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Of battles onscreen
Obviously, the Indian Army has got the lion’s share and a maximum number of war movies in India have projected this unit. Remember Border and Haqeeqat? What was perhaps not represented in the same sense is the Navy, particularly the submarine force.
Thankfully, even that gap has been filled today. The Ghazi Attack, a film by debutante Sankalp Reddy, which revolves around the sinking of Pakistani submarine PNS Ghazi during the 1971 Indo-Pak War, is based entirely on submarine operations.
Fighting it out
Although there are many movies that depict war, there are some that stand out: Dev Anand-starrer Hum Dono, which had war and romance intertwined in its plot, J P Dutta’s Border, which is based on the Battle of Longewala of 1971, Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat, which is based on the Sino-Indian war of 1962.
In Prahaar, Nana Patekar portrayed the training of commandos in the Army for the first time on the silver screen. Some movies didn’t have war as their central theme, but they did bring in some aspect of the Armed Forces. For instance, in Darr, Sunny Deol played a Navy Marine Commando officer.
Other war movies that deserve special mention are J P Dutta’s LOC Kargil, Farhan Aktar’s Lakshya, Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Main Hoon Na, and Anil Sharma’s The Hero - Love Story of a Spy. Agnipankh was perhaps the only exception which focused on the youngest service branch of the defence forces - the Indian Air Force (IAF). The film had Jimmy Shergill, Sameer Dharmadhikari and Rahul Dev playing the lead roles. Raj Kapoor’s Sangam was also quite professional in its portrayal of the 'Men in Blue’, including the battle scenes.
A notable film on this theme was Vijeta in 1985, which told the story of the defenders of the skies. Produced by Shashi Kapoor, it portrayed the life of a fighter pilot, Angad Singh, played by Kunal Kapoor. The film, primarily shot in the Air Force Academy, Dundigal, had fantastic footage of HJT-16 Kiran jet trainers and MiG-21s.
Chetan Anand’s 1973 hit movie Hindustan Ki Kasam stands out too. Another film with IAF angle is Silsila. Produced and directed by Yash Chopra, this iconic film was shot in 1981 and featured IAF aircraft like Gnats and MiG-21s. The setting is the 1971 Indo-Pak War. The aircraft shots were filmed at Srinagar and Poona airbases.
Prem Pujari was Dev Anand’s formal directorial debut in 1970. Ram (Dev Anand) plays the role of a soldier morally opposed to war and escapes from the Army after being jailed for insubordination. On the run, he encounters Rita (Waheeda Rehman) whose single-seater plane has crashed and who embroils him in a spy ring he is determined to expose.
Other films include Anil Kapoor-Madhuri Dixit-starrer Pukar, 1975 Sanjeev Kumar-starrer Akraman, Kohram starring Amitabh and Nana Patekar, and Sunny Deol’s Ma Tujhe Salaam. Tango Charlie, featuring Sanjay Dutt and Abhay Deol, also makes for an interesting movie in this category.
Similarly, Amitabh Bachchan, Bobby Deol and Akshay Kumar donned the war robes in Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Sathiyo. 1971 is a film based on a true story of prisoners of war after the Indo-Pak war of 1971. The film is an account of the escape of six soldiers of the Indian Army, who were taken as prisoners of war by the Pakistan Army.
In the 1961 film Upkar, Manoj Kumar played a village man, Bharat. This role transformed the actor into an authority on onscreen patriotism. The then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri praised his earlier film Shaheed and enthused Manoj Kumar to make a film on the 'Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ slogan. It was this slogan that got transformed into Upkar, where Manoj Kumar believably played both a jawan and a kisan.