23 Years of Border: Revisiting the characters of Sunny Deol, Akshaye Khanna, Suniel Shetty, and Sudesh Berry
JP Dutta's war drama Border completes 23 years today, and there cannot be a better day than today to delve into the psyche of Sunny Deol, Akshaye Khanna, Suniel Shetty, and Sudesh Berry's characters!
JP Dutta has made some of the biggest and grandest films of Hindi Cinema. In 2003, he assembled nearly 55 actors in one frame for his giant drama, LOC Kargil, arguably the largest ensemble in Hindi movie history. We are here to talk about his most successful and remembered film, Border, which came out on June 13, 1997. That was the era when social media hadn't taken over, so there was no one to pinpoint the tone and language of the film and how it could pander to the emotion of chest-thumping nationalism, which drives most of the films of this genre today.
In the good old days, Dutta knew how to press the right buttons and trigger the right dose of patriotism amongst the audience and carefully ensuring the material isn't dumbed down. He chose to tell the story of the 1971 Indo-Pak war and infused the narrative with the kind of drama one needs to make films of such nature work. The four principal characters that drove the film were Sunny Deol, Suniel Shetty, Akshaye Khanna, and Sudesh Berry. They all had their own personal turmoils, family issues, and emotional psyches.
They all were very different from each other and yet very similar. What united them was their love for their country and the thirst for victory. Here they are, discussed and decoded:
Sunny Deol as Major Kuldip Singh
Deol is known to have redefined the Angry Young Man persona on the celluloid after Amitabh Bachchan invented it with Zanjeer in 1973. It all started with Arjun in 1985 and continued till Gadar- Ek Prem Katha in 2001. It was in the 90s when his fury and frustration exploded on the screen that resulted in thunderous responses and reactions from his lethal fan-following. Fresh off the success of Ghatak and Jeet, Deol gave us Border, and this time, the antagonist was an entire country. But as Kulbhushan Kharbanda's character describes him as a coconut, the actor was more than just his screams and shouts, and there were two moments in the film where we saw his vulnerability. Once when he's about to go for war and his wife attempts to stop him, and when the war is over. India did win the war, but it also lost some of its bravest soldiers. And no actor could have blended both the drastic emotions as seamlessly as this actor. Certainly, there was always more to him than his Dhai Kilo Ka Haath.
Suniel Shetty as Commandant Bhairon Singh
Shetty's love for the Mother Earth in the film is reflected even before we first see him. He's introduced when he's enjoying a peaceful sleep in the desert as the sands cover his face. It's hard to keep a count how many times he declares his love for his Dharti and calls it his Maa. In a flashback, we discover he was called for duty right on the night of his wedding and he leaves as the Toh Chalu track plays in the background. His death scene may seem a little far-fetched today, but also showcases the fearlessness of a soldier and how the actor can deliver if at the mercy of a good script and a solid character!
Akshaye Khanna as 2nd Lieutenant Dharamvir Bhan
When Dharamvir and Major Kuldip Singh meet for the first time, the latter asks his senior, "You didn't tell me there's a kid among our 120 soldiers." The former affirms, "Yes, I'm a kid, just like my father who lost his life in the 1965 war." It's revealed his father and Kuldip were friends. Dharamvir's mother lost her eyesight after his father's death. We also see his charming love story with Kamla Singh (Pooja Bhatt). The idea of a soldier with a romantic and emotional back story in films tends to work every time. It gives a room for sympathising with their death scenes.
Khanna was yet to break through and Border gave him a tricky part. He's submissive and scared at first, shakes, and fumbles to kill an enemy. It's only after Kuldip's outburst that he gathers the courage to single-handedly eliminate a Pakistani spy a few scenes later. With this scene, a solider was born, and so was a star!
Sudesh Berry as Subedar Mathura Das
Mathura Das has to be the most callous soldier in Hindi movie history. He's perpetually nagging about being in a war zone, constantly bickers about not being permitted leave, and mocks Dharamvir for his physicality. His celebrations of finally going home irk Kuldip Singh to the point of killing him and declaring him a traitor. And a few minutes later, he's back to lend a helping hand to his army. Singh's words of wisdom, where he narrates the plight of his soldiers, have reformed him. This was the second soldier who underwent a transformation due to Singh.
A special mention to Jackie Shroff as Wing Commander Anand Bajwa and how he has a debate with Kuldip about the Indian Air Force being better than the Indian Army. The climactic scene where they both give a thumbs up to each other from a distance of over 10,000 ft. may have inspired a lot of memes on social media today, it still has the power to swell your hearts that we won the war!
But Border ends on an aching note as Hariharan's haunting voice, Javed Akhtar's brutal lyrics, and Anu Malik's melancholic tunes ask us a very crucial and pressing question- "Hum Apne Apne Deshon Mein Gehun Ki Jagah Chawal Ki Jagah Yeh Bandookein Kyun Bote Hain?" 23 years later, the question still remains unanswered!
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