Anybody who grew up in the 1990s India is bound to remember the popular Pepsi slogan “yeh dil maange more” (“the heart wants more”). The phrase was also used as a victory signal by Captain Vikram Batra in the Kargil war when his men were tasked with capturing Point 5140. In the 2021 Bollywood movie “Shershaah”, actor Siddharth Malhotra who plays Captain Batra recreates the scene with aplomb, making the scene one of the high-points of the film. But such scenes are too few and far in between.
This biopic on the Kargil war-hero Batra is directed by Vishnuvardhan Kulasekaran and produced by Karan Johar. While the big-budget production value reflects on the screen, with stunning views of the snowy mountains where the India-Pakistan war was fought, unfortunately, Siddharth Malhotra, who looks every bit the part of a young dashing army officer, is just not able to stir up emotions in the viewer. This lack of catharsis is compounded by drippy dialogues, that sound like they’ve been copy-pasted from some old Bollywood handbook for script-writing.
The film starts off with an intriguing scene of Batra leading his men during the war, bullets raining everywhere, making it look like they are fighting a losing battle. Immediately, the makers shift the narrative to a childhood flashback, where Batra and his twin brother are playing ball in their neighborhood and get into trouble with some older boys. This little flashback scene to show how Batra wanted to serve his nation since he was a little boy was tepid and almost unnecessary. Especially since it’s placed after a heavy-duty gunfight.
The story-line flits between Batra’s life as a college student where he met the love of his life and his journey as a soldier in the Indian army. Kiara Advani as Batra’s onscreen girlfriend is sweet and pretty, reminding one of golden girl Hema Malini with her demure Punjabi girl look. To Siddharth Malhotra’s credit, he does a decent job, but he isn’t able to push the envelope and move the viewers. Again, one cannot complain enough about the lazy dialogue writing, which often pulls the mood down. At one point one wonders – “why didn’t the actors protest against their silly lines?”.
As far as the war-action is concerned, we get a lot of guns, grenades and fast-paced combat scenes. Since it’s all based on actual events, the scenes are engrossing, with army-men discussing battle strategies and maneuvers to outwit the enemy. The climax is over-dramatized to milk emotions, and might work on a lot of viewers. In the end, you cannot help but read up more about the real life hero that Captain Batra was, and perhaps that’s what matters.
Overall, “Shershaah” makes for a good one-time watch with the family, with good soundtrack and great cinematography. If only they had hired better dialogue writers. The viewer’s ‘dil maange more’ too.
It’s a 6/10 from me.
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