1962: The War in the Hills is a fictional re-enactment of the exploits of Param Veer Chakra winner Major Shaitan Singh Bhati and his revered C Company of the 13th Kumaon Regiment against the barbaric Chinese aggression of 1962. The Battle of Rezang La where nearly 3000 Chinese were killed by a mere 125 men of the C Company forms the basis of the climax of the series with the rest of the 8 episodes leading up to the defining battle. In these 8 episodes, the director also giving us unnecessary and unwanted peek backs into the lives and times of the men involved in the battle and also some very brief and poorly executed political background of the aforementioned events.
The story of Major Shaitan Singh Bhati and his men is bewildering and heroic enough to form the basis of a miniseries if not a series of 10 episodes and when their story is being told, it is important that the focus of the tale remained firmly anchored in the lore and spirit of their sacrifice rather than meander into the fictional accounts of romance, family feuds and irritating personal errands of the men involved in the heroics acts of selfless sacrifice. Unfortunately, the makers of this series choose to commit this very cardinal sin that transforms a series that could have been heart-wrenching for every Indian into a never-ending and torturous tale of romance, personal fights, and tacky visual effects that leaves no mark on the psyche of the viewer even when we learn by the end of it all that none of the men of the fabled C company survived other than the one who had to marry the impregnated woman who he had left behind.
The series starts brisk and things get interesting, to begin with, but once the first few battles for NEFA (North-East Frontier Agency) culminates and we have the men of the C Company return to their village on a leave, the story shifts to a neutral gear from which it seems to be in no mood to get into even the first gear. It’s all about the unacceptability of the love story between a sepoy Kishan (Akash Thosar) and a high-born head master’s daughter, Radha (Hemal Ingle). They even add a third angle to it with the village headman’s son also falling in love with Radha and he also happens to be the best friend of Radha and Kishan. Marriages are happening in the village, there is a kid who lives with a single father, Jamadar Ram Singh (Sumeet Vyas). This kid is given some of the most pretentious and cringe-worthy lines of the entire series. For almost 7 episodes, this track of the series holds sway over what the men and women of C Company are known for, and right when I was on the brink of giving up on the series, the tale finally got to the battle of Rezang La.
It seems that the makers couldn’t get the approval to use real names and hence most of the names of the characters and places are changed but are kept close enough to the real names to invoke a sense of connection with the actual series of events. It is mentioned in the very beginning that the Chinese would be delivering their dialogues in Hindi for understanding and since they have a lot to say, there seemed to be no way out of it. I am however of the opinion that it would have been better had the Chinese spoken in Mandarin and we were given subtitles for it. Watching and hearing the Chinese speak Hindi is hilarious and it immediately took me out of the experience and reiterated the fact that I was watching fiction and a very caricaturish one at that.
If that was not enough, the almost comic rendering of the Chinese and especially the character of Major Lin played by Meiyang Chang took any seriousness that was left in the antagonists out of the equation. It is hurtful to see the writers of the series take a Farhad Samji-esque approach to the names of the characters as they name a major villain in the series Ug Lee just because he is Chinese and has a cut on his face. I just couldn’t understand how the makers of a series like this could stoop down to such unthinkable lows. If that was not enough, the writers were constantly in pursuit of elevating the character of Major Lin to heroic heights for no rhyme or reason. The atrocities committed by the Chinese in the war of 1962 are not unknown and why the makers would go to such lengths to justify their actions and try to make a nobleman out of an officer entrusted with committing heinous barbarism on Indians is anybody’s guess.
The series also has some of the worst visual effects that I have seen in years. The makers must have fully understood that they were undertaking a project that would involve shooting elaborate war sequences on the hilly terrains of North East and Ladakh because that’s what the story of Shaitan Singh Bhati and his C Company is all about. Why could they not shoot at actual or similar locations then and if they couldn’t, then why couldn’t they at least render the visual effects better?
Most of the battle sequences look so tacky and unreal that it is almost impossible to take them seriously. They couldn’t even recreate an overhead shot of the Chinese army’s march on Rezang la or even a knife in the hands of one of the Indian men. The explosions look like they were created out of stock footage and I am sure that they were. The bloodshed is worst than what we are offered in a Sega 2nd generation console. The gunfights look tacky and then there are at least two hand-to-hand combats that feel forced and unnecessary. Thanks to the Galwan clashes, every Indian now knows how the hand-to-hand fights of the region unfold. All these factors sum up to turn what should have been the biggest strength of the series into its biggest weakness.
Major Shaitan Singh was known to have moved without cover between the posts in the battle inspiring and commanding his men. That was one of the most heroic and fearless bits of his action in the battle. That portion of his exploit is unceremoniously forgotten here as we see him momentarily on the radio.
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