Paltan marches to the beat of sacrifice but preaches too loud

The word “Chini” is screamed out so many times in Paltan that you would think that the film was a follow-up to Cheeni Kum. Except that there’s nothing really sweet about Paltan. 

By Priyanka Roy
  • Published 8.09.18
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The word “Chini” is screamed out so many times in Paltan that you would think that the film was a follow-up to Cheeni Kum. Except that there’s nothing really sweet about Paltan. 

It’s a laborious 154-minute watch where deshbhakti is either pronounced in the form of rousing speeches set to perfect rhyme or screamed out so loud that it can possibly be heard across the border. Paltan is stuck in the rut of ’80s storytelling, directed by J.P. Dutta, the man who gave us the chest-thumping patriotic tale Border 21 years ago and then followed it up with the tepid LOC — Kargil six years later. 

In Paltan, Dutta picks a real-life incident lost in the annals of history — the story of a ‘paltan’ of bravehearts stationed near the Nathu La pass who fought off the Chinese (aka “Chini”) bravely in 1967. Many lives were lost, but the courage of this handful of soldiers is now seen as a big step forward in enabling India to hold on to its territory. 

Paltan may have its heart in the right place, but is an eminently forgettable film. The first half is especially stretched, with the action between the Indian and Chinese soldiers limited only to shouting out warnings to each other from either side of the line of control. The Indian side is led by Rai Singh (Arjun Rampal) who believes in exhorting his men with poetic phrases like, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war” and “No guts no glory, no legend no story”. 

His motley crew of men includes Bishen Singh (Sonu Sood), Prithvi Dagar (Gurmeet Choudhary), Harbhajan Singh (Harshvardhan Rane), Attar Singh (Luv Sinha) and Parashar (Siddhanth Kapoor). When they aren’t rolling their eyes at the podgy Chinese soldiers, these men take off their shirts to show off their “doley-sholey” or get dewy-eyed about the khushboo of their khets back home. They also make time to mouth racist lines like, “Yeh chaar foot ke Chini ne chaar foot ka khadda khoda hai”. 

Paltan seems especially long because Dutta wastes too much time in showing the backstories of his principal characters. There’s nothing much to tell apart the stories, with the women in the film — Esha Gupta to Sonal Chauhan, Dipika Kakar to Monica Gill — reduced to grieving partners waiting for their men to come back from war. The film kicks into action mode only in the last 20 minutes when the Indian soldiers take the fight to the enemy camp, but by then it’s too little too late.   

The performances are uneven. TV actor Gurmeet Choudhary hams it up, Sonu Sood glowers incessantly and Jackie Shroff — playing Rampal’s boss — looks like he stumbled on to the set and was handed out his lines on the spot. Star kids Luv Sinha (son of Shatrughan Sinha) and Siddhanth Kapoor (son of Shakti Kapoor) hardly make an impression. 

It’s only Harshvardhan Rane, who has a certain screen presence and towering body language, and Arjun Rampal, who give you some reason to sit through Paltan. Rampal, pushing 46 but looking none the worse for it, stands tall even as the rest of Paltan crumbles. Here’s hoping we watch him in a better film soon.