Directed by Raja Krishna Menon, Pippa is a war film that follows the role of Captain Balram Singh Mehta of India’s 45 Cavalry regiment and his siblings in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. The film is now streaming on Prime Video.
The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 changed the map of South Asia forever. The war went on for less than a month and resulted in the formation of Bangladesh, a country that was previously East Pakistan.
The oppression of the Bengali-speaking population of East Pakistan by the Western wing of the country led to a large number of people fleeing to India. The subsequent refugee crisis led to India getting involved in the Bangladesh Liberation War.
Before the war was officially declared, Indian troops fought the Pakistani Army in the Battle of Garibpur. This battle is depicted in Pippa, which is also the story of the coming-of-age experiences of the protagonist, Captain Balram Singh Mehta, played by Ishaan Khatter.
A crucial victory
Pippa is based on Balram Singh Mehta’s autobiographical novel, The Burning Chaffees. As seen in the film, Balram Singh Mehta’s regiment fought the Battle of Garibpur in East Pakistan.
Fourteen PT-76 tanks from the 45 Cavalry supported the 14th Battalion of the Punjab Regiment in taking control of the village of Garibpur. When the commanding officer of 45 Cavalry, Major Daljit Singh Narang, nicknamed “Chiefy”, lost his life in the battle, it was Balram Singh Mehta who took command.
The film is named after the Soviet amphibious PT-76 tanks. They were called “Pippa” by the Indian soldiers, as the tank could float on water like a can of ghee. Pippa managed to destroy and capture the enemy tanks.
It proved to be an important victory for India, as India and Mukti Bahini, the resistance movement fighting for Bangladesh’s freedom, gained control over the north of East Pakistan even before the war was declared.
Apart from the Battle of Garibpur, the film also depicts Operation Searchlight at Dacca University. The violent operation was intended to eliminate all Bengali opposition and crush their nationalist movement in East Pakistan.
While Ishaan Khatter’s character has two siblings in the film, in real life, Balram Singh Mehta has five siblings. His four brothers are in the army, and his sister is a dentist. The war hero retired as a brigadier and published his account of the events fifty years after the battle.
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