It has been 21 years since Border hit the screens, a movie based on the Battle of Longewala during the India-Pakistan 1971 war. Then came LOC Kargil in 2003. This time, it was the 1999 Kargil war. With Paltan, JP Dutta completes a trilogy of war films, and for this saga, he takes us back much further, to 1967 when the opposition is the Chinese. Based on the Nathu La and Cho La clashes along the Sikkim border, the film narrates how the scuffles started, escalated to combat and finally ended in India’s favour.
Major General Sagat Singh is the GOC of the Mountain Division. Reporting to him is Lt. Col. Rai Singh Yadav, Commanding Officer of the 2 Grenadiers. His paltan includes a young and dynamic group of army men, ready to take on the enemy any time, any day. They stand true to their motto ‘Sarvada Shaktishali’. The paltan is posted alongside the border of the Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim, then an Indian protectorate. The only dividing line between the Indian soldiers and the Chinese military is the international border made of stones.
The Chinese miss no opportunity to provoke the Indian military. From making bunkers near the border to digging trenches, they try to intimidate and start skirmishes, which results in Col. Yadav being injured. Major General Singh sees this as a good opportunity to install barbed wire on the border. A platoon of field engineers lead by Major Cheema are called upon to do the job.
This further aggravates the Chinese, who resort to cutting the wire, pelting stones and even fist fights. But they realise that the Grenadiers are much stronger and they retreat. But this is just the calm before the storm. Singh, on the other hand, is determined to complete the wiring and decides to expedite the task. He briefs the team and orders special protection when it is being done. Under Col. Rai’s supervision, Major Bishan Singh is put in charge of the work. Capt. Prithvi Singh Dagar and Major Harbhajan Singh along with 2Lt. Attar Singh and the rest of the regiment make it their mission to get the fencing done.
After remaining silent for a couple of days, the Chinese finally attack when the work of putting up the Cat Wires is underway. The Indian soldiers are caught on the back foot, resulting in some severe damage. But they recover and resort to some counter-firing. Grenades explode, bunkers are destroyed and bullets are fired. There are injuries and loss of life on both sides. But the paltan stands its ground, until the artillery firing finally starts. After six days, the Chinese eventually surrender, but the Indian side loses some of its bravest men.
JP Dutta manages to bring back some of the memories of Border but the film suffers from a lacklustre screenplay. The film is set in 1967 and of course we are not looking for hi-tech gadgetry and sleek war scenes but one hoped it would be a technically sound film. On the contrary, there are issues with dubbing, especially when the actors lip movements do not match the lines we hear.
The first 100-odd minutes do not engage at all. It is only when the actual conflict starts that the film comes alive. Full marks to action director Sham Kaushal for jolting the audience from their slumber. With the climax scenes, Dutta succeeds in invoking some emotion, in an otherwise dull script. The music of the film is nothing to write home about. Anu Malik, Javed Akhtar and Sonu Nigam are unable to recreate the magic of Sandese aate hain from Border.
Performance-wise, Arjun Rampal as Col. Rai Singh Yadav exudes confidence. Sonu Sood as Major Bishan Singh is impressive. Gurmeet Choudhary as Capt. Prithvi Singh Dagar and Harshvardhan Rane as Major Harbhajan Singh have done a good job. They have the most lively and interesting scenes in the film and they make full use of the opportunity. Jackie Shroff as Major General Sagat Singh is okay. Luv Sinha as Attar Singh and Siddhant Kapoor as Havaldar Parasher fail to make a mark. Of the four actresses, only Monica Gill who plays Rane’s love interest, and Dipika Kakar who plays Choundary’s fiancée, are memorable. Esha Gupta as Rampal’s wife is a misfit. Sonal Chauhan as Sonu Sood’s wife is wasted.