood, Harshvardhan Rane, Gurmeet Choudhary, Luv Sinha and Siddhant Kapoor
Stars: 1.5 out of 5