Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Kiara Advani, Shiv Panditt, Sahil Vaid, Nikitin Dheer
Director: Vishnu Vardhan
In actual life, and almost never onscreen, patriotism is rarely nuanced. Shershaah’s creators must demonstrate that Vikram Batra loved his country and aspired to serve in the army even as a child. Their first notion is sound: he peers through the bars of a window to see the Doordarshan war series Param Vir Chakra on a neighbor’s TV. The next scene, though, made me laugh out loud: a grinning young Batra in Indian army uniform saluting the flag on Independence Day, surrounded by classmates in white school uniforms. Any youngster who tried this at a school other than the ones in the heads of Bollywood screenwriters would be laughed out of town.
From here to an adult Batra, now a captain in the Indian army stationed in Kargil, it’s a relatively straight line.
Shershaah is at his best in action movies. The rapid and savage pounding of the Indian camp serves as a terrific set-up for the culminating series of heroics. The portrayal is propaganda-like: the Pakistani army tortures Indian POWs, while their bodies are respectfully buried in India; Indian soldiers accuse Pakistanis of attacking by surprise, despite the fact that they are trying to catch them off guard as well. Nonetheless, the final half-hour is relentless combat, with much of it violent and realistic.
The following chapter of Vikram Batra’s journey takes place in a Chandigarh college, when he falls in love with a classmate, Dimple Cheema (Kiara Advani). His parents, two older sisters, and his identical twin brother Vishal (also played by Sidharth Malhotra) are pushed to the sidelines as the campus romance blooms.
Sidharth Malhotra has the skills to play a real-life martyr with a larger-than-life aura, but the character’s hard personality, which lies at the heart of his combat bravery, is shown in shallow, clichéd driblets. Kiara Advani, on the other hand, is more like a showcase in the film. Her screen time is less and with the Punjabi accent that she speaks l, her character irritates at times.
Sandeep Shrivastava’s writing for Shershaah aims to capture both the grief of a life cut short by war and the guts and glory of Captain Batra’s heroic sacrifice. It, on the other hand, use conventional methods to tell a story that has, for the most part, been in the public domain for the past two decades and a half. So there aren’t any shocking surprises in store for the audience from Shershaah.
Shershaah, thankfully, does not engage in flag-waving. It honours a courageous soldier. The hero, on the other hand, isn’t given to swagger or bellicose arrogance. He’s the type of level-headed individual who understands exactly what he needs to do and sets his mind to it. That’s pretty much is what Shershaah delivers.