Paltan movie review: Sitting through JP Dutta's poorly enacted, overwritten war film is a battle in itself
Paltan is more testosterone and male ego than strategy or drama and, surprisingly, it’s tentative even in its jingoism.
castJackie Shroff, Arjun Rampal, Sonu Sood, Harshvardhan Rane, Luv Sinha, Siddhanth Kapoor, Gurmeet Choudhry
At a 154 minutes running time, sitting through writer-director J.P. Dutta’s war drama Paltan is a battle.
There is an interesting idea in the beginning of the film, when a postman mechanically delivers telegrams leaving a street full of mourning families behind. But the voice-overs artists are so shrill and theatrical that it feels like a newcomer was in charge of directing a scene in a TV soap opera.
Dutta, whose penchant was seen in Border (1997) and LOC Kargil (2003), shows his craft and experience only at the tail end of this saga during one large battle sequence.
The middle 100 minutes are repetitive, poorly enacted, overwritten and unimaginatively directed. In a terribly acted post-script, we see another set of wailing family members, which negates any props Dutta earned with the cross-border battle between Indian and Chinese troops.
The main action takes place in 1967 on the border near Sikkim, at the Nathu La pass. Based on true events, we follow an Indian platoon trying to fend off unfriendly and violent advances by enemy troops. The soldiers are also carrying emotional wounds from a lethal and unethical attack in 1962, which all but wiped out a platoon.
Arjun Rampal plays Colonel Singh, freshly returned from serving under General Montgomery in Britain, and now assigned to Nathu La as commanding officer. Singh reports to Major General Sagat Singh (Jackie Shroff) who mandates that, come what way, Nathu La must not fall to the Chinese.
Serving under Colonel Singh are officers played by Sonu Sood, Gurmeet Choudhary, Harshvardhan Rane and Luv Sinha. Siddhant Kapoor plays the interpreter. Dutta gives some of these men very filmy back-stories, which allows him to take his camera and the viewer away from the stark landscape, where most of the action unfolds, into blander territory. So we see Harbhajan Singh’s love for his fields and family, Captain Dagar’s courtship with his fiancee etc.
These scenes are superfluous since they do not achieve what they should have — which is to make us care for these men. The primary reason for this disconnect is the characters are cardboard cutouts, and the actors are playing versions of toy soldiers.
If one had to sort them by rank, in terms of good to bad performances, Rampal, Shroff and Sinha would lead followed by Kapoor and Sood with Choudhary and Rane bringing up the rear. The actors playing the Chinese counterparts resort to glaring and grimacing, which would be fine in Kung Fu Hustle, but not in a serious war drama.
For a large part, we see the two sides engaged in petty skirmishes and shows of one-upmanship. At one point it appeared like Singh and Singh would adopt some smart war tactic, but alas, it simpered into finger-pointing and playground provocation.
Finally, Paltan is more testosterone and male ego than strategy or drama and, surprisingly, it’s tentative even in its jingoism.
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