Saturday, January 22

How India’s Armed Forces Have Become The New Bollywood Posters | Films

IThe Ndia Army will take a leading role this summer. On August 12, in time for Independence Day on the 15th, Amazon Prime’s big Hindi release is Shershaah, the biopic of the revered figure of Captain Vikram Batra, posthumously awarded India’s highest military honor, the Param Vir Chakra, after he died fighting Pakistani troops. on the Kargil Heights in 1999. “Shershaah” (meaning “King of the Lions”) was Batra’s code name during radio communications.

Shershaah is part of a long and popular tradition of Indian military films. Kargil’s war has only inspired eight blockbusters, and is released the day after another big-budget production, Bhuj: The Pride of India, about the construction behind enemy lines of an airstrip by the Indian air force, featuring the help of 300 villages. women, during the 1971 war with Pakistan that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. September will see the release of Ekkees (Twenty One), a biopic of the youngest recipient of the Param Vir Chakra, Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal, who died in the same conflict.

This current avalanche of war movies reflects India’s growing militarism in recent years and is firmly intertwined with contemporary political concerns. In contrast to the policy of “strategic restraint” of the previous government, current Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attached great importance to the military confrontation with Pakistan. In 2019, Modi apparently ordered an airstrike on a base in Balakot in Pakistan after a bomb attack on Indian soldiers in Kashmir; three years earlier, it had authorized a special forces raid into Pakistani-administered Kashmir, following grenade attacks on Indian forces. Indeed, Modi’s re-election campaign in 2019 was based on his retaliation in Balakot; styling himself from india chowkidar – “vigilante” – was re-elected for a landslide. But Pakistan is not the only neighbor that India has fights with. Deadly melee skirmishes were seen last summer in the Galwan Mountains, on the border with China, when India lost 20 soldiers while intelligence sources estimated that China suffered at least 43 casualties. The issue of war, especially mountain warfare, is at the forefront of the public mind.

Shershaah revisits what remains the highest war fought by any army in history. The Kargil war was also, after the opening of India’s economy during the 1990s and the advent of multichannel satellite television, news and the Internet, “India’s first televised war,” according to Sidharth Malhotra. , who plays Batra. Even before his death, Batra had become a national hero when he spoke to a young television reporter from the NDTV news channel about his promotion to captain on the battlefield, while recovering from an illness in a field hospital. In that interview, Batra revealed that his battle cry had been, Yeh dil maange more! (“The heart desires more!”), Taken from a popular Pepsi ad at the time. The motto is now more famous for the use of Batra than for any cola; while the reporter, Barkha dutt, has become one of the most famous and outspoken journalists in the country: the Indian version of Christiane Amanpour.

“We watched it unfold step by step,” says Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi. “His whole life was spent on television, they even went and talked to his parents… The audience had this connection to all these little children. We were all glued to our televisions. “

Kargil’s war has been depicted on screen several times, but Shershaah is the first film shot in the region close to where the fighting took place: a bare lunar landscape, covered in sharp, broken rocks that slide underfoot, and It gives an idea of ​​how difficult the conditions were. “It was the toughest mountain war ever fought,” says its Tamil director, Vishnuvardhan. “We couldn’t shoot at the actual location, because it’s 16,000 feet and the oxygen level is too low. We managed to film only between 12 and 14,000 feet … But we were able to understand the terrain and the difficulties they were facing. Even at that altitude, everyone from the talent to the technicians was losing their breath. “

Sidharth Malhotra plays Vikram Batra in Shershaah.
Sidharth Malhotra plays Vikram Batra in Shershaah. Photograph: Sujit Jaiswal / AFP via Getty Images

This year’s other great war movies, Bhuj and Ekkees, are set during the 1971 conflict with Pakistan, which, in the Indian mind, defines the relationship between the two powers. The geopolitical complexities, the massacre of civilians and the refugee crisis (more than 10 million people fled to India) and the political and economic crisis this caused in India, leading to Indira Gandhi declaring the Two-Year Emergency in 1975They have rarely made it to the Bollywood screen, preferring commercial action tales of individual bravery.

Unlike the military confrontations with China or the Failed peacekeeping operation in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990India’s wars with Pakistan are privileged by Bollywood “because we always win,” says Iyer-Mitra. These films are “used by India in the same way that war films are used by the US military, for recruitment and propaganda. You are assured of the cooperation of the military. ”The army gave its full support to the production of Shershaah, sending two officers to the site to help.

The military is one of the few institutions whose composition reflects India’s vast multi-ethnic and multi-religious population. Public support transcends regional and communal loyalties. Batra, Shershaah’s subject, had grown up absorbing the military’s romance with her twin brother, Vishal, watching the Sunday morning television action series Param Vir Chakra, named after the honor he received upon death. Both had wanted to be soldiers, but after being rejected by the army, Vishal became a banker and has supported production. “It is a moment of pride,” he says when he sees his brother played by Malhotra. “We had a lovely childhood and we spent 20 years of life together. The country knows my brother as Shershaah, but now it will know him as Vikram. “

Shershaah launches August 12 on Amazon Prime Video.

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