Veterans of Punjab Regiment, who took part in the Battle of Garibpur in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War, have raised serious objections over an upcoming Bollywood film that allegedly underplays the role of their battalion, other units and individuals by highlighting only a tank squadron and one officer as the sole victors.
The movie — ‘Pippa’, meaning an empty tin and a pun on the PT-76 light tanks of a 45 Cavalry Regiment squadron, which took part in the Battle of Garibpur in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in November 1971 — is being produced by Ronnie Screwvala and Sidharth Roy Kapur.
The movie reportedly portrays the battle from the perspective of Brig Balram Singh Mehta who was a young officer in the C Squadron of 45 Cavalry Regiment. It is based on a book that he has written, ‘The Burning Chaffees’, the name referring to the Chaffee tanks of the Pakistan Army, which were destroyed by the squadron in the battle. Actor Ishan Khatter is slated to play the role of Brig Mehta.
The movie’s plot has not gone down well with the veterans of 14th Battalion of the Punjab Regiment (14 Punjab) who say that there were several units which were part of the 14 Punjab Infantry Battalion Group which took part in the Battle of Garibpur and highlighting one individual or a sub unit is unfair.
“Major DS Narag was the Squadron Commander of the 45 Cavalry quadron and I saw him fight valiantly and die in battle leading the charge against Pakistani tanks. He got a well deserved Mahavir Chakra posthumously as he got killed while directing fire against the enemy. Balram Mehta was a young officer in the squadron,” said Brig MPS Bajwa (retd) who was Adjutant of 14 Punjab at the time.
He added that the battle was fought mainly by 14 Punjab, which had many other supporting units given to it for the task. “The fact is that C Squadron of 45 Cavalry was under direct command of 14 Punjab. We also had one platoon 102 Engineer Regiment and 87 Battery, 6 Field Regt along with elements of 78 Medium Regiment as artillery support,” said Brig Bajwa.
He said that a JCO of the regiment too had received Vir Chakra for bravery under fire. “I am making efforts to contact the producers and ask them to make the film on reality and not create a false impression on the role of individuals,” said Brig Bajwa.
Another veteran from 14 Punjab, Lt Col GS Gill (retd), who was awarded the Vir Chakra for bravery in the battle, said that it will be a big disrespect to the bravery of the troops that took part on the battle if a movie depicts inaccurate facts. “Our CO Lt Col (later Brigadier) RK Singh has written a book on the Battle of Garibpur and it clearly mentions all the facts and the role of the sub units, which took part in the action with 14 Punjab. I hope the movie will stick to depicting facts and not create fiction,” he said.
Another officer who took part in the battle, Capt Amar Jeet Kumar (retd) said that 14 Punjab was given the task to secure Garibpur area by first light (early morning) of November 21, 1971. “C Squadron of 45 Cavalry was under command of 14 Punjab. We all would have appreciated if the movie had glorified Maj DS Narag and made him the hero of this battle. It is not the question of taking any credit but to apprise the common man of the facts of this battle and that there were certain soldiers who showed courage and fought very well,” he said.
Reached for comments, Brig Mehta said that he was saddened that his comrades in arms had gone to the press before speaking to him.
“There is no question of downplaying 14 Punjab. The Infantry is the Queen of the Battle. How do these persons who are raising the objections know what the movie will turn out to be. I think after the controversy over IAF officer Gunjan Saxena’s movie there are some misgivings among certain quarters,” he said.
Brig Mehta said that he had strong affinity with 14 Punjab and that he wanted to assure the veterans that their doubts are misplaced. “I hold 14 Punjab, the ‘Akal Sahae’ battalion, in high regard and I would urge everyone to first read my book ‘The Burning Chaffees’ before commenting,” he added.