Starring: Jackie Shroff, Arjun Rampal, Sonu Sood, Harshvardhan Rane, Gurmeet Chadhuary, Sidharth Kapoor, Luv Sinha, Rohit Roy, Esha Gupta, Sonal Chauhan, Deepika Kakkar
Director: JP Dutta
Music: Anu Malik
Release: 7th September 2018
JP Dutta burnt his fingers 12 years ago with his adaption of Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s Umrao Jaan and has been missing from the scene since. The attention came when he announced Paltan, his final instalment to his war trilogy, the preceders being Border (1997) and LOC Kargil (2004). Delighted fans rejoiced on his return in faith of another war epic. Dutta’s career spanning over 4 decades, now brings his feature to new cinema-going generation which have opened arms to patriotic films of recent such as Airlift (2016) Raazi (2018) and Gold (2018). The question is if Dutta has made his film according to the current generation sensibilities.
Exploring the tenacious relation between China – India, the film is based on the 1967 untold story of the Indian Army facing off an intense physiological battle with the intruding Chinese forces at Nathu La pass by the Sikkim Border, leading to the tactics and tricks of the Chinese imposing their power over the India force in to seizing land not rightly belonging to them.
Without doubt, judging from Dutta’s backlog, has been a master storyteller and well-explored researcher who is attentive to the ongoing of the scenario almost as if you were there. As a filmmaker, Dutta has not comprised on the grandeur look brought on the forefront of a largescale, making every frame ‘cinema-worthy’
Sadly, this attempt from Dutta misses the opportunity of arguably being a potential great exposure of an unexplored territory. Dutta has captured the essence of the landscape and the atmosphere of the tensed zone, but as a Hindi feature filmmaker it seems Dutta is still living in era that has gone past its expiry date.
The biggest problem with Paltan is that in a two and half hour film, it only becomes relevant in the final 30-40 minutes. The drama takes too long to build up, the first half has a bland taste with corny dialogues, clumsy flashbacks and awkward quotes that seem to be taken from Instagram memes. Some sequences even becomes unintentionally hilarious such as the army dancing around like bunch of oafs with a red chunni.
The forced and unneeded subplots of the characters backtracks are completely hackneyed attempting building sympathy for the soldier just makes one tempted to check their wrist watch. The relationships of the soldiers seem as unconvincing as Luv Sinha’s dialogues with a tasteless spice of fake Punjabi and tasteless gur.
As the narrative progresses, the dialogues begin to become even more hilarious. In the midst of the drama, during the conflict sequences we hear such dialouges as ‘tumhare neeyat aur geography dono karaab hai’ and ‘hamari maa ki chatti pe tumne kulhari mari hai’. Not only do the dialogues get more cringe-worthy, but the confrontation between both sides seem like a bunch 5 year olds fighting in the school playground mouthing ‘tum beimaan ho’ and ‘kyon kiya aisa’ eventually leading the children to throwing stones at each other, fantastic!
Dutta structures his characters with resentfulness throughout, exaggerated emotions towards the Chinese teleports the audiences back to the 70s. In the past, Dutta has portrayed the enemy, either being Pakistan or in this case the Chinese as an evil and malicious force and not as representatives of the perspective nation. Where the protagonists mouth racist written dialogues in the attempt to provoke cheer in the propagandist script.
The moment of shine for Paltan is the war sequence in the middle of the second half, a moment we begin to have hopes in the build-up of drama. Once the war sequence begins, the excitement levels rise leading to the unpredictability of the execution. The audience become involved in the sequence as the build-up was long awaited and is well executed. The final moments of the film , when Luv Sinha”s character delivers the remains of the soldiers to the families with Sonu Nigam’s Main Zinda Hoon in the background, truly bring a lump to your throat and chills down your spine.
With a large ensemble cast, Dutta is known for milking out individual superior performances in a crowd. In this case, Harshvardhan Rane and Gurmeet Chaudhary are the two who stand the tallest. Rane in his second feature, as well as having a great persona onscreen his character speaks volumes and his tall manly stature showcases his potential for future work. His energy during the action sequences in unmatched and one is reminded of the retro heroes that once ruled on screen. Gurmeet Choudhary drops impact during the conflict sequences, his stance and confidence over the dialogues build his character dominating almost every scene he is in. Regardless of Rane and Chaudhary’s odd bare chested work out in minus 20 degrees rubbing snow over each over, the two do surely bring the house down.
Arjun Rampal as the commanding officer certainly reminds the audience we see little of him nowadays, but the diversity of the actor in recent times shows the growth of him as an actor. His role as the commanding officer brings this big brother feel to the Paltan, which is tackled with complete maturity and sincerity. Sonu Sood comes across as the major quite naturally, the energy he brings to the character makes him look physically attached to the role.
Jackie Shroff looks and seems disinterested throughout and does not have a lot to do. Luv Sinha is extremely poor, one wonders why he was even cast. His dialogue delivery reminds the viewer of such terrible actors we had seen in the 90s, his expression and stance is completely wooden. Siddharth Kapoor doesn’t have a lot to do except for speaking Mandarin. Rohit Roy’s role is confusing as he comes post interval, not a part of most the scenes and then exits very soon.
The cinematography is top notch, capturing the quintessence of the landscape and giving complete justice to the war sequence. Editing could have been worked on, a lot moments could have been shorted or snapped. The DI work is quite mediocre, the colour grading during the film appear too dampened and dark. The Dubbing is completely off, almost looking like a dubbed Japanese film in some scenes.
Overall, Dutta knows how to execute war but struggles to bring together a war film. Dutta’s direction has become quite retro and needs to develop his skills suiting to the contemporary taste. The film exceptionally bores for a majority of the film, the first half doesn’t have anything engaging enough but the second half holds the attention. Dutta had a good idea but bringing it to life in a two and half hour feature fails to hold that grasp. It seems Dutta is following the same template he developed with Border for a war epic commercial feature and the template in being recycled. The film certainly has a Border hangover but can quite happily say the film is more engaging than LOC Kargil. In closing words, a ride that can be taken but surely a forgettable one!
Not worth fighting for!