Synopsis – A biopic on the Kargil war hero Vikram Batra.
My Take – While Hindi cinema has been churning out war based films for decades, very few, despite the commercial success attached to them, have managed to hit the right spots of emotionalism while the rest decidedly plunging into over dramatic jingoism and absurdity.
And though this latest film from Dharma Productions, their second consecutive war biopic following last year’s Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, has an inevitable conclusion attached to its story, in a delightful turn of events director Vishnuvardhan and writer Sandeep Shrivastava have chosen to stay away from the expected shrillness, by creating a biopic that is more interested in showing its subject as a friend, lover and an ever-giving soul despite being set largely on a battlefield.
Based on the true story of 1999 Kargil War martyr Vikram Batra, who was commissioned in the Indian Army in the 13th Battalion Jammu & Kashmir Rifles in 1997, and later promoted to the rank of a Captain in the battlefield itself, after leading one of the toughest operations in mountain warfare in Indian history.
Often referred to as ‘Sher Shah’ in the intercepted messages of the Pakistan Army, Vikram Batra was also posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest and most prestigious award for valor and for playing an instrumental role in winning the war. Though his character was earlier portrayed in a limited capacity in filmmaker J. P. Dutta‘s LOC Kargil (2003) by Abhishek Bachchan, director Vishnuvardhan proves Batra‘s story deserved to be told solely.
Sure while the film follows a familiar narrative arc and goes through expected missteps, it does manage to blend seamlessly into a delectable whole, especially in the climax when it soars high enough to do justice to the life of a real life hero, leaving us teary eyed.
Narrated by Vishal Batra (Sidharth Malhotra), his twin brother, the story follows Vikram Batra (Sidharth Malhotra), a simple kid from Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, who despite belonging to middle class teacher’s family wanted to join the army right from his childhood.
As he grows older Vikram almost takes a detour when he faces opposition from the Sikh father of his college sweetheart, Dimple Cheema (Kiara Advani), by becoming joining the Merchant Navy, but ultimately realizing his dream while wearing undying love for her, Vikram joins the army and finds himself immediately posted at Sopore, Jammu and Kashmir and allotted to the Delta company of the 13th Battalion of the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles aka 13 JAK RIF. Destining him to sacrifice his life for his country in the process of recapturing Point 4875 during the 1999 Kargil War at the age of 24.
From beginning to end, this is a film of a war hero, delivered minus the baggage that the genre has otherwise carried so far. Here, director Vishnuvardhan and writer Sandeep Shrivastava keep us invested by employing a decent strategy by giving us glimpses of what we know about the soldier, and alternating it with newer perspectives of the man beneath the uniform. Giving equal, if not more, attention to both the war and Vikram’s life events.
But much as the film is centered on Vikram Batra alone, which helps with a tight running time, this is still a war film, out and out. And is at its best when it packages itself as an Army procedural. While it covers Vikram’s off-field teachings from his seniors, strategy sessions and actual combat, the narrative is energetic, exciting and moving without being loud and clichéd. Thankfully, compared to other films of the genre, the film is far mellowed down when dealing with the war.
The enemy is not highlighted much and there is no specific person who plays a key Pakistani soldier. The film is more about Vikram Batra’s perspective and how he daringly fought the enemies. Even when they stumble through Kashmir, they neither demonize nor canonize the local Muslims.
The brief exchanges between Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan and his people shown in the film aren’t the standard representations of Pakistanis we see in more formulaic Hindi films. So much so that the final hurrah feels more like a dedication to Vikram rather than winning a war. In this aspect, director Vishnuvardhan turns the film into a winner.
In a unique occurring, the Batra family wanted Sidharth Malhotra to portray late Vikram Batra in the biopic, and the actor plays the role with utmost sincerity. From being a carefree youth to showcasing the grit and determination of a brave soldier, Sidharth is superb in every scene, delivering his career best performance.
Though she is mostly relegated to a few scenes and songs, Kiara Advani still manages to leave an impact, and shares a very likable and believable chemistry with Sidharth. In other roles, Shiv Pandit, Raj Arjun, Nikitin Dheer, Sahil Vaid, Himmanshoo A. Malhotra, Bijay Anand, Pawan Chopra, Shataf Figar, and Anil Charanjeett manage to leave a mark. On the whole, ‘Shershaah’ is a wholesome and riveting biopic of a much-celebrated soldier.
Directed – Vishnuvardhan
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 135 minutes