J.P. Dutta’s brand of war films has a set recipe: take a stale base of background stories, layer it with some moments of valour, sprinkle some sappy songs and toss it all up with a healthy serving of heavy-duty dialogues. We’ve seen him do this before with
Border
and
LOC Kargil
. The formula remains the same with his third attempt at war cinema,
Paltan
, but the conflict chosen – Nathu La and Cho La clashes between India and China in 1967 along the Sikkim border – is a cinematically weak one or so it appears in Dutta’s one-dimensional saga. The issues of contention in the film are either too technical or the film does a shoddy job in explaining their relevance, which makes the characters appear as if they are overreacting to something seemingly banal. There is way too much unnecessary drama without any evident tension.

The build-up towards the actual clashes feels excruciatingly slow and painful as it keeps dipping into inconsequential background details, which solely exist to stir up emotions. These are the exact same stories we’ve seen before, where the women are show to be absolutely helpless and are only looking forward to the arrival of their husbands, fiancés, sons and lovers. Sample this: when Captain Prithvi Singh Dagar’s (Gurmeet Choudhary) fiancé asks him in jest who is more important, she or the country, he responds with anger, “
Dharti humari maa hai, aur maa hain toh aap hai
(the land is like our mother, you exist because of her),” leaving her discombobulated. Even if the film pleads allegiance to true stories of the ’60s, the approach to female characterisation can have a lot more dignity and nuance than just depicting them as salwar kameez-clad women who are only dexterous at making rangoli and babies.

Then there are barrage of patriotic dialogues (some in English) like “India is an idea worth dying for”, “No guts, no glory” and “strongest walls are not made with stones but brave men”.
Paltan
invests so much in convincing why you soldiers and the Indian Armed Forces are indispensable that for the actual thrills of a war film are highly diluted. What we are ultimately served is a watered down concoction of an armed forces public service ad, advocating heroism and martyrdom. It’s a perpetual paradox in Dutta’s war films: there’s unflinching ghastliness of wars and concurrent glorification of soldiers’ deaths. The aftermath of war in
Paltan
is the most powerful image in the film, but what follows is an indulgent montage on how the sacrifice is for the greater good. It makes you wonder what if the filmmaker chose to end a war film silently with the images of devastation? With dead soldiers by the hundreds on both sides, who really won?


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