'Pippa' movie review: Ishaan Khatter’s tank-actioner manages to stay afloat

Pippa safely floats away from that dizzying whirlpool of propagandist cinema. Or, maybe, it is just more palatable compared to what is being sold in the market.
A still from the movie Pippa. (File Photo)
A still from the movie Pippa. (File Photo)

Trust RSVP Movies, nationalistic cinema can at least be sane. Yes, we’ll excuse Tejas (Ok, Uri too to an extent). But still, it is soothing to see a soldier have a life beyond dying for the country. For him to fight battles that are as much internal as external. To have wishes that aren’t limited to waving the tricolour on enemy land. Recent war films, in their bid to tap into our jingoistic urges, have been putting a lot of barmy in the Army. Thankfully, Pippa safely floats away from that dizzying whirlpool of propagandist cinema. Or, maybe, it is just more palatable compared to what is being sold in the market. I mean, today Border can be played for heart patients.

It’s the year 1971. The Indo-Pak war for East Pakistan's Liberation is around the corner. Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta (Ishaan Khatter) is young and intrepid. Like a true rebel/maverick, his introduction scene has him violating orders and taking the tank PT-76, the titular Pippa, to the deep end of a river during a joint military exercise. Deservedly, his defiance isn’t appreciated, not even in the form of a senior giving a sly smile and a nod, and later admitting to a fellow soldier, “He is truly our best.” In fact, a disciplinary committee is constituted to look into his disobedience.

It is refreshing to see that beneath the uniform, Balram aka Balli is just another angsty youngster, waiting to come of age. He is not being forced to fit into the template of the dutiful, sacrificial soldier. His elder brother Ram Mehta (Priyanshu Painyuli) is an embodiment of that and naturally, the two don’t get together. In the family, which also includes the serene Soni Razdan as the mother, Balli is only at ease with his sister Radha (Mrunal Thakur), with whom he can cool off over a cigarette.

It's good to witness the protagonist learn along the way. In a scene, Balli expresses irritation over East Pakistanis seeking refuge in the country. Soni Razdan schools him, tells him how they too migrated to India during the Partition. “Refugees are people too,” she says. It’s a minor yet moving scene and cements where the film stands.

Once the war breaks out, both brothers are called to the border. Ram is tasked with helping the Mukti Bahini, the guerilla force seeking independence from Pakistan. Balli gets to get atop his beloved tank. A bit of an overkill, but Radha too gets to serve her country by employing her cryptography talents at the Communication & Analysis Wing (Name changed to protect identity, maybe?). Once in action, the film starts to tread the roads often taken.

Tank battles, although novel and impressively tactical (“Enemy at 11 o’clock, 30 degrees up. Fire!”), lack the visceral thrill of a hand-to-hand combat or the unexpectedness of a dogfight. The film soon becomes a standard war drama with the usual themes of sacrifice and brotherhood being explored. Once the mission is in place, Pippa starts dragging, going from one skirmish to another in a rather straight line. Except for an aerial attack, which is dealt with quite easily, there aren’t many surprises. Ishaan, as Balram, gives an assured performance along with the always dependable Priyanshu Painyuli. But what started off with a promise, ends with a plod. Maybe there was nothing more left in the tank.

Director: Raja Krishna Menon
Starring: Ishaan Khatter, Priyanshu Painyuli, Mrunal Thakur, Soni Razdan 
Streaming on: Prime Video
Rating: 3/5

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