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Shershaakh: a worthy biopic about a cult warrior

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Shershaakh: a worthy biopic about a cult warrior

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“Captain Vikram Batra, PTC and his Unit 13 Jak Reef really stood out because of the sheer scale of the task assigned to them, and also because of the exceptional professionalism with which it was carried out,” recalls Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain (retired).

I agreed to see Shershaakh on day one, first screening on OTT because my expectations for the film were exceptionally high; and of course I had to write this review.

The movie didn’t disappoint and I really enjoyed it. I knew first hand about the exploits of various units and some of their heroes during the Kargil War (Operation Vijay) from the briefings I attended at 15th Corps Headquarters in Srinagar every day in May-July 1999.

Captain Vikram Batra, PVC (P) and his 13 Jak Rif unit really stood out because of the sheer scale of the task they were given and the exceptional professionalism with which it was carried out and completed.

This is a worthy biopic based on a character who has become a virtual icon thanks to his famous lines – ‘E Dil Maange Sea‘ and ‘Ya to Tiranaga Lehra ke aaunga, ya Tirange mein lipta ke aaunga, par aaunga zaroor (I will either raise the tricolor in victory or I will return wrapped in it.).’

It was the moment of Indian CNN when, in May-July 1999, the war on one of the corners of LK in the Kargil sector of J&K began to be broadcast on television and reached living rooms all over India.

The Indian Army has always been revered by the Indian public for all the challenges, trials and tribulations that its soldiers have endured on the extremely difficult frontiers of India, especially in the Himalaya region. But it was only during this war that the public realized the magnitude of these tests, as a premonition of snow-covered heights, firepower and the indomitable spirit of soldiers could be seen on television screens.

The Pakistani army commander, General Pervez Musharraf, devised an ambitious plan to occupy some of the heights on the Indian side of the Kargil Line for larger strategic gains, which included India’s forced evacuation of the Siachen Glacier. These heights, by unwritten agreement, were vacated each winter by both sides and reoccupied the following spring/summer.

The context of the film is the period immediately after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee initiated the peace process with Pakistan in February 1999, when a lot of friendliness was in the air.

The gravity of the situation was that for three months after the Lahore Vajpayee Yatra for Peace, India waged war to drive out the Pakistani occupation.

In Kargil, there were not enough troops to carry out operations to repulse the Pakistani occupying forces. That is why Captain Vikram Batra and the 13th Jak Reef, along with many other prominent infantry units then serving in the Kashmir Valley, were transferred to Kargil to rebuild the occupied territories under the command of the 8th Mountain Division.

IMAGE: Siddharth Malhotra as Captain Vikram Batra.

The above context is important for understanding the film and the sequence of events without which there would be no informed viewing because almost half of the film takes place in the Kashmir Valley and the other half in Kargil.

Vikram Batra, the son of a teacher from Palampur, is a sociable young man who dreams of becoming a soldier, an officer in the Indian army. It is his personality that is a draw; confidence in everything comes from him.

The film shows how quickly after commissioning and arriving at the unit, he established himself in the eyes of his troops and the local Kashmiri population with his friendly and professional demeanor. In fact, as a young lieutenant, he gives a couple of operations lessons to some experienced soldiers; among these lessons is empathy.

The episodes of the Kashmir Valley and the slow and steady rise in respect for the young Batra are captured in a series of episodes showing some typical operational situations. Officers like Vikram Batra leave a mark with their ability to combine the basics of human kindness with firmness and dispassion in many professional situations.

This is again clearly captured and may not be obvious to the audience unless the person is trained in the military.

The sequences in the Valley are exceptionally well choreographed and bear the stamp of authenticity.

13 The JAK RIF camp plan, vehicles, insignia, weapons and tactical behavior were very well studied, orchestrated and put into action. Only a military mind or just a person with military experience can find some minor flaws like physical training conducted on the roads in the counter-terror zone.

