Cinematic storytelling in India is evolving—that too at an astounding pace. The audience no longer spends money on clichéd romantic comedies; nor does it relish, anymore, the interruption of the narrative with tedious musical sequences. Essentially, the sun has begun to set on the quintessential Bollywood “masala” flick. For today’s filmography is defined by that which is more real—with the spotlight being shed on the awe-inspiring journeys of ordinary individuals to heroism—and palpably high in intensity. It’s been some time since Bollywood perfected the formula of historical films based on wars or covert operations—pictures like Uri: The Surgical Strike, Airlift, Baby, The Ghazi Attack, Razi, and countless others were both commercially and critically acclaimed. Yet, despite the popularity of nationalistic dramas, this genre remains a slope that is dangerously slippery, making it a near-impossible task to tick all the boxes in such ventures.
However, every once in a while comes along a film that is so perfect on all accounts, it leaves audiences spellbound. In the recent, this commendable feat has been achieved by Shershah, which—by charting masterfully the valorous life of PVC Captain Vikram Batra from a little, army-obsessed boy in small-town India to his martyrdom in the Kargil War of 1999—swiftly conquered the hearts of Indian people worldwide.
That most Bollywood movies cannot function without love stories is undoubtedly true; but in Shershah, the hypnotic romance is indispensable. Intention matters: here, it wasn’t simply to add to the somber narrative some songs, or to turn the audience’s mind away from the blood and gore which they knew lay ahead; instead, it added weight to Captain Batra’s character, his aura, and was used creatively to unfold the city-boy in him. Absolutely worth mentioning are the soul-stirring songs which define this romance in the movie, and which we will fondly for many years to come!
Shershah is a well-orchestrated film, for it hits the right notes throughout, utilizes the supporting cast to lethal effect, and makes sure that each character casts an indelible impression upon our psyche. The tried-and-tested structure of beginning from the protagonists’ childhood and transporting us—through his college days and aforementioned love affair—to the gusty, dry, and inhumanly cold battle theatre of Kargil has been executed with virtuosity.
The success of the film lies in the multiple feats it achieved, ranging from the well-choreographed action to the high-intensity dialogues to the heart-winning love story of Captain Batra and Dimple Cheema to the stellar performances of the case to, lastly, the sublime music. We, the audience, are given so much to hold on to at once that the ending just leaves you feeling utterly desolate—and has you scrounging for a cloth large enough to shed your tears on.
Shershah worked for me as a film because its director brilliantly pinned down the harsh rigors of war and the battlefield—something several commercial films, based, apparently, on real-life stories, have failed to do in the past. To make the audience feel as though they are co-piloting with the protagonist is no simple task; yet, the director of Shershah not only lands squarely on his feet, he also ensures that we picture ourselves right alongside Captain Batra as he, already injured and bleeding profusely, bolts across a sweeping swathe of the mountain to hurl a grenade at the Pakistani bunker on the other end. That the film is meticulously detailed and well-sourced is a key ingredient to its doing well. The director has not followed the hackneyed tropes of showing sentimental soldiers leaving their homes with promises of returning soon or bidding emotional goodbyes to their beloveds. Not to say that all this doesn’t find a place in the narrative—it does, but the fact that many of those scenes are grounded in what happened in actuality endears them all the more to the audience.
Sidharth Malhotra’s earnest portrayal of Captain Batra has surely aggrandized his acting prowess: each successful actor has had that singular film which made audiences and critics marvel at his groundbreaking performance and view him in a new light—for Malhotra, this film has been Shershah.
Once again, Captain Vikram Batra has inspired a generation. Shershah is indubitably a paean to the infinite bravado of this man—one which had been pending a long time. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that his story touched me on a personal level. I fondly remember the first time I heard Captain Batra’s extraordinary tale: a teacher at school, during a lecture, narrated it in so passionate a manner, I was left wondering why the entirety of India hadn’t yet been edified by it.
In 2021, Shershah took care of that—immortalizing Captain Batra for posterity to revere.
India’s victory at Kargil in 1999 was one of the earliest demonstrations of a bolder and fearless nation rising towards the surface, ready to take on whatever endangers her populace. Shershah is, therefore, an ode not just to Captain Batra but also to the personnel of the Indian armed forces who don’t think twice about their lives—or about those countless souls who, back home, await their return with endless trepidation—before laying them down at the altar of our nation’s security.
Edited By- Sayan Bajaj