Prime Video’s Pippa, based on the book The Burning Chaffees by Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta, is an account of the little-known Battle of Garibpur on November 20-21, 1971. A battalion of Pakistani tanks was destroyed in this battle. It was technically not during the war so the heroes were never formally recognised, with the war starting only on December 3. Mehta was then a captain who had to take over his battalion within minutes of the battle when his commanding officer was killed by enemy fire. He promised his men he would write about the battle despite what he calls the “babus” of the Defence Ministry denying them honours because of a technicality. Mehta comes from a family dedicated to the armed forces, and is played by Ishaan Khatter in the movie. Pippa was supposed to release in December last year but was pushed to a streaming release because of a variety of reasons, says its director Raja Krishna Menon. One of them may well have been the release of Sam Bahadur by one of Pippa’s producers, RSVP Movies. There are only so many Bangladesh war movies the box office can sustain around the same time. While Sam Bahadur’s Sam Manekshaw is being played by Vicky Kaushal, in Pippa, he is played by actor Kamal Sadanah. The ’90s hero who made his debut with Kajol in the 1992 movie Bekhudi, Sadanah is the son of Brij Sadanah, a film producer who shot his wife and daughter before shooting himself in his Bandra bungalow in Mumbai. This infamous event took place in 1990. In 2013, Sadanah made a short film on the horrific incident, A Moment of Pause. After a long hiatus, he reunited with Kajol in Revathy’s Salaam Venky in 2022. Both Sadanah and Pippa are getting great reviews from audiences, says Menon, who believes many more people saw his film than they would have in theatres, given that it was a solo movie release on Diwali.
The China Connection
China’s cultural connection with southern India has always fascinated Joe Thomas Karackattu, an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras and Fox Fellow (2008-09; Yale University), who makes non-fiction films to present his research findings. Karackattu’s current film, Those 4 Years, looks at Tamil Nadu’s mid-19th century connections with the Chinese. The film captures the history of plants, people and places in Tamil Nadu with distinct Chinese connections. It highlights the transformation of the Nilgiris district with its iconic institutions such as the Lawrence School (previously Lawrence Asylum) that once used Chinese convict workers as labour in its construction, and the establishment of cinchona plantations there in the middle of the 19th century. This allowed the export of the cinchona bark that was historically important in the fight against malaria. Even the status of the Nilgiris today as a geographic indication for tea has a fascinating connection with the Chinese, which the film brings out. Research for the film spans three sites (Hong Kong, Malaysia and southern Tamil Nadu) for access to material (physical travel to archives, respondents and interviewees). “It was challenging to locate descendants of those convict workers (brought to India as part of the British transportation policy) whose sentences were commuted and were permitted to reside in the Nilgiris,” says Karackattu. His first film, also a work of non-fiction, titled Guli’s Children in 2016 (Kozhikode or Calicut is known as Guli in Mandarin), focused on the history of Kerala’s historical connections with China. Covering 20,000 kilometres of fieldwork across India and China, the film locates physical artefacts and, most importantly, traces of human genealogy that survive between Kerala and China to this day. Karackattu studied Economics at St Stephen’s College (Delhi) and Chinese Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University (Delhi) and has no formal training in filmmaking.
Scene and Heard
Revathy has been Salman Khan’s romantic co-star in Love (1991), his director in Phir Milenge (2004), and now she plays his boss, as spymistress, in Tiger 3. “It’s not more than two minutes,” says Revathy of her role, being her usual modest self, but like the late Girish Karnad, immediately lends some much-needed gravitas to the star’s exploits. Much like Marvel movies which cast English actors to lend them class, the YRF Spy Universe movies are choosing unlikely grey eminences such as Revathy and Dimple Kapadia in Pathaan to elevate them.