Shershaah Hindi Movie Review
Director Vishnuvardhan's Shershaah is based on the life of Kargil War hero Captain Vikram Batra. For the uninitiated, Batra was an Army Captain and a recipient of India's biggest military honor, Param Vir Chakra. Codenamed Shershaah in Operation Vijay, Batra fought and died a hero while playing a big part in the victorious Kargil War. I guess none of these details is new to even those born in the era of social media. Therefore, the challenge for the makers of Shershaah must have been concerning how to make it all interesting. It is a challenge the makers rise up to only somewhat.
By design, a war film does not allow much room for innovation. There are no good or bad sides to war; it only has two groups fighting each other while leaving some casualties. Perhaps this explains why the makers spend a large part of the screen time exploring the personal life of Batra before the hour of war begins. The issue with this approach is that it makes us expect to learn new pieces of information on Batra, the man, yet we learn very little here.
With that expectation already in us when watching the movie, it becomes an issue when it shows Batra's romantic relationship with Kiara Advani's Dimple Cheema casually. This portion of the movie is enjoyable but lacking depth. We learn that Dimple likes him as a man of principle and that he likes her mainly because she shows interest in him despite knowing his army ambitions. There is a good scene where Dimple resists his father for trying to force her into committing to an arranged marriage. We also know that the real Dimple has been single all her life. With that in mind, it is a shame the movie does not show the depth of the relationship between Batra and Dimple. We do not know much about Batra's relationship with his family, either.
Then there is a portion in the movie that shows the military life of Batra, incidentally the better part in it. There is a fascinating stretch early in the movie where we see how lieutenant Batra forms an amicable relationship with the public in Jammu and Kashmir. When one of his seniors, Shiv Pandit's Captain Jimmy, tells him to keep a distance from the locals, Batra says that it is a key part of military intelligence. At first, we see this as a random development, but we soon learn how Batra uses the relationship with the locals to navigate military operations.
There is some authenticity in these portions and how the makers show the overall working of the military. The movie also has a fine turn from Sidharth Malhotra as Captain Batra. Malhotra may be limited in terms of acting chops, but he shows confidence in the role while essaying the character with sincerity. When Malhotra encourages his troops with patriotic lines as well as forces a weapon into the neck of a Pakistani, I believed in him. Then, I felt this is a man I could go to war with. Advani is saddled with a mostly one-note role, but she does not make Dimple a cardboard character. The makers also put many competent actors around Malhotra's Batra, most notably Raj Arjun and Shiv Pandit.
A good part of Shershaah is shot on location, but the movie lacks the tension and the high feeling that are characteristic of an excellent war film. Writer Sandeep Srivastava and director Vishnuvardhan do not have a great movie here. Nevertheless, they do not make the same mistakes that creatives in cinema usually do when handling this kind of material. That means the movie has parts where Indian and Pakistani soldiers call each other names, but it never becomes a case of hate-mongering or chest-thumping patriotism.
The climactic fight sequences may be moving, but it is more down to the power of the true story than that of cinema. More than the routine action sequences, it is stretches of storytelling like the above-mentioned that stay with you in this otherwise generic biopic cum war drama.