Like the road to victory is bumpy, Shershaah the film also negotiates through rough patches before signing off triumphantly.
To begin with, it is conventional writing that tends to be stodgy. Like when a soldier suddenly produces his little kid’s picture and says he looks forward to going home and holding her for the first time, it’s a bet that a bullet is around the corner. When a local says that his young son is falling into bad company, you know he’ll be at a terror camp. When a letter arrives from a girlfriend, a flashback to Lieutenant Vikram Batra’s romance is as per the rulebook. When a flock of sheep stop an army jeep on the road, be ready for an ambush. There’s that brand of obviousness in the writing (story, screenplay and dialogues by Sandeep Shrivastava) and in Vishnu Varadhan’s direction.
Hunting down a terrorist in his hideout takes on the camera hues of Zero Dark Thirty, the Hollywood film on how the US Navy Seals took out Osama Bin Laden. A Chak De! kind of motivational speech by Captain Batra (now with an extra star on his uniform) merely enumerates points already articulated in earlier sequences.
And an entire hour is devoted to the recapture of points where Pakistan had walked in and hoisted its flag during the Kargil War, somewhat resembling JP Dutta’s uninspired LoC movies. Editor Sreekar Prasad could perhaps have made sharper use of his scissors in these sequences. We concede that the war, its martyrs and its victors must be documented and celebrated. But when the film warns in its opening disclaimer that it is not an authentic re-telling of the Batra or the war story and has been dramatised, the soldiers’ valorous fight could also have been told in a more heart-in-the-mouth manner.
Shershaah however triumphs on two thumping points. The inherent affability and fearlessness of Captain Vikram Batra (played with adequate charm by Sidharth Malhotra), and his ultimate martyrdom, with the tiranga flying like a salute to him, is a story of inspiration and tragedy that has to be chronicled for posterity.
Across the board, all the performers deliver. Whether Shiv Pandit (as Captain Sanjeev Jamwal alias Jimmy), Mir Sarwar (the eternal terrorist of Hindi cinema), Nikitin Dheer (whose gigantic build makes him a perfect Major Jasrotia) or Anil Charanjeett (the subedar who wants to go hug his baby girl), the camaraderie and courage of the J&K Rifles comes together with warmth.
Looking like a young Hema Malini, pretty Kiara Advani (as girlfriend Dimple) makes a handsome couple with Sidharth Malhotra. They’re both very watchable. The Vikram-Dimple romance which was truncated by the war is poignant especially because it is so tragically real. Vikram fell to sniper bullets before Dimple and he could wed officially.
Watching the real Vikram Batra and the other army officers who fought the Kargil War at the end, is a heart-tug moment. As an Independence Day offering, it is ‘Durge Mata Ki Jai’, as the team chant puts it.