Shershaah is a war biography that tells the story of the young, charismatic, filmy and affable warhero, Vikram Batra. Born in the small town of Palampur, Vikram and his twin brother Vishal dreamt of joining the armed forces from a very young age. Vishal shares, that as children, they would sneak out every weekend to go to their neighbours to watch the TV show ‘Param Vir Chakra’ which portrayed the lives of the PVC gallantry winners. As a teenager, Vikram was part of the National Cadet Corps and won the best cadet award two years in a row. He also went on to lead the NCC contingent at the Republic Day parade in Delhi. His goal was set, and his vision was clear.

Vikram joined the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun and graduated to join the Jammu & Kashmir Rifles regiment (JAK Rif). His first posting – Sopore in Baramullah district of Kashmir. In those days, Sopore was notorious for infiltration by militants. Shortly after taking up his posting, at the ripe age of 24, Vikram went to war. And not only did he go to war, he wanted to win!

Vikram’s story has been elegantly depicted in the film Shershaah. His character, played by Siddharth Malhotra, has come out beautifully; enough that Vikram’s parents asked for Siddharth to play their son on screen. Also, this project was close to Siddharth’s heart as he spent five years in its making – writing and re-writing the script etc. The filmmakers have certainly tried their best to be as honest as they can in telling his story.

There are some parts of the story where filmmakers have taken creative liberties. However, they are tastefully executed without the typical Bollywood exaggeration; the kind of stuff, if pointed out, would be forgiven. On the flip side, there are some scenes that one might think are fictionalised e.g. when Vikram and Dimple are together in the Gurudwara or the scene at the bus stand before Vikram heads back. Rest assured; those parts aren’t fake, and they truly did happen in real life. This makes for an interesting watch and provides an insight into the man Vikram Batra was.

This is the first film ever to have shot on location in Kargil and so the terrain etc. in the war scenes is as real as one can get. The film received a no-objection certificate from the Army and was made with their support - two army personnel were present on set during the shoot. Some of the war scenes featured soldiers from the Indian Army as extras while Vikram’s character handles a real standard-issue INSAS rifle in the film. A lot of Vikram’s family, friends and colleagues were consulted to make sure that they got the details right. Some of Vikram’s dialogues in the film are portrayed verbatim. All these factors help set this film apart.

The Kargil war broke out in May 1999 with the Pakistani troops infiltrating into Indian territory. A month later, in June, 13 JAK Rif were deployed to Drass sector as reserves for the 2nd Rajputana Rifles regiment. Under the command of Lt. Col. Y K Joshi, two teams led by Captain Sanjeev Jamwal and then Lt. Vikram Batra were tasked to capture point 5140. This intervention was executed overnight successfully without any loss of life. Vikram killed several Pakistani soldiers during hand-to-hand combat. It was his televised interview after this victory that made Vikram Batra a household name. He was promoted to the rank of Captain for his achievements. His codename for the mission was ‘Shershaah’ and his success signal – ‘Yeh dil maange more’ (my heart wants more).

This victory paved the way for a series of successful recaptures of other strategic features. However, Vikram was restless and wanted to go out for another attack to finish the job. The mission to capture Point 4875 was a critical one as it overlooked a 35-40 km long stretch of NH1 with the Pakistani troops getting a vantage point over all the movements on our side. After its capture, the Pakistani’s launched a counteroffensive to gain back the area. Vikram and his men volunteered to go as reinforcements, and this is where he attained martyrdom while trying to move an injured colleague to safety. Unlike what’s shown in the film, Vikram didn’t live to see the capture of Point 4875. But fuelled by his daredevilry and sacrifice, his troops charged ahead to victory.

Vikram’s will continue to inspire generations to come, and this film is a good place as any to derive inspiration from the man and his story.

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Chinmaya Udghosh