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26 Years of ‘Border’: Gen-Z Watches (And Cries Through) This Cult Classic

'Border' released on 13 June 1997.

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The cult classic Border opens with a sequence that could put probably Top Gun to shame if it was also made in the late 1990s. The next scene is that of a superior telling Jackie Shroff’s character Wing Commander Anand Bajwa something along the lines of “Ladhaai ke baadal kabhi bhi baras sakte hai”. 

It’s a foreshadowing of sorts to how dramatic the rest of the film is going to be and to add to that, it’s just short of 3 hours long in runtime. For someone who can only reluctantly get through a one-hour episode, that’s a lot. 

'Border' released on 13 June 1997.

Me finding out content over an hour exists.

(Photo Courtesy: Giphy)

A little background…

Border, by JP Dutta, uses the Battle of Longewala as a backdrop to tell the highly personal stories of a few soldiers deployed at India’s borders because of the high probability of an attack from Pakistan. The Battle in itself is an exemplary story of courage and a true underdog story in the face of war; 120 Indian soldiers stood against thousands.

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But lord, would that imagery be more effective if the film wasn’t so hammy. 

Meet the Cast

Firstly, I never knew that Tabu was in this film; I would’ve watched it sooner (I have watched the film earlier but I think it was before I could actually understand what was going on). Secondly, everyone you imagine would be in this film, is in it: Sunny Deol, Jackie Shroff, Sunil Shetty, Akshaye Khanna, Sudesh Berry, Puneet Issar and Kulbhushan Kharbanda, and they’re all in the poster. 

Sunny Deol plays the role of Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri named after the person who actually commanded the Punjab Regiment. Deol’s character is always two steps away from calling someone a ‘simp’ because they might feel anything close to empathy. 

'Border' released on 13 June 1997.

Sunny Deol in Border.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

He threatens to divorce his wife and says he doesn’t care about his child because his one true love is the country and that’s it. I am so glad and borderline relieved that a lot of war films have moved away from the idea that you can only love your country properly if you let go of every other thing in your life.

There has to be a middle ground somewhere. 

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Speaking of a middle ground…

'Border' released on 13 June 1997.

Spoiler: No middle ground.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Say what you will about the man, but if you hear Sunny Deol’s voice from anywhere, you’ll know it’s him. If you hear a mimicry artist trying out their best Sunny Deol impression, you’ll know what they’re doing. I can still hear some of his dialogues ringing in my head. 

I find it very difficult to believe that someone constantly loudly screaming at his soldiers in the battlefield bodes well during a covert war situation. 

I appreciate that the film ends with an anti-war message, especially after getting us so attached to each and every character and their loved ones (the visual of Akshaye Khanna’s character Dharamvir’s mother walking across the battlefield with a sehra broke me).

'Border' released on 13 June 1997.
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But on the other hand, the melodrama is constantly dialed up to a 100 and the film’s jingoistic message has been criticised for a long time. 

The hypermasculinity is dialed up so high that the women in the film are almost invisible. One of the female characters receives threats of divorce at her husband’s whim and is somehow portrayed as the person in the wrong. The other barely dodges a plane that flies above her head because the man commandeering the plane is upset that she ‘doesn’t bow down to anyone’.

Some people might argue that this criticism doesn’t make sense for a film made in the 90s but it’s still being watched in 2023, so it’s fair game I’d say. 
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To add to that, when I talk about the film being hammy, I refer mostly to the dialogues that are so loud that they had me backing away from my own screen as a reflex because I felt like people were yelling directly at me. Border tried 4DX before it was cool. 

'Border' released on 13 June 1997.

Me watching 'Border' in 2023; colourised. 

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

I get what the hoopla is about

The makers purportedly used real artillery provided by the Indian Army and Air Force in the film and that shows how authentic the film comes across visually. Despite the fact that prosthetic technology hadn’t reached the heights it has today, Border’s second half is as gripping as it is loud. 

The audience is right in the heart of the action and feels the high stakes, the loss, the grief, the determination and courage. And it’s really a feather to the film’s cap that it could create such an investment while telling a story deeply rooted in a historical event. 

'Border' released on 13 June 1997.

A still from Border.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

I also completely get why people loved Akshaye Khanna in this film; he is as endearing as he is conflicted and that leads to an impressive outcome. The Battle of Longewala is naturally a tale that deserved telling on the big screen and, to its credit, Border was a pioneer when it came to large scale war films in India. 

By giving a glimpse into the camaraderie of the soldiers at the front and the lives they had to leave behind, the film creates a sense of palpable grief that perfectly bolsters its anti-war messaging. Every member of the cast was given a brief and they fulfilled it completely. 

And I am heartbroken over Ratan Singh and Bhagiram not getting to build their restaurant. I really was invested in that friendship. 

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But the film’s best part (you can disagree, I refuse to change my mind) is the music sequence for ‘Sandese Aate Hain’. Javed Akhtar’s lyrics are so poignant that I am convinced this is one of the best songs we have. I love some Dua Lipa and Selena Gomez and I would listen to practically all of Sneha Khanwalkar’s work, but if ‘Sandese Aate Hain’ plays somewhere, I will sing along.

'Border' released on 13 June 1997.

I mean, someone just wrote lines like, “Kisi ke kajre ne, kisi ke gajre ne; mehakti subahon ne, machalti shaamon ne; akeli raaton mein, adhoori baaton ne, tarasti baahon ne; aur poochha hai tarsi nigaahon ne; ke ghar kab aaoge?” and we just let them get away with it. 

At the end of the day, while I was horrified when someone tried to fly a plane directly at a woman they loved (and later married), I cried throughout the second half and this one song swayed me over to the film’s side. 

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Topics:  Sunny Deol   Border   Akshaye Khanna 

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