Shershaah (2021) is an Indian full-length feature film streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime, directed by Bollywood filmmaker Vishnuvardhan and starring Sidharth Malhotra as Captain Vikram Batra. Spoken almost entirely in Hindi, the film chronicles the life and military service of Batra, highlighting his exceptional gallantry during the Kargil War in the summer of 1999. The Indian Army claimed victory in major part due to his heroics, the film asserts. Since then, Batra has become immortalized as a symbol of bravery and patriotism in Indian culture.
The film is currently ranked No. 10 on IMDb’s “Most Popular Movies” list, and sat at No. 6 last week, due to its feverish praise and hype among those living in India. To see a lauded war hero portrayed in a high-budget Bollywood production is sure to attract high viewership, and as the current 8.9 rating suggests, the audience has been very pleased with Shershaah so far. I was drawn to watching the film by the fanatical nature of the response in its home country, as well as my past experiences with foreign filmmaking that have mostly been quite positive.
City of God (2002) of Brazil and Parasite (2019) of South Korea are two of the best movies I’ve ever seen, foreign or not. The latter especially has become an isthmus of exposure to foreign filmmaking in the United States, having been the first foreign film to win Best Picture at the Oscars.
Shershaah may also draw comparisons for American viewers to films such as American Sniper (2013), a biopic dedicated to the deadliest sniper in American military history. While that is a fair comparison in terms of the agenda of the filmmakers to glorify a soldier that many see as a hero, Vikram Batra is a much more sympathetic and noble character, both based on the films themselves and outside research looking into their real lives.
It was easier to side with the patriotism flaunted in this film because of the type of conflict as well, which was defensive rather than imperialist in nature. The war scenes specifically are incredibly gripping, well-shot and intense. The viewer may find themselves overwhelmed by the barrage of bullets and explosions, but if they can handle the heat, it's hard not to be awestruck by these moments.
The performances in this film are also quite impressive from top to bottom. Malholtra as Batra (and Batra’s brother) is great, portraying the character as steadfast in his beliefs but also dealing with the internal conflicts of sacrificing his family for his duties as a soldier. The film presents a compelling arc of maturation for his character; at first he plans to abandon his dreams of being a soldier in order to secure a future with his wife, but after some soul-searching, he decides to stay in pursuit of the tougher path. This is a scenario most, if not all, viewers will identify with and can take valuable lessons from.
His wife Dimple, portrayed by Kiara Advani, was brilliantly acted and stood out as the emotional core of the film. You will find yourself captivated by every tear she sheds and every smile she beams throughout the movie, as her emotions feel earned.
The film overall does a competent job of balancing the many aspects of one man’s life into two hours and twenty-five minutes, but the pacing does feel rushed at some points. The beginning of the film particularly, during his childhood and college years, is a bit thin in terms of adding real tension or a compelling backstory. It’s not utterly devoid of interesting material, but the film without a doubt gets stronger as it goes on.
The sense that director Vishnuvardhan and writer Sandeep Shrivastava were delivering the foundation of his upbringing in service of the much more thrilling tale of his military experience is apparent, but that doesn’t negatively impact the film too much in my eyes. At the end of the day, Shershaah is a bittersweet and excellent depiction of one man’s uncompromising grit and fervor for his country, and it’s expected to entertain audiences across the globe.