Directed by Chetan Anand
This war movie has the reputation of the best movie in this little used genre in Indian cinema, at least until J.P. Duttaís Border. Set during the Indo-China war of 1962, where the Indians were soundly defeated by the Chinese, it is the story of a group of soldiers fighting on the Ladakh-China border.
I have to come clean and say that while I donít dislike war movies, Iím not a huge fan either, and this one contains all of the flaws (or at least the flaws as I see them) of the genre: too many shots of people shooting in the trenches, too many shots of people being shot, and too many scenes of dead strewn about on the harsh landscape; despite these all being well filmed in this case. (This may of course be a way of having the audience experience the relentlessness of the situation and the fatigue of the soldiers but I could do without it).
That said, I thought the film had a lot of strengths. Initially, a group of soldiers are introduced with snippets of their personal stories and family backgrounds being shown through flashback, allowing the audience to form emotional identifications and connections. A young and very handsome Dharmendra (Captain Badahur Singh) is the son of a commanding officer who spends the first half of the film falling in love with Laddakhi girl, the striking looking (not in the conventional beauty sense but in an ability to convey a purity/ innocence/clarity/ inner strength or something kind of like that) Priya Rajvansh. (She also has an interesting back story according to Rachel Dwyer in her book 100 Bollywood Films where apparently she (Priya Rajvansh that is) was romantically linked to the director, then murdered by his sons over property bequeathed to her in his will).
Anyway, I enjoyed the first half of the film where all of the characters were being introduced and established as people with back stories before they were soldiers and how their lives had been affected, and the later parts of the film that elaborated these connections and poignantly showed (with brief but very effective images) the losses as felt by both soldiers and their families.
The battle scenes (or equally traumatic retreat from battle scenes) made up most of the second half of the film. The film becomes increasingly propagandist as it progresses (Chinese leering with sadistic enjoyment as a brave Indian girl is raped and tortured), then for the last ten minutes turns into a nationalist call to arms. Given the film was released just two years after the actual conflict ended, I can see how the whole feelings may have been a bit raw and led to some unnecessary (and belaboured) proselytising. In my opinion however, these lapses into heavy-handedness detracted from the otherwise well crafted narrative.
The spectacular locations in Laddakh really added to the atmosphere of the film (though the contrast was great with some of the obviously fake papier mache indoor sets) and much of the cinematography was stunningly effective.
Performances were generally OK but the parts were all fairly small, so it was difficult for characters to be fully fleshed out and therefore for performers to show their best. The ones who stood out for me were Balraj Sahni as a dedicated officer who is unlucky in love (and he had the biggest part), Sanjay Khan as a local kid who befriends Captain Badahur Singh, and Priya Rajvansh as the love interest who changes from an almost mute and mousey mountain belle, into a soldier herself.
Three songs in particular stood out for me in this film, all sad (and in my copy of the film the songs had subtitles
which really helped in my appreciation of the poetry and the pathos). One involved a soldier singing about an argument that he had with his fiancee where he was expecting that she would make a move towards reconciliation but didn't; a song of lament sung by exhausted and despairing soldiers about their loved ones forgetting them because they think they are already dead; and a Diwale song about life during war times as being black and smeared with blood so the lamps are unable to be lit by the families at home.
I found this an uneven film with parts of the story I enjoyed immensely and was touched by with some very impressive cinematography, and other parts that felt laboured or just propogandist. All in all, Iím glad I watched it though.