Pippa: A compelling blend of action, emotion, horrors of war
  • Release Date: 10/11/2023
  • Platform: Amazon Prime Videos
  • Cast: Ishaan Khattar, Mrunal Thakur, Priyanshu Painyuli, Inaamulhaq
  • Director: Raja Krishna Menon

“Tanks, Swagger, and Tons of Fun – Pippa is A Compelling Blend of Action, Emotion and Horrors of War”

I have been excited about “Pippa” ever since its first trailer was released, but for some unforeseen reason, the film was canceled days before its theatrical release. Now, it has been unceremoniously released directly on Amazon Prime Video without any fanfare or publicity. I would have loved for it to have been released on the big screen, as this was the kind of experience that would have made the most sense when experienced on the big screen. However, when I learned that it was releasing on Prime Video, I was no less excited.

“Pippa” revolves around the Indo-Pakistan conflict of 1971 when the Indian army literally carved an independent nation out of Pakistan in East Pakistan, leading to the surrender of 93,000 Pakistani soldiers in the most humiliating fashion possible. This came as a result of the Pakistan army’s brutal unleashing of physical and sexual violence on the citizens of East Pakistan after they rose up in rebellion when their elected leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was denied the Prime Minister’s position even after being democratically elected.

The film follows the exploits of the Mehta family as their three children embark on separate missions poised to play pivotal roles in India’s war against Pakistan. Ram Mehta (Priyanshu Painyuli), a decorated war hero, is sent behind enemy lines to train the rebels and gather vital information about the Pakistan army and their activities. He not only witnesses the rebellion up close but also falls in love with the people of the nation who have been forced to live a life of misery and torment for no fault of theirs. Tragically, he is captured after a freak accident, and his fate now hangs in the balance as he spends days in the captivity of one of the cruelest overseers of the Pakistan Army in Bangladesh, Shibli (Inaamulhaq).

Radha Mehta (Mrunal Thakur), the willful and vivacious daughter of the Mehta family, who is in the final year of her medical education, is recruited by R&AW (not named as such at that time) for her more-than-capable cryptography skills. As she begins work as a code breaker, she also has to maintain sanity and composure, knowing full well that her two brothers are on the front, and at least one of them might be in mortal danger.

The rebellious and most interesting member of the Mehta family is Balram Singh Mehta, aka Balli (Ishaan Khattar). He believes in pushing everything to the limits, and this attitude has landed him in more trouble than he could handle. He is at loggerheads with his brother Ram, whom he believes is unnecessarily bossy and overtly critical of him. He gets into a serious fight with Ram just before he leaves for the war and says something that would come back to haunt him later in the film. He is also grounded for taking the amphibious tank PT-76 beyond what was prescribed and is penalized for that. He also gets into trouble with his sister over the course of the story. It is at this juncture that Balram is given a new lifeline by a senior Army officer who sends him back to the front with the PT-76 (affectionately called Pippa) to make a difference in the war.

“Pippa” is by far one of the better war films, and this is fast becoming a trend in Bollywood. Raja Krishna Menon concentrates on the primary story at hand and makes it a point to focus on both the heroic and the deeply haunting and saddening personal aspects of the war. The war and its reasons are explained as much through action as through narration, which, by the way, doesn’t feel cliché. There are poignant moments that illustrate the extent of torture and hurt unleashed on the East Pakistanis by the West Pakistanis. There are brief sequences that show the unbridled hate and animosity that the West Pakistanis had for the East Pakistanis, adding to the atmosphere and making the screenplay more  intriguing as we move towards a finale that we are all too well aware of.

The tank battles are as good as they could have been for a budget of 25 crores. I was mightily impressed by the amount of physicality and the sheer time that has been devoted to these sequences. The tanks look exceptionally real and rugged, adding much more to the feel of the action sequences. The Battle of Garibpur is wonderfully envisioned and choreographed within the limits of the film’s budget and is presented with a lot of physicality and impact. The performances in this sequence are also in line with the nature of the portion and the erratic and haphazard nature of the war. The editing is apt, allowing the audience to focus on the important aspects of the battle that the director aims to draw the audience’s attention to. The battle, where we see the Pippa in action, doing what it was designed for, is a lot of fun.

My only complaint with the action of the film is that it lacks an inspiring background score. The “Rampage” rap from the album could have been the best background score for the battle sequences but is hardly used. It is used during a sequence where we see the Pakistanis killing innocent East Pakistanis, which I felt was ill-placed.

The dramatic family bits of the film were necessary to build up the three primary characters and give them the arc that was necessary for the audiences to identify and connect with them. Sadly, these are the only portions of the film that drag, feel uninspired, and hamper the otherwise breezy pacing of the film. These portions also feel somewhat overdramatic and Bollywoodish in their depiction of the conflicts and drama between the family members. These portions also give off a strong sense of cliché that hampered the impact and likeability of the sequences considerably. These sequences should have been the ones to make the audiences fall in love with the three protagonists but end up doing the opposite.

The performances in the film are apt, and while none of the actors do anything out of the world, they keep their performances at a level that is in line with the kind of emotions that the film is trying to extract from the audiences. Ishaan Khattar looks extremely young and suits the role of a young tank commander wonderfully. He is extremely comfortable as a soldier, as well as the bad boy that he plays for a considerable portion of the film. Mrunal Thakur justifies her brief role in the best way that she could, but because of the writing of her character, she is unable to soar to a higher level. Priyanshu Painyuli has the most opportunities to shine in a brooding and multi-faceted character, and he does extremely well to bring out the various nuances of the character. The most memorable performance of the lot, however, comes from Inaamulhaq. He is gloriously over the top in his expressions and mannerisms, and this is exactly what makes his antagonist, Shibli, so enjoyable and memorable. This is not the first time that Inaamulhaq has risen above the constraints of a character to make it memorable, and I am sure this will not be the last.

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“Pippa” emerges as a commendable addition to the genre of war films in Bollywood and that too with a meager budget of 20-25 cores. Raja Krishna Menon skillfully navigates the intricate landscape of the Indo-Pakistan conflict of 1971, wonderfully balancing the heroic and deeply personal aspects of war. The tank battles are a visual highlight, showcasing impressive physicality and attention to detail, albeit with a missing inspiring background score in some instances. The performances, while not groundbreaking, are fitting, with Ishaan Khattar, Mrunal Thakur, and Priyanshu Painyuli delivering solid portrayals of their characters. Inaamulhaq’s portrayal of the antagonist, Shibli, stands out for its over-the-top yet memorable nature.

Despite some drawbacks, “Pippa” succeeds in delivering a poignant narrative that encapsulates the complexities of war and the resilience of the human spirit. The film’s commitment to portraying the historical events with authenticity, coupled with impactful action sequences, makes it a compelling watch for those interested in a blend of war, drama, and family dynamics in the cinematic realm.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)

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