Cast: Jackie Shroff, Arjun Rampal, Sonu Sood, Harshvardhan Rane, Gurmeet Choudhary, Siddhant Kapoor, Luv Sinha, Esha Gupta
Director: JP Dutta
It isn’t especially hard to point out what ails JP Dutta’s Paltan. The veteran filmmaker who relied on a shrewd combination of chest-thumping patriotism and genuine heartfelt emotion to deliver a stirring message on the futility of war in 1997’s Border, fails to reinvent the wheel in his latest outing.
Based on a 1967 skirmish between Indian and Chinese troops near the Sikkim border, Paltan is a by-the-numbers exercise with neither well-etched characters nor charismatic actors playing them. It’s a two-and-a-half hour slog in fact with few redeeming features.
Early on in the film, an unintentionally comical Jackie Shroff, playing a Major General with the sort of English accent that is neither Cambridge nor Kirori Mal College, tasks Arjun Rampal’s Lieutenant Colonel with protecting the Nathu La Pass from possible Chinese penetration. Rampal’s battalion comprises an assortment of bravehearts and hotheads who speak exclusively in slogans (Sonu Sood), or exercise shirtless in the snow, rubbing it on their waxed chests (Harshvardhan Rane, Gurmeet Choudhary). I swear I’m not making this up.
Typically, each of the men get emotional flashback scenes involving elderly parents, loving partners, or innocent children, to drive home the point about the number of lives invested in each soldier’s well-being. This is a valid and thoughtful idea, but these portions are treated exactly in the same way that the filmmaker used to treat them 20 years ago, and hence feel predictable and obligatory even.
The enemy – whether it was Pakistan in Border and in LOC Kargil, or China in this film – is always sneaky and unfailingly resorts to dishonorable actions. There is very little shading in Dutta’s films, but Paltan features possibly the most comical villains in any seemingly serious war film ever. Chinese soldiers here are basically portrayed as hecklers or childish irritants, and the conflict between the men on either side is treated and filmed so clunkily it reduces a key moment in our history to what resembles a minor squabble.
In the end Paltan is way too long and also frequently boring. The big war scene – all sound and fury – is saved for the film’s climax, and Dutta sticks to his tried-and-tested formula of ending the film with a soulful Sonu Nigam track over images that convey the real casualties of war. But it’s no Sandese aate hain, and although you do choke up it’s unlikely that the film or its characters will stay with you even until you reach your car.
I’m going with a generous two out of five for Paltan. It’s got a tired, recycled feel to it, and fails to hold up to Dutta’s better films.
Rating: 2 / 5