Inspired by Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta’s biography “The Burning Chaffees,” Pippa, directed by Raja Menon and starring Ishaan Khattar and Mrunal Thakur, focuses on the 1971 Battle of Garibpur. India played a really important role in Bangladesh’s liberation. The battle of Garibpur and the capture of Burinda are tales of strength and valor demonstrated by the Indian Army. Working side by side with the Mukti Bahini, India declared war on Pakistan after they launched air strikes on Indian air stations. The genocide in East Pakistan and the offensive operations in India resulted in India deciding to retaliate.
Pippa is as much about the war as it is about family, though it must not be considered a biography. As mentioned in the film, events have been dramatized for an engrossing experience. Balram Singh Mehta is the youngest member of his family, and he always felt the need to prove himself. His father was martyred in the 1947 war, and deep down, Balli always wanted to make him proud. Balli’s elder brother, Major Ram Mehta, was already a war hero for his contribution to the 1965 war, and Balli was always compared to him, be it at home or in the Army. Sometimes, he found it almost impossible to compete with the reputation his brother had built, and that resulted in the two always getting into a heated argument. Balli shared a fond relationship with his sister, Radha, though at times, she too complained about Balli’s lack of a sense of responsibility.
Why was Balli asked to rejoin the 45 cavalry?
During the joint military exercise between India and Russia, Balli broke an important protocol. In an attempt to test the Russian military tanks, Balli drove the vessel into deep water, which resulted in a moment of panic. While he handled the situation well and brought the tank back on land, his lack of obedience could not be overlooked. An inquiry was set against him, and the disciplinary committee determined that he was not fit to join the troop. As the Indian Army prepared to extend its support to Bangladesh, Balli was disappointed in himself for not being of use at a time when he could have proved himself. He had to settle for a desk job, but every now and then, he tried to convince the senior officers to allow him to return to his unit, but to no avail. His relationship with his family had also turned bitter. He talked back at his brother as he prepared to leave for Bangladesh, and later, he spoke to Radhe’s potential matrimonial match, asking him to back out.
Radha had expressed that she was unsure about Manjot, but she did not expect Balli to decide for her. Balli had disappointed his family, and he was all the more frustrated with himself. But soon, he was called back for his expertise, and he was challenged to find a way to fit four men in the PT-76 tanks. The tanks were named Pippa for their ability to float like a tin box, and Balli did not waste a minute finding a solution to the problem. He made the impossible possible by modifying the seating arrangement. He decided it was best for the tank commander to stand since it would allow them a 360-degree view and save the three crucial seconds that were wasted on getting up from the seated position. Balli’s practical idea impressed Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, and he ordered him to join his unit in the East. Balli did not realize how devastating the situation was until he came across the countless refugees who had settled around the border. Watching their helpless condition further motivated him to fight for the liberation of Bangladesh.
What happened to Major Ram Mehta?
Ram was posted at the India-Bangladesh border, and the plan was for him to enter East Pakistan with the help of the Mukti Bahini. Ram was named Mohammad Nadeef, and with the assistance of Bengali-speaking military intelligence, he entered East Pakistan. The floating dead bodies in the river caught Ram’s attention. All this while he had only been hearing about the genocide, but to see it with his own eyes was all the more heartbreaking. Ram was shocked to see little children with weapons at the Mukti Bahini camp. But he later realized that the children had no other option but to learn how to fight. Most of them lost their families to the Pakistani Army, and they wanted to fight till their last breath. Gender and age were insignificant in this war—it was all about survival and freedom.
While living with the Mukti Bahini, Ram started to feel strongly for the cause. After watching the aftermath of an attack, Ram decided to train the youngsters himself. One night, there was a sudden attack on the Mukti Bahini, and Ram, along with other members equipped with guns, managed to block the Pakistani Army. As they tried to ensure the safety of their people, they walked into a landmine. The blast resulted in multiple deaths, and even though Ram managed to survive, he was taken prisoner by two army men. Once they realized that Ram could not speak Bengali, they knew he belonged to the Indian Army. They tried to torture him to confess, but Ram refused to do so. War had not yet been declared, and the capture of an Indian army man could result in catastrophe. Ram endured the torture and did not give away the truth.
What was Radha’s contribution?
Radha was a college activist with an interest in cryptography. She was caught writing a coded message in class, and the professor handed the note to his son, who was an expert in the field. Anirban was quite impressed by Radha, and he sent her a coded letter asking her to come to a hidden location if she wanted to play an effective role in Bangladesh’s liberation. As it turned out, Anirban worked as a communications expert at the Communications and Analysis Wing, and he agreed to train Radha. Radha did not expect such a turn of events, but she was glad that she was considered for the position. Radha focused on her new job, and the search for a husband took a pause. She turned out to be brilliant at decoding, and she was soon asked to be in charge of analyzing messages related to Mukti Bahini when she handed over a message sent by Pakistani President Yahya Khan. Later, Radha decoded another crucial message that suggested that the U.S. Seventh Fleet was moving towards East Pakistan.
How did Balram save his brother?
It was Radha’s knowledge of cryptography that helped in deciphering information that suggested an armored tank regiment was moving towards the Indian border. This information prompted the Indian government to take action, but the idea was to not appear as an aggressor. It was then decided that the Indian Army would enter 10 kilometers into East Pakistan. The move would offend the Pakistani government, and it was predicted that they would openly attack India. Once Pakistan attacked, India could take measures to defend the borders, and the world would not see India as the aggressor. The 45th Cavalry was assigned the mission to head into East Pakistan to Garibpur. The unit prepared to attack as soon as they received information about the movement of the Pakistani Army. Equipped with the pippas, the Indian Army had the upper hand and destroyed the Pakistani M-24 Chaffee tanks. Major Daljit Singh Narang, aka Chiefy, was killed during the attack, and Captain Balram Singh Mehta, second-in-command, had to take over the charge. It was under his instructions that the Indian Army managed to cause immense damage to the Pakistani 3rd Armoured Squadron.
Once Balli learned that his brother was possibly taken prisoner by the Pakistani Army, he was determined to rescue him. After Garibpur, the plan was to head out to Burinda. The Mukti Bahini extended their support and helped the Indian Army detect landmines that were scattered in the area. While Major Pratap Singh was worried about the safe movement of his unit, Balli was more concerned with reaching Burinda in time to save those in danger. He was ready to risk it all, and he believed Pippa could handle the depth of the river water. Balli’s plan was a success, and the Pippas managed to cross the river. At the end of Pippa, we find out that the Indian Army entered Burinda at the right moment, and they managed to free Ram Mehta. Mehta realized it was not just him who was held captive, but hundreds of women were kept locked up for days. Ram felt immense pride when he watched his brother take charge. He realized that he had always underestimated Balli’s willpower and was glad his brother proved him wrong.
During Pippa‘s ending, Balli watched the Pakistani Air Force make the rounds, and he did not know how to defeat them. Ram fired at the oil drums, and it caught Balli’s attention. As soon as a Pakistani aircraft neared the ground, Balli fired at the drums, and the fire destroyed the aircraft. The Pakistani military submitted to the Indian Army and Mukti Bahini. Balli was finally reunited with his brother, and they both agreed it was time that they overcame their differences. Instead of trying to be the perfect siblings, they decided to be friends. The Pakistani Army ultimately surrendered to the Indian Army, and East Pakistan was declared a free country. The U.S. 7th Fleet was forced to return even before it could reach Bangladesh by Indian intelligence and the Indian Army.