Major is what chauvinism is not
I’m not sure if Shah Rukh Khan fans remember Major Ram’s action scenes with Raghavan (Suniel Shetty) in Farah Khan’s Main Hoon Na. But, I’m pretty sure the image of him in a wet white shirt in the song, Tumhein Jo Maine Dekha, where the Indian Army officer fantasizes about romanticizing a chiffon saree dressed in Sushmita Sen , is quite fresh. Well, whoever said research was imperative to conquering the box office. Especially when brainless entertainment (even Wiki calls the SRK star a masala movie) is the goal.
Not that we are surprised at the precision (or lack thereof) of the depiction of military combat in Khan’s populist cinema. However, if it wasn’t about the hero flying from rooftop to rooftop and blowing up helicopters, we wouldn’t be criticizing him for the wrong reasons.
Cut to Major by Sashi Kiran Tikka where the second half is all about what happens inside the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai during India’s darkest hour that we know as terrorist attacks of 26/11. The narrative, while perhaps not as tight as Anthony Maras’ Hotel Mumbai, does not trivialize the work of the elite troop 51 SAG under the Indian Army. Committed to rescuing civilians and neutralizing the terrorists who unleashed a gruesome and deadly attack on the iconic hotel, its staff and guests on that fateful night, the storyline focuses on how the soldiers strategize and confront the criminals little by little.
Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan (Adivi Sesh steps into the hero’s shoes effortlessly) asks his boys to prepare as it’s “chaos out there” so they are prepared for the worst. The scenario has no room for pontification because in war or conflict scenarios, real soldiers are expected to think fast and act. The previous scene where Major Unnikrishnan is shown training his juniors explains this. Yes, major reprimands too, but his advice is restricted and limited to crucial on-field decisions unlike Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri (Sunny Deol) in JP Dutta’s Border. The latter may not have been able to shed his “dhai kilo ka haath” aura while making Lieutenant Dharamveer Singh Bhan (Akshaye Khanna) a man. While the training period at the IMA or NDA is notorious for toughening soldiers even as they acclimate trainees to extreme situations, Dutta picking up recruits from villages and dropping them off in war zones required a speech. dramatic encouragement from Major Chandpuri, I suppose.
Perhaps such lyrics also straightened out the lazy and aimless Karan Sheirgill (Hrithik Roshan) in Farhan Akhtar’s Lakshya who just joined the army with no definite goal. If getting into the Indian Army was so easy, ask yourself why Tikka shows Unnikrishnan that he harbored a deep desire to serve his country since he was little. And for whom, he assures to excel in studies as well as in extracurricular activities. We don’t even get into the subject of his determination to pass the NDA entrance exams when he is rejected by the Indian Navy on medical grounds.
Actual work on professional military men will obviously portray the protagonists as brave, strong, and otherwise. But Major is probably one of the few films that attempts to analyze how Indian soldiers make the cut after several obstacles. A true story, it beautifully portrays that a man decides to serve the country in the field of combat not because of the fancy uniform, medals or fancy positions. While a sharp, deserving boy from a middle-class family could have lived a cushy existence pocketing a decent salary as an engineer, why does he choose something where risk will always hang above her head ?
In the upcoming film Laal Singh Chaddha, Aamir Khan will don the prestigious Indian Army uniform to reprise the role of slow-brained Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. Isn’t this trivializing the whole context? After all, is it really a cakewalk to make the cut in the world’s second-largest military service as Bollywood has always shown? Aside from brains, the filmmakers also seem to throw in basic physical stats when casting army personnel. This is also where Sesh earns brownie points. Tall, agile and chiseled, he looks the part he plays.
Samar Khan’s Shaurya Major Siddhant Chaudhury was trying to defend Captain Javed Khan (Deepak Dobriyal) who is accused of killing a decorated Indian Army officer. However, the narrative (without getting into peddled propaganda) wasted immense time showing Rahul Bose coming close to Minissha Lamba’s journalist character in the film. To be honest, Bollywood audiences might crave romance stories featuring men in uniform, but a conflict zone like Kashmir demands a realistic brush. But then, this harangue on matters of the hearts of army officers seems to be a regular fare in the Hindi film industry scheme of things. Remember Veer Zaara, Jab Tak Hain Jaan, Deewar, Heroes the list goes on. In contrast, Isha (Saiee Manjrekar) deciding to divorce Major Unnikrishnan may seem a little cruel, but reality strikes in Tikka’s handling of the subject.
The best part of Mahesh Babu’s output is that it attacks the impending reality of radicalism-funded terrorism without demonizing or generalizing. Don’t expect the howls and rumbles of anti-Pakistani rhetoric like in LOC Kargil or Border. There is also no forced show of Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb like that of Main Hoon Na. But, the message is quite relevant, precise and crystal clear as to whether terror has a religion. And it’s done keeping chauvinism aside. But above all, without excessive melodrama, Major commemorates an Indian soldier (one cannot quantify the sacrifices they and their loved ones make) whose value must be recognized and understood.
“Sab maa aisa sochti toh? That’s all Sandeep soothes his worried mother before heading to the NDA. It deliberately does not complete the thought. That’s Sesh’s writing genius. He answers many uncomfortable questions without losing words. Letters are written, pain is felt but Revathi does not make a Border Rakhi Even in the loss there is dignity as well as the realization of how Major Unnikrishnan has defined who is actually a real Indian soldier . Unspoken words drive the point much more effectively than an aate hain sandese