Review: Line of Control – Kargil (2003)

It’s not often one finds an imdb review (usually written by some 12-year-old in Bumfuck Nebraska) suitable as a quotable quote but with Kargil; Line Of Control, the review which begins as “Dull, tedious and racist” is hard to beat and harder to deny.

Based on battles which took place on the line of control (a kind of fuzzy and perennially combat strewn no man’s land) in the region of the India and Pakistan border in 1999, Line Of Control is an epic military yarn which does have a certain amount of authentic grit remeniscent of the Sam Fuller classic Merrill’s Marauders. Essentially the story of this latest Bollywood flick to reach Australian cinemas is that in 1999, Pakistani armed forces overstepped the border and need to be pushed back to the Pakistani side of the Line of Control by the best Indian regiments situated around the city of Kargil,. Depending on how seriously you want to take this, a squiz at an atlas (if you indeed need it) would not go astray. (Kargil is Latitude 34, Longitude 76.)

The Fuller classic truly has a grunt’s view of the army, However while Merrill’s Marauders is a mere 98 minutes long. Kargil: LOC clocks in at a massive 202 minutes! (I promise you that the night of the day you see this film you will not need to count sheep as all you will see when you close your eyes is Indian soldiers ascending boulder strewn hills). The Bollywood enthusiast with whom I saw this film jokingly likened the film to The Longest Day, which may be suitable given the visually repetitive nature of the film and LOC’s excessive length — even by Bollywood standards.

The territory is mind-numbingly inhospitable and despite frequent introductory titles, indistinguishable from battle to battle. Let it be said, that while I suspect that the battlefield is accurately depicted, never have the Himalayas of the Kashmir region looked less spectacular!

The set up is quite well done as a wide variety of characters are introduced, revealing relationships between soldiers and eventually with the first song, (and in fact the only song in the first half) the women that they have left behind. This helps place a wider context to the film and in this aspect made Line of Control similar, but in fact superior to the condescending view of the women left behind in Mel Gibson’s despicable Once We Were Soldiers.

The second half of the film was quite similar to the first, more mountains, more battles and fortunately more songs. However, despite having three songs seguing into each other early in the second half, dramatically they meant little more than what had already been established in the song from the film’s first half. However anything that gives me an extra peek at Kareena Kapoor is excusable.

Less excusable is the obvious racism of the film. After close to four hours of calling Pakistani soldiers dogs, motherf$#%ers and sisterf$#%ers (as the subtitles expressed it), a virtuous speech about the fact that Pakistani soldiers were human too and also had families had a hollow ring. This may be an insight into how racist other war films can be if you are sitting outside the dominant paradigm. (I’m thinking about US war films generally, but a great example is another kind of Indian film, Dances With Wolves, which seems very liberally minded in its embracing of Sioux culture, but if you happen to be a Pawnee Indian the film is universally regarded as racist claptrap). I am not suggesting that there is anything unusual in the racism represented in Line of Control. But certainly this flick in service of Mother India will not making that country any friends north of the border. Given its dullness, this movie is unlikely to making friends any where else either.

That said the battle sequences, while largely unspectacular, are suprisingly bloody and before repetition dulls their edge, quite shocking.
Performances are serviceable, and for those who continue to take a shine to Saif Ali Khan (most recently spotted in Australia cinemas in Kol Ho Naa Ho as the lovestruck understudy to Shah Rukh Khan’s starring role)

If this review seems overly harsh, it might be worth pointing out that even the Victorian distributors were unable to come up with a press release that could quote a favourable review other than one from IndiaFM which simply said four stars. Attention Louise Keller and Paul Fischer! Bollywood needs you! At least on this film.

3 bazooka shots out of 10.
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