JP Dutta released his magnum opus, “Border”, on June 13, 1997. It has been 20 years and “Border” has stood the test of time. The movie is set in the background of the 1971 India-Pakistan war, which ended with a proud moment for the Indian state when we assisted in the freedom of Bangladesh and captured 93,000 enemy soldiers. Despite being a war movie, “Border” appeals against war and calls for amiable relations with our neighbour.
Within its runtime of 177 minutes, “Border” tackles many issues that a soldier deals with on the battlefield. The gruelling separation from families for months, the camaraderie amongst the ranks of soldiers and, of course, the brutal reality of war are expertly captured by Dutta.
The battle of Longewala has a prominent place in military history. Major Kuldeep Singh (played by Sunny Deol) used his tactical prowess to deploy his 120 men and assets to hold the enemy back till the Indian Air Force and reinforcements arrived the following morning. It was a terrible loss for the Pakistani side which lost 200 soldiers, 500 vehicles and 36 tanks. It was the largest disproportionate tank casualties for one side in a single battle after World War II. Unlike in the movie, the Indian side only lost two jawans in the assault. Longewala proved to be a decisive moment in the 1971 war.
Border pays tribute to the idea of India as envisioned by the founders of this nation. Ideas such as universal brotherhood, empathy, and of course non-violence form the moral core of the movie. When an enemy soldier begs for mercy following a raid, Major Kuldeep says he is a soldier just like him and offers him water.
During enemy fire, Sunil Shetty, playing BSF commandant Bhairon Singh, runs into a burning building to retrieve a villager’s heirloom Quran. When asked why he went in for a Quran when he is a Hindu, he replies, ”Hindu hu isiliye toh yeh karm kiya hai, apne aap ko bhul kar duro ko sambhalna, yeh hi toh hindu dharm hai (I did it because I’m a Hindu, to forget oneself in service of others is Hinduism).” It is quite a lesson for our times.
The movie ends with the heart-wrenching depiction of the end result of war, with human causalities on both sides. The song “Mere Dushman, Mere Bhai (My Enemy, My Brother)” is an appeal to get over mere enmity, because war destroys homes on all sides. The words of the song say “Hum apne apne kheton mein gehoon ki jagah chaanval ki jagah, ye bandookein kyoon botein hain… Jab dono hi ki galiyon mein, kuch bhooke bachche rotein hain (Why do we grow guns in our farms instead of wheat and rice, when children in our countries cry due to hunger)!”
In our times, when the calls for war are so blatantly raised, “Border” puts us in the middle of the battlefield and doesn’t hold back on the gore of war. You feel the bullet pierce through your chest and the excruciating pain of losing your friends. “Border” asks us to stop the glorification of war because it only leaves broken families and destroyed villages and cities in its wake. It is the right time to take this message to our hearts.