“This is the story of the war which wasn’t waged against any nation, but against tyranny.”
The protagonist, Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta of the 45th Cavalry tank squadron, serves as the narrator in the 2023 movie “Pippa.” The film recounts the story of three siblings, with two serving on the frontlines of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, while the third engaged in intelligence work behind the scenes.
Inspired by Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta’s book “The Burning Chaffees,” the film “Pippa” directed by Raja Menon offers a fictionalized retelling of the Bangladesh Liberation War. The story unfolds through the eyes of a young and rebellious character Balli (Ishaan Khatter), whose father is a martyr, and older brother Major Ram Mehta (Priyanshu Painyuli) a domineering 1965 war hero. Mrunal Thakur plays their sister Radha Mehta, who is studying to be a doctor, with a deep interest in cryptography and political affairs. How each sibling plays a crucial role during the war, contributing to the birth of Bangladesh, forms the crux of the movie. Simultaneously, the film also explores their fraught personal dynamics.
For viewers who might not know much about the 1971 war, “Pippa” begins with a brief history of the 1947 India-Pakistan partition and why East Pakistan wanted to be liberated from the west, presented through animated sequences. After the painting-like animated illustrations, the cinematography shifts to real humans and starts with a visceral massacre of students at Dacca University by the Pakistani military. The sequence was brutal, setting a somber tone for this war film. But the mood changes again when the film finally shifts its attention to the primary protagonist of the story, the young Captain Balram Mehta, who, in his introductory scene, is enthusiastically participating in a military exercise to test the PT-76 amphibious light tanks. “Pippa” is the name of Balram’s beloved tank, which helps him through the war. The cinematic variations in scenes, colors, mediums and mood within the very first half-hour was quite engaging, even though it isn’t as gripping throughout.
Ishaan Khatter, who was last seen as a goofy ghostbuster in the horror-comedy “Phone Bhoot” (“Fursat” if we count short films) before “Pippa,” plays the hot-blooded Captain Balram with aplomb. For the first few seconds, due to his youthful visage, it seemed unlikely that he would pull off a role that needed him to command younger soldiers, but despite his boyish looks, he confidently takes over the reins of his character. Priyanshu Painyuli’s character, Major Ram Mehta, is the first to go off to the front. He goes undercover as a civilian, pretending to be Bangladeshi, and joins the Mukti Bahini, the resistance movement fighting for East Pakistan’s liberation.
It’s interesting how Captain Balram, at first, is least concerned about East Pakistan’s affairs, deeming those seeking refuge in India as nothing but a burden on India’s resources. However, it’s his mother who reminds him that their family too had fled Pakistan when he was 2 years old and that people rarely leave their homeland out of choice during times such as these. In a rather soppy scene, Balram recalls his mother’s words when he finally reaches the front, encountering swathes of emaciated East Pakistanis sitting lifelessly in their villages.
The second half of “Pippa” is slightly slow and fails to recreate the ugly side of war in the same impactful manner as it does with the bloodied massacre of students in its opening scenes. And Radha Mehta’s subplot presents a peculiar juxtaposition in the movie that lacks compelling cohesion. While she works at a swanky, sparkly office that seems out of place for the 1970s (much like her attire), her brothers are engaged in the toils of the battlefield. Her narrative appears more like token female representation rather than a seamlessly integrated part of the tale. Nevertheless, token representation is preferable to none at all. Some of the smaller cameos were more riveting than Radha’s character, like Ramphal (Suryansh Patel), a young spirited soldier who is often mocked by his seniors for his simplicity, but his sincerity on the field shines through.
With a 2-hour runtime, ‘Pippa’ maintains a steady pace, and the plot is complemented by its soundtrack, composed by A.R. Rahman. While some tracks with their fast-paced beats perfectly blend with the mayhem of war, Rahman also incorporates haunting ballad-like music that personifies the devastation, deaths, and hopelessness of violence. After a significant amount of gunning, gloom, doom, and despair, the movie concludes with an emotional reunion. Even though the climactic moments don’t evoke the cathartic effect that most movies in this genre tend to have on viewers, “Pippa” ends on a triumphant note, with brotherhood and family taking center stage in the end. Ishaan Khatter and the supporting cast make this film worth a watch.
Rating: 7 on 10. You can stream “Pippa” on Prime Video.
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