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Review of war film Pippa starring Ishaan Khatter

Pippa suffers from a saviour complex but is a poignant and powerful reflection on war

Priyanka Roy  Published 11.11.23, 06:43 AM
Pippa is streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Pippa is streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Pippa is a war film — often brutal and heart-wrenching — but it has a unique, and poignant, ‘love story’ at its core. That between Captain Balram Singh Mehta (Ishaan Khatter, who now goes by Ishaan) and Pippa, the amphibious Soviet army tank PT-76, after which the film is named. Balram, known as Balli at home and work, challenges authority, breaks rules and eschews responsibility of any kind, but his equation with the tank — a mound of metal designed to kill — is his most treasured and wholesome relationship.

Pippa is based on the book The Burning Chaffees: A Soldier’s First-Hand Account of the 1971 War, written by the real-life Balram Mehta himself. It talks about a war that India fought against Pakistan not for itself, but for the people of another country, with East Pakistan finally breaking away to become Bangladesh. As Balram’s voiceover states at the beginning: “Hum kisi desh ke khilaaf nahi ladey, nainsaafi ke khilaaf ladey.”


The 1971 Bangladesh War of Liberation forms the volatile background of Pippa. The tagline of the film — ‘A nation comes of age’ — is also, and perhaps far more, applicable to Balli who truly comes of age during his time on the battlefield.

Balli may be an excellent soldier. But he lacks discipline and he doesn’t like to be told what to do. While that results in him being relegated to doing paperwork while his colleagues fight in the war, at home, he is always at loggerheads with his older brother Ram (Priyanshu Painyuli), who is a ’65 war hero. Their sister Radha (Mrunal Thakur) — an expert in cryptography whose skill makes her the third ‘war hero’ in the family — tries to broker peace between the two, but to no avail. Their mother (played by Soni Razdan) isn’t quite the stereotypical ‘war mom’, and her powerful dialogue somewhere in the middle of the film, where she reminds Balli — still an immatured rule-breaker berating the refugees from East Pakistan for seeking a home in India — that even they were refugees from Rawalpindi that India welcomed in 1947 and gave them a home to call their own, remains a memorable takeaway much after the curtains come down.

Pippa, playing on Amazon Prime Video, is not a typical war film. There are long stretches of Balli off the battlefield where his fraying relationship with his family is shown. The young man also has the reputation of being a rebel at work. It is only when he is sent to the front — commanding Pippa that only he can handle — and he witnesses the genocide of citizens first-hand does Balram realise the responsibility that both he and his country need to shoulder in order to save the innocents and give them back the land that they deserve. Pippa suffers from a bit of a saviour complex, though.

There is a lot of talk in the film, but it is, beneath the surface, a poignant reflection on war. The moment where Balli talks about his martyred father and admits he stole the very boots he was wearing when he was felled in battle because that makes him feel that someone is watching out for him, establishes the human face of war.

The battle scenes are visceral — Balli’s 45 Cavalry goes in, all tanks blazing — and shot with a certain urgency by Priya Seth that make them a compelling watch. The various threads — Balli fighting with his cavalry, Ram living incognito in Bangladesh and Radha joining a covert wing to intercept and translate messages from Pakistan — are brought together seamlessly by Hemanti Sarkar’s deft editing.

However, at 140 minutes, Pippa is 20 minutes too long, with some stretches — especially the scenes where Balli’s indisciplined ways are reinforced time and again — seem repetitive. Also, there is none of the urgency and edge-of-the seat tension that one would expect a film of this genre to inherently pack in, especially when it is directed by Raja Krishna Menon, who helmed the nail-biting Akshay Kumar thriller Airlift a few years ago.

That’s taken care of by a praiseworthy performance from Ishaan, whose boyish looks may go against him when playing such characters of import and authority, but whose skills as an actor are never in doubt. The supporting acts — Priyanshu, Mrunal, Soni Razdan, Inaamulhaq, Soham Majumdar — are solid.

Pippa’s trump card is A.R. Rahman’s music. While the maestro’s reworking of Nazrul Islam’s seminal protest song Karar oi louho kopat has been deservedly criticised, he scores with the soaring Rampage and the soulful Main parwaana.

Pippa is co-produced by Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP Movies along with his old partner Siddharth Roy Kapur’s Roy Kapur Films. Undeterred by the failure of Tejas, another armed forces film, RSVP Movies is going full throttle with Sam Bahadur, which stars Vicky Kaushal as Sam Manekshaw. Manekshaw makes an appearance in Pippa too, but here he is played by ’90s leading man Kamal Sadanah. There is an Indira Gandhi lookalike too. In the age of sequels, prequels, standalones and reboots, is this the beginning of an Indian Army universe?

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