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1971: Beyond Borders Movie Review

A war movie that needed better action, fewer lectures and clichés

Baradwaj RanganBaradwaj Rangan

April 10, 2017 | 07:04 PM

FC Rating

★★★★★
film-companion
Mohan Lal, Baradwaj Rangan, FC South, Malayalam Movie Review, 1971 Malayalam Movie Review,

Language: Malayalam 

Director: Major Ravi

Cast: Mohanlal, Arunoday Singh  

The latest instalment in Major Ravi’s series following the exploits of army-man Mahadevan – played by Mohanlal, who’s sometimes a Colonel, sometimes a Major – begins with an action sequence in Georgia. Mahadevan, now part of the UN peacekeeping force, saves a Pakistani soldier’s life – and guess what! This soldier’s father once fought Mahadevan’s father, Sahadevan (Mohanlal again, in old-age makeup). 

The story – around events during the 1971 war that resulted in the formation of Bangladesh – unfolds as Sahadevan’s memory, which makes us wonder why that initial scene with Mahadevan was needed. After all, when Mahadevan plays no further part in the rest of the film, why waste time on a scene with him at the beginning?

Because this way, we get an action sequence featuring a big star. (An old man remembering the past doesn’t kick as much ass as a soldier saving the day.) Also, this stretch hints at the Indo-Pak thread that will unspool through the rest of the movie. 1971: Beyond Borders is fashioned after the Mahabharata. It says Indians and Pakistanis are part of the same family, like the Kauravas and Pandavas. There’s even an episode – set in the deserts at the Indo-Pak border – where a tank named Karna gets stuck in the sand. And as with the Kauravas, there are really evil men and moderates (like Col. Raja, nicely played by Arunoday Singh) who’d rather not fight but understand that they have a job to do. No such shades are found in the Indian contingent. They’re all saints.

It’s the kind of movie where the minute a character is softened – through the mention of a fiancée back in the village, say, who writes long letters that bleed onto the envelope, right up to the gummy parts – you know he’s going to die

1971 is based on real-life war narratives, but the writing is painfully simplistic. It’s the kind of movie where the minute a character is softened – through the mention of a fiancée back in the village, say, who writes long letters that bleed onto the envelope, right up to the gummy parts – you know he’s going to die. It’s the kind of movie where the Indian PoWs at the Pakistani camp are treated like animals, while when an Indian soldier begins to abuse a Pakistani PoW, Sahadevan asks why. “Because he killed one of us,” comes the reply. Sahadevan says, “They are our guests. Athithi devo bhava. That is our tradition.”

There’s lots more. “People living here [at the border] are not Hindus or Muslims. They are Indians.” “No one can achieve anything through wars.” That sort of thing. This performance is not a patch on Mohanlal’s delightful turn in Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol, a few months ago, but keeping a straight face while delivering these lines is its own kind of talent.

The war scenes are nicely shot by Sujith Vaassudev, but – unlike The Ghazi Attack –there’s no suspense, no strategy. Major Ravi isn’t interested in how the war was won. He’s after how much our soldiers suffer for us, sacrifice for us. Hence the sequence where a soldier pretends to be his dead comrade in front of the latter’s dying father. 

This subplot is too maudlin to work, but the best stretches in 1971 are those where the soldiers are shown as people. In the film’s finest scene, they abandon their weapons and race down a dune when the mailman arrives. Then, they sit down to read these letters. The camera drifts from soldier to soldier, as we eavesdrop on lines voiced by faraway wives and sons and daughters. 

In another lovely bit, a soldier says he doesn’t want his family to receive news of his death. He wants to be declared MIA, so at least they’ll live on hope. Sahadevan’s reply brought a lump in my throat. “Does this tiny body of yours have the space for so many sorrows?”

This performance is not a patch on Mohanlal’s delightful turn in Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol, a few months ago, but keeping a straight face while delivering these lines is its own kind of talent

Even with Sahadevan, the portions with his wife (Asha Sharath) and son are far more interesting. The content is pure cliché, but at least no one is lecturing at us. Sahadevan at home is human: he worries he may be called to report for duty. Sahadevan on the battlefront, on the other hand, is determined to fight despite the army’s top brass cautioning that surrender may be the better option. How else will he live up to his nickname of “Ranathambore tiger” ?

Watch the trailer here: