No, Paltan is not a film about the bloody Nathu La ambush of Indian soldiers by the Chinese in 1965. And it’s not about the war in 1962, much as it might underline the link to it. It’s actually about the series of minor skirmishes, and one major clash, on that border that got India some tactical advantage in 1967. So, while the film doesn’t allow Dutta his usual blood and gore and glory of war — rather some sabre-rattling by men who behave more like boys scrapping in the schoolyard — no patriotic deed is likely to go unrewarded or unnoticed in times of celebration of ‘Surgical Strikes Day’.
With that in mind, no barbs are spared at the “Cheeni”, who are painted as the devious souls who would spare no chance to “dig an axe into the chest of Bharat Mata” (that is said in Hindi, in reaction to the Chinese making trenches on this side of the border). There is more where that come from, as the Indian Army, from officers down, swears revenge against the enemy who defeated them twice over. Once this is by two of our officers who are at the time exercising bare-chested in the snow, and rubbing some of it on their bodies for good measure.
The Chinese, who don’t even get a second pair of clothing (while the Indian Army dons and discards fur jackets per season), must settle for a giant Mao poster on the border as compensation. That should give the actors standing in for the other side some reason to wake up in the morning, given that their commander, a Commissar, is as Winnie the Pooh as they come (Is Xi Jinping listening?).
And while Paltan is not likely to set off any storm on China’s expanding horizon, or settle the Sino-India border debate, Beijing may take delight in one thing. The Indian battalion at Nathu La has all of one person who can speak Chinese, as others struggle with the various regional accents they are ascribed. The Chinese side has several who know Hindi, including the Commissar, who keeps mourning for “Mao ki pavitra dharti”, and saying India has done “ullanghan of antarrashtriya seema”.