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Pippa Web Review: For war, way too propah!

Updated on: 12 November,2023 04:41 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Mayank Shekhar |

I guess the director (Raja Krishna Menon), inevitably, has a lot to do with such basic aesthetics. You could sense much of it in Menon’s Airlift (2016), similarly set in a conflict zone

Pippa Web Review: For war, way too propah!

A still from the series

On: Amazon Prime Video
Dir: Raja Krishna Menon
Cast: Ishaan, Priyanshu Painyuli, Mrunal Thakur
Rating: 3/5

The first thing that strikes you about Pippa—besides its strange title, of course—is the sheer quality of the film’s production. 

I say this primarily because the last Hindi military film I watched is Tejas (2023). And it’s by the same co-producers as this film, RSVP (i.e. Ronnie Screwvala) who, in turn, also produced the super-slick, actioner Uri (2019), shot in Siberia. 

You only have to watch the opening sequence of Tejas—with the heroine’s eyes popping out like headlights, as she descends from a fighter plane in Pac-Man level VFX—to head straight to the theatre’s exit door. Don’t; the movie gets a li’l better after. That one is set among the Indian Air Force. 

This one gets inside a cavalry regiment. Meaning, soldiers fighting in armoured vehicles. Pippa itself refers to a particular type of amphibious battle tank, namely PT-76 (Patton, I guess), that can navigate water bodies. Pippa, being the nickname derived from the Punjabi word for tin-can (Dalda type dabba), that floats on water, the same way.

Just the wide-angle lens on multiple Pippas, in motion, charging over a shallow river, before they hit land, is money-shot enough for this movie to be conceived. The delta, dusty forest and interior scenes sufficiently add to the realism. 

I guess the director (Raja Krishna Menon), inevitably, has a lot to do with such basic aesthetics. You could sense much of it in Menon’s Airlift (2016), similarly set in a conflict zone. 

Although that wasn’t exactly a war-film. Pippa is. It’s set in the 1971 Indo-Pak War, in particular, the Battle of Garibpur, wherein Indian tanks evidently crossed the borders to defeat the Pak Army. In what was a war to liberate the Bengali-speaking East Pakistan as the separate republic of Bangladesh.

The second striking feature here is the lead actor (Ishaan)—aptly young enough to play an actual officer, in the form of a foot soldier. Unlike many you’ve seen, thus far, at war. Which, in the movies, as with life, is all about old men barking orders, and younglings succumbing to geriatric machismo, anyway. 

Ishaan, in a period setting since Mira Nair’s A Suitable Boy (2020), is a fully packaged star-material, in his own right. He also makes it to the film, because he can kill it with dance steps over AR Rahman’s soundtrack in the officers’ mess, when he isn’t looking the enemy in the eye. That innocence is hard to ignore. 

Likewise, the opening sequence of Pippa follows the usual (Tejas type) template—as you watch the young daredevil willing to risk his life over obediently following orders. Hence, establishing a rebel at heart. 

Is that one of the reasons, I notice, that despite the astounding bravery exhibited by this soldier, he didn’t actually win the Param/Maha Vir Chakra, the top gallantry award? Or is it because this battle took place, pretty much surreptitiously, before a formal announcement of war?

I refer here to Brigadier Balram Mehta, captain then, on whose life and personal account, i.e. the book, The Burning Chaffees (2015), Pippa is based. Now, I haven’t read the book to tell the level of creative heights mounted from the original material. 

The usual disclaimer is, of course, placed in the film’s opening slate. Like the ‘no-smoking’ warning, whenever a character lights up in the movie. Down to even a scroll on screen, “Always wear helmets on two-wheelers,” every time the lead actor shows up on a motorbike without one! God, seriously?

This film is also about the hero’s two siblings (Priyanshu Painyuli, Mrunal Thakur), who simultaneously join the war. Painyuli plays the lead’s elder brother, also in the Army. 

He infiltrates the Bangladeshi camp, like a lone wolf. I guess Painyuli as the Bangladeshi drug-lord in Extraction (2020) should’ve helped him land this role. Either way, I find him among the severely under-rated OTT stars. 

The two brothers in the movie don’t get along. Which could well be subtext for neighbouring countries at war. Or probably not. The issue with all the personal stuff merging with something larger is that it just feels way too ‘scripty’, if you know what I mean. Defying the ‘show, don’t tell’ dictum.
As does the film itself, which seems like watching war, and its clinical movements, from a distance. Rather than diving into something deeply visceral, responding to pain and emotions—instantly shaken up by gut-wrenching experiences from the trenches, as it were.  

I wonder why that is. It could well be that some of the greatest war films that plant the viewer into the centre of war—take the recent best examples, 1917 (2019), or All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)—are, in essence, unabashedly anti-war films, looking into the consequences of war, foremost. 

The message of Pippa as underlined in the end, “Sometimes not to fight is not an option” doesn’t cut it, without a counterpoint, that is the extreme price of war, in the first place. Empathy being the point of art, isn’t it? 

And which is always the personal story—no matter when, where, why, and to whom. Places where diplomacy, and conscience failed; only fatalist realpolitik and forced valour took over. 

What remains here, therefore, is an important piece of history, alright. And that’s how I viewed it—engaged, but unmoved. 

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