Tragedy, Love, and Overrated Patriotic Exuberance

9 Min Read

Mehnaaz Pervin Tuli

How do Indian war movies amalgamate the notion of war and other Indian movie elements? What determines if they’re successful or a flop piece?


Kesari (2019)

Kesari by Anurag Singh

The title of the film, Kesari, signifies the colour of saffron, which symbolises sacrifice and courage. Its plot revolves around the untold and unrecognised Indian history of valour and bloodshed. The true incident will take the audience back to 1897, when a mere 21 Sikh soldiers defied thousands of Afghan tribesmen, attacking the strategic military outpost of Saragarhi in the Khyber Pass.

Many critics dig down the reason for the absence of the historic tale in Indian textbooks as the battle being fought for protecting a colonial British Indian outpost from colonised Afghan locals. Nonetheless, the extraordinary effort and bravery of these Sikh men deserve salutation that can be conveyed through a high-drama movie. 

The dry and dusty setting of the north-west province of Maharashtra is made to look authentic and essential for the film. The movie was also shot in the Golden City of Rajasthan, Nawalgarh — known as the city of Marwaris, additionally gifted with flamboyant forts and palaces. The fight scenes incorporate Gatka, an ingenious Sikh martial art, which points towards the distinct features of the Sikh tradition. Last but not the least, the Sikh soldiers’ costumes, the pagdhis (turbans), and the colour combinations add overall vigour and a distinct flavour to the battle scenes.

In the movie, the versatile Akshay Kumar, who has already created a relationship with battlefields, army lives, and patriotism on screen, characterises Sardar Havildar Ishar Singh. Unlike usual war films, where protecting the motherland remains the primary concern, this movie refers to multifaceted aspects, such as not conforming to colonial slavery, and the conservation of Sikh tradition, values, and pride.

The antagonistic Afghan leader talks about jihad, which requires commands from God to shed blood in the name of religion, but another Afghan soldier denies it and says that Allah has nowhere encouraged this and there is no need to bring God among human affairs. Again, in the end, there is a kind gesture by the Afghan leader towards the Sikh, “Tumhare Paghdi ko koi hat nahi lagayega, ye Khan Masud ka wada hai.”

This is a sensitive attitude towards the enemy at war where at some point, humanity or empathy wins by defeating pure brutality in the battlefield. This film is a creation of Anurag Singh and Girish Kohli, and earned good praise from film critics and the audience.


Lakshya (2004)

Lakhsya By Farhan Akhtar

This movie by Farhan Akhtar is not exactly based on any real-life event, but is inspired by many minor events related to the Indian army. According to critics, this movie was ahead of its time, and that is why it could not be a blockbuster. The best aspects of the film Lakshya are the lead performance from Hrithik Roshan and its attention to realism.

Though there are better movies in the war genre, this one is unique in its portrayal of the Bildungsroman style, and the advanced, risky shooting techniques. Many significant sequences were shot in Ladakh, Kashmir at minus 8-9 degrees, and at the approximate height of 17,800 feet above the sea level in the mountains.

Even the female character had strong opinions, though the character was not well-sketched. The character of Preity Zinta was better than the female leads in other movies where the actresses only agree to all that a hero wants or says, or try hard to increase the luster of their external beauty.

Even though the film had an impressive star cast and good battle ground shots, it earned a below-par 230 million at the domestic box office and was declared a flop. This might not be a surprise as it had elements that were more advanced than that era of filming and thinking; it consisted of less drama and more realism, which led to the dissatisfaction of the mass audiences’ expectations. The audience expected more fun, tragic drama, and spice, like the hit movie Dil Chahta Hai from the same director. The audience could not open up their minds to the grim, realistic portrayal of war.

Farhan Akhtar tried not to spoon-feed the facts, rather tried to transform the movie into an intelligent, sensitive, and thought-provoking one. The characters played their parts well, including Amitabh Bachchan, Om Puri, and Boman Irani. One specialty of this movie was the cinematography conducted by the skilled German photography director Christopher Popp. 

As Farhan Akhtar said, Lakshya is more about the understanding of what soldiers go through and their background stories, rather than just patriotism and Indianness.


LOC: Kargil (2003)

Kargil by JP Dutta

This is a film that had a promising story, a talented cast and crew, and a good budget, but it regrettably lacked proper direction. It is true though that the movie, directed by J P Dutta, gives adequate details on the true happenings of the Kargil tragedy, reminding its audience afresh about the real sacrifices of hundreds of soldiers at Kargil.

Historically, Pakistani infiltrators had crossed the Kargil sector and Line of Control (LOC) in 1999 and illegally entered Indian territory. In the movie, the Indian army goes on a search for its patrol officers after the news of Pakistani troops crossing the Line of Control.

There are a lot of flashbacks, long monotonous songs, abysmally managed and directed battle scenes in the movie. It could have had more realism and a shorter length. There was religious invocation before starting battles, and characters were seen to swear bitterly and openly, which seemed contradictory and failed to create a good impression of the army soldiers. 

The long movie tried its best to provide insight into the iconic moments of the real Kargil war in 1999. To sum up, this movie had picturesque scenes shot in Leh Ladakh and Shimla; long, drawn out battles; teary-eyed farewells; and blasts of grenades, along with a few emotional patriotic songs.


Bollywood generally entails high voltage or emotionally charged melodrama, perky tragedies, colourful or emotional songs, larger than life heroes, overly exposed and stylised fight scenes, complex family relationships, and so on. No doubt, there are movies with excellently choreographed dancing, classy battle scenes, innocent yet powerful love stories, and not to mention, melodious songs that can stir the heart.

Among these, it is sometimes tough for Bollywood directors to make a pure war-based movie with stark realism and a dingy plot that only focuses on the war storyline. They have to be aware of the taste of the mass Indian audience and keep up with box office success. To stick to the pure Bollywood aura, directors are often compelled to engage with choices that dilute the seriousness of certain movies.

I personally rate the movies accordingly: Kesari and Lakshya can be rated better than Kargil: LOC, depending on realism, length, engagement, authenticity, modernity, and battle scenes. 


Tuli likes to have small talks with people of various cultures, religions, and races. She can’t sit at home and would prefer living out of a suitcase at any time.


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