However, it was very clear to me that I was watching the film to enjoy its authentic story, scenes and imagery, and not to nitpick or find fault.

Within 15 minutes of starting, my tendency to look for errors was gone as the sequences got better and better.

The ambush scene at Sopor is staged authentically and seems to have had some good research behind it. To the credit of the ongoing proxy conflict at J&K, many young officers have emerged with exceptional experience in commanding troops in adverse conditions.

This helped them achieve a lot in LoC in war and military situations. Vikram Batra was one of them.

IMAGE: Kiara Advani as Dimple Cheem.

Interspersed between action scenes in Kashmir and jokes in the officers’ mess are scenes of blossoming romance.

For Vikram Batra, a man of tremendous courage and energy, bringing out his romantic side was a must, even if it had to be done to balance the film.

Kiara Advani does a great job as Dimple Cheema, Vikram Batra’s girlfriend and virtual wife (assumed he got married in a gurdwara).

There aren’t too many songs, but the ones that do exist are melodic and rhythmic.

The scenes of his life outside the army are simple and charming; all with balance.

IMAGE: Shataf Figar as Lieutenant Colonel Yogesh Kumar Joshi.

It was his valiant actions in Kargil that made Vikram Batra a national icon.

The film’s transition from Kashmir to Kargil may be considered by some to be too abrupt and without proper development. But that’s how the transition actually happened.

Thus symbolically it is correct, but it may take some time for the audience to absorb the brief explanation offered in the commentary.

Perhaps the scene of a brief briefing by a mid-level army officer talking about what is happening on the entire Batalik-Kargil-Dras front would be useful in order to imprint an image in the public mind.

The best part is that the Kargil episode is filmed in Ladakh itself; it adds more authenticity because mountains of this variety could not be found anywhere else.

The only message that the film gives very pertinently and corrects an awkward perception in the public mind concerns the position of the officers in the various operations.

There seems to be an idea that officers sit and give orders from afar. Here you can see how the enlisted personnel of the 13th Jak Reef follow their officers in any situation.

Cargil was completely dedicated to junior executives and film projects that more than adequately showed the capture of sinister heights in various scenes.

The film is without a doubt a biopic, but it doesn’t go wrong by drawing attention only to the character of Captain Batra. Much attention is given to other unit officers who have played stellar roles in the unit’s work.

The character of Lieutenant Colonel Yu.K. Joshi, commander (commanding officer) 13 Jak Reef is also well captured, although his real role in combat situations was much larger.

The public needs to understand that the commander is almost always right there with his officers and javans, and not just directing radio communications from behind.

Joshi won the Veer Chakra for a reason. Today he is the Army Commander of Udhampur Northern Command and the Indian Army is proud of such leaders.

Shataf Figar plays Joshi, although he doesn’t look like him at all. But that doesn’t matter either.

A little criticism before I move on to some other aspects of the film.

The two attacks, led by Captain Batra, cover a long set of sequences (perhaps 30-40 minutes). Obviously they are filmed on the same set, leaving viewers to watch the same terrain, the same bunkers and all, for a long time.

I was bored and looking for a change. Building a set of bunkers elsewhere may not have been such a big deal or such a bad idea.

Siddharth Malhotra is perfect for the role of Captain Vikram Batra; very good choice and compliments to him.

Casual, passionate and caring with a slight cheerful mood sums up this character. Soldiers love such officers and will follow them anywhere. I see this movie energizing the nation again Uri, this is Surgical Strike.

The floor should be reserved for Vishnu Varadhan, the director. I would like him to do more biopics of great Indian war heroes. This is great work.

As co-producers, Karan Johar and Shabbir Bokswala can also sit back and take charge.

Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain (ret.), PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM commanded the 15th Army Corps of the Indian Army in Kashmir and was known as the “People’s General” in the Kashmir Valley.
General Hasnain is a frequent participant rediff.com

Presentation: Ashish Narsale/rediff.com

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