Friday, May 18, 2012


 Actual scene from the movie Border!

The Battle of Longewala occurred during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. On the night of 4-5 December, the Pakistani Army’s 18th Division crossed the border into Western India intending to reduce the Indian Army’s Longewala defenses and then make a long blitzkrieg thrust on into two further towns located at strategic crossroads of the local road network. Strategically, this would be a shocker with the Indian forces focused mainly on the East.
Two infantry brigades and two armored regiments were involved in the attack, some 2,800 men, 65 tanks, and 138 assorted other vehicles such as armored personnel carriers, all supported by artillery. The only thing standing in the way of a potential stab deep into Indian territory was a single company of the Punjab Regiment, about 120 men. They were entrenched on a high dune, behind three strands of concertina wire and a few anti-tank mines, possessing only a single jeep-mounted 106mm anti-tank recoilless rifle. Given the choice to retreat or stay by higher headquarters, the CO chose to stay and fight to hold the position.
In a battle that raged literally all night long, the Punjabs managed to hold their defensive positions against repeated and overwhelming attacks by armor and infantry. At first light, four Indian Air Force Hawker Hunters, which had previously been unable to operate in the dark, caught the Pakistani forces in the open desert and inflicted such heavy casualties in men and armor that the Paki Army was forced to break off the attack.
This battle was truly one of the most epic military stands ever made, as magnificent as Rorke’s Drift or the Alamo, and worthy of a good movie.
With that being said, the movie about the battle was asinine and almost unwatchable. I rented the Indian-made Bollywood film based on the battle, entitled Border, hoping to see a good war movie from a non-American and/or non-Hollywierd perspective.
Instead, I saw one of the worst war movies ever. Mind you, it wasn’t quite as bad as Pearl Harbor (Alec Baldwin as Jimmy Doolittle?!?!) or The Last Drop, but its right up there with those turds.
Yes, I know, artistic license and developing drama and compressing scenes to make the action plain to the viewer and all that. But this thing was so cartoonish, outrageous, unbelievable and militarily incompetent as to be nauseating.
Ordinary, I would heartily enjoy scenes of large numbers of Muslims getting blown up. And I’m always up for a war movie with militarily correct hardware (T-55s rather than the old standby M48s with a German cross on them), although the entire Pakistani Army is inexplicably armed with Indian 1A1 FALs. But this film manages to make even the battle scenes boring and utterly unbelievable at the same time.
            Think Sam Pekinpah meets Bugs Bunny meets WWII Propaganda film (“Joe! The dirty Japs got Joe!”). If there was ever a movie made for Mike and the ‘Bots at Mystery Science Theater 3000 to slam, this would be it, except that it runs three hours.
            Both the characters and the plot are utterly cartoonish and predictable. The only thing unpredictable is just how many different times the same predictable thing happens. The CO manages to personally man every weapon on the perimeter, make dozens of patriotic speeches, and inspire every man in his command. I lost count of the individual soldiers who run out of the trenches and across the desert to make “heroic” single-handed attacks on the Pakistani tanks.
            This must be the director’s first experience with squibs. Most of the heroes take about fifty 7.62mm rounds to the chest but still manage to drag themselves back to the firing line to give a less than subtle patriotic speech with their dying gasps. Again and again and again. The extras, of course, die instantly from one shot. While the Punjabs lost only a couple of men in the real battle, this movie makes you think they suffered about 350% casualties.
And then there’s all the fuel-air explosions, particularly from the special Shrapnel-Free™ artillery, which make even a 1980’s Schwarzenegger action flick look like kids playing with sparklers. Maybe it was the director’s first experience with squibs and fuel-air explosions.
            The Flag-Waving He-Man Macho Chest-Beating Country Uber Alles is so heavy-handed, overbearing and repetitious it gets actually sickening. And this is before the battle. Yes, you can make a point of patriotism, of the harshness of a soldier’s duty, and the sacrifice and emotional turmoil it brings. But do you have to have a dozen different characters make the exact same point, with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer blow to the forehead, over and over and over again? Does the director think we missed that message the last 17 times?
            Did I forget to mention it’s also a flippin’ musical? That’s right, there’s nothing like a war movie with The Sound of Music interspersed between the explosions, screams and fake blood. These musical scores are mostly about falling in love with “the girl I left behind me”; deliriously happy young couples cavorting hand in hand through the admittedly beautiful Indian countryside. Here, at least the subtitles provide some pretty good entertainment. “Since I found you, emotion of adequacy is improved.”
            Just when you think it’s over, the soldiers, with the enemy practically within sight, have a huge male-bonding drum-circle-type festival and sing of glory and comrades and country, in case we missed it the first 27 times. You can cut the testosterone with a knife. For this particular musical score, I kept expecting something like, “Kill the Pakis! Kill the Pakis! With my spear and magic helmet! Spear and magic helmet!”
            The “climactic” battle scene lasts about an hour, and actually gets pretty boring after awhile. Both sides line up in neat rows, dress-right-dress like toy soldiers, and just keep blasting away at each other endlessly. More rounds were apparently expended in this single battle than in the entire Second World War. In numerous scenes, they’re not even shooting blanks and all the guns, of course, have no recoil. When they do shoot blanks, they apparently don’t have blank firing adapters as the soldiers keep having to rack the charging handle after every shot. Except for the CO. At one point he magically manages to turn his semi-automatic 1A1 SLR into one of those endless-magazine full-autos and sprays the Pakis from the hip in true action hero tradition.
            Once more, the subtitles provide more entertainment than the action scenes. “Those rascals vex me! Make them expire painfully!”
Of course, all the explosions and gunfire lapse into complete silence occasionally for yet another character’s last gasp speech of duty, honor, country. Alright already! We get it!
Multiple redundant cut scenes jump to the Indian Air Force CO waiting impatiently for daylight so his squadron can provide air support to the beleaguered infantry. I don’t know many times we see him either checking his watch or asking the pilot beside him what time it is; it seems like about a hundred. Along with checking the time and cursing the night, he keeps telling his pilots, “We attack rapidly when the sun brings forth light to the sky!”
When the IAF does fly to the rescue, arriving like the cavalry at the last moment, in good old WWII Propaganda movie fashion the same model tank keeps getting blown up. As a modern special effects touch, the Hunters come flying in on the deck. And I mean on the deck, like about five foot altitude. Low enough to be knocking tank commanders’ helmets off, clipping bayonets off the infantrymen’s rifles, and flying through their own gigantic fuel-air explosions.
At the end…well, I had dozed off in my La-Z-Boy and my wife shut the movie off.
Roger Ebert probably liked it, but I give this one Zero Stars. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

1 comment:

Jim Fryar said...

Ah yes, the old and cunning 'up the guts with bags of smoke' tactic from the Pakistanis. Brings a smile to a defenders face every time.

There always seems to be a slight reality gap between movie makers and the real world. One of the biggest ones from over here was Man from Snowy River 2, where 'The Man' catches a wild brumby stallion and within five minutes has it ready to compete in the Olympic dressage competition, in plenty of time to catch the bad guys.