Pippa is a welcome counterpoint to the many mediocre war films Bollywood has churned out in recent years. This adaptation of the autobiographical book The Burning Chaffees by Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta balances family drama with well-shot battle scenes.
At first, Pippa seems like Top Gun with tanks. Set during the run-up to India’s war with Pakistan in late 1971, Balli Mehta (Ishaan Khatter, playing the book’s author) is his squad’s best leader, but he’s a bit of a maverick. While training on a new Russian amphibious tank nicknamed the Pippa, Balli ignores commands to return to shore, pushing his crew and their tank into deep water. Men and machine survive unharmed, and Balli celebrates by wooing a pretty Russian translator in the film’s only — and very entertaining — dance number, “Main Parwaana.”
One thing to notice in “Main Parwaana” is how long many of the shots are and how few edits are used to piece the finished number together. That’s only possible because Khatter and Leysan Karimova (who plays the translator) are such talented dancers, but it’s a technique director Raja Krishna Menon reuses later in the film to make for some gripping action sequences.
Despite the story’s early focus on Balli, Pippa isn’t about a singular hero, but about where he fits among his fellow soldiers and within his military family. Balli’s father died in combat decades earlier. Balli’s upright older brother Ram (Priyanshu Painyuli) followed Dad’s career path and enlisted Balli against his will. Their sister Radha (Mrunal Thakur) is in medical school, where her interest in cryptography catches the eye of India’s secretive Communications Analysis Wing.
All three siblings play their part in the war, with Ram assigned to go undercover with freedom fighters in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and Radha deciphering coded messages from West Pakistan. After a brief punishment for his tank stunt, Balli is sent to the front, where he hopes to reunite with his brother and repair their contentious relationship. Being able to jump from one sibling’s vantage on the war to another gives a comprehensive view that connects the narrative in a natural way.
Khatter has the most to do in the film, and he’s more than capable as the story’s fulcrum. But terrific, focused performances by Thakur and Painyuli are essential to Pippa‘s success. The rest of the supporting cast is also quite good, including Chandrachoor Rai and Anuj Singh Duhan as Balli’s comrades Chiefy and Speedy, respectively.
Pippa has some great period details, including Radha’s killer wardrobe. Best of all are the tanks themselves. The way they roll slowly, menacingly over the terrain while belching clouds of dark grey exhaust makes one appreciate filmmakers who utilize physical props, not just computer generated effects. Scores of extras enhance the movie’s realism.
After all, the ultimate point of Menon’s story is to showcase the effects that war has on people. The characters state explicitly that this conflict is not just about one country versus another — the reductive way many directors have framed their movies about the 1971 war in recent years — but rather a war against tyranny. The suffering of the people of East Pakistan is centered, with Indian soldiers seeing themselves as agents to alleviate that suffering. Balli’s mother (played by Soni Razdan) reminds him that they were refugees after Partition, too, and seeing the dire state of the refugees on his way to the front helps him become the responsible leader he needs to be. It’s a refreshing, humanizing perspective.
- Pippa at Wikipedia
- Pippa at IMDb
- Buy The Burning Chaffees at Amazon
- “Main Parwaana” video at YouTube
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