Film: Prime Video: Pippa
Director: Raja Krishna Menon
Cast: Ishaan Khatter, Mrunal Thakur, Priyanshu Painyuli, Soni Razdan
A slice of disturbing history, a war that India took a decisive part in and the bond of three patriotic siblings… Raja Krishna Menon’s ‘Pippa’, though set in the backdrop of the Battle of Garibpur during the India-Pakistan war of 1971, is essentially a story of endearing human bonds.
The film, with a runtime of 139 minutes, follows the division of Pakistan and its political and social consequences. Operation Searchlight and the ruthless killing of students at Dhaka University make it imperative for India to intervene.
The story is based on 1965 war hero Maj Ram Mehta (Priyanshu Painyuli) and his younger brother, Capt Balram Singh Mehta aka Balli (Ishaan Khatter), who is much in love with the Indian Army’s first amphibian tank, PT-76, which he fondly calls ‘Pippa’ as in ‘desi ghee ka pippa’. Mrs Mehta (Soni Razdan) is keen on getting daughter Radha (Mrunal Thakur) hitched and chinks appear between her brothers as a prospective groom visits. Before the talk moves to wedding, both are called to the line of duty. Radha, meanwhile, joins the Government of India’s secret communication and analysis wing.
Based on Brig Balram Singh Mehta’s ‘The Burning Chaffees’, the film sure has the battleground taking up much of screen space, but it becomes a playground for bonds within family and the regiment. It’s no ‘Uri’, ‘Raazi’ or ‘Border’, no jingoism or high josh here either, but it is still a story with a heart. It has intrinsic patriotism and human values as part of the genetic makeup of the characters. “Fauj main marne ke liye nahi, maarne ke liye bharti hote hain,” says Balli. If the three siblings are devoted to each other and the nation, striving to do their best is their mother, who, in her brief role, plays their guiding light.
The beauty of the film lies in light moments. How the unit takes the simple-hearted Ramphal for a ride; how the commander, Chiefy, takes charge of cooking mutton for his men before they get into the thick of action; or the banter after an exercise with Russian troops. All characters — whether Indian, Bangladeshi or even a former Pakistani sergeant — showcase a strong moral strand. Aiming at the larger good, they stand together despite the differences. While the film essentially belongs to the Mehtas and tells the story of the 45 Cavalry tank squadron, it does give a glimpse of the significant role of 14 Punjab Regiment that was part of the battle.
On the acting front, Ishaan Khatter looks freakishly young to command in the battleground, but then so are our Army Captains, young men in their 20s, ready to live and die for the nation. As a young rebellious boy on a journey to find his calling, Ishaan does a fair job. Priyanshu Painyuli as a war hero and elder brother-cum-father figure to the family gives a fine performance. Mrunal Thakur, who won hearts lately in ‘Sita Ramam’, acts her part well. The film is dotted with more endearing characters: Maj Daljit Singh Narang/Chiefy (Chandrachoor Rai), Anuj Singh Duhan as Speedy, Suryansh Patel as tank driver Ramphal and Leysan Karimova as Russian translator Zena.
Music by AR Rahman provides a befitting background score. Songs such as ‘Rampage’ and ‘Main Parwaana’ fit the situations well. Raja Krishna Menon, who gave an impressive ‘Airlift’, toes a different line in this supposed war film and tells a moving story from the past. If our Army is inspirational, the courage shown by Mukti Bahini in East Pakistan, as also the women and children there, is commendable too.
On the downside, though the battle scenes show a restored original PT-76 tank besides some replicas, the scenes turn out to be rather insipid. Some of the situations look contrived. But as one is invested in the heroes, who emerge victorious, one lets this slide by.
“Sometimes, not to fight is not an option,” declare the makers in the end credits. Almost half a century since the 1971 war, as the world engages in conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, one wishes it were not so.
Credit is due to director Raja Krishna Menon, who paints a picture of solid and endearing bonds within family and fauj!