‘Pippa’ True Story, Explained: Is Real PT-76 Tank Used In The Film?

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When a country goes to war, a million stories are created, and Pippa, directed by Raja Menon, brings one such inspirational story to light. The Amazon war drama film is based on an autobiographical novel, The Burning Chaffees, written by Balram Singh Mehta. The makers have taken certain creative liberties, but they have kept the essence and the historical backdrop of the story intact. The film takes us back to 1971 when the people of East Pakistan wanted freedom and yearned to establish their own country because of various atrocities, discrimination, and cultural differences.

The Bangladesh Awami League won the general elections by a huge margin in East Pakistan, and ideally, if one had gone according to the established rules, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman should have been allowed to form a government. But how could West Pakistan let that happen? It would have meant that they were allowing somebody who had contrasting ideologies to have the power to make decisions and bring about a change in the circumstances. From changing the electoral rules and regulations to trying to curb the rising insurgency, the politicians and military personnel in West Pakistan tried to do everything. Soon after that, an operation codenamed “Searchlight” was launched by West Pakistan to catch the so-called revolutionaries who were leading the Bengali independence movement and take control of major cities like Dacca. The genocide began, and a huge number of Bangladeshi refugees took shelter in India. India officially entered the battle on December 3, 1971, and on December 16, 1971, an instrument of surrender was signed, and a new nation by the name of Bangladesh was created. So, let’s see how close the film Pippa is to real-life events and where the creative liberties have been taken by Menon and his team.


Was “Chiefy” martyred in the Garibpur battle?

Major Daljit Singh Narang, aka “Chiefy”, as Balram Mehta fondly called him, was the commander of the 45 Cavalry, a decorated regiment that was awarded “Battle Honour Darsana”, after the 1971 war. Major Daljit died in his Pippa tank when a bullet from the enemy infantry pierced his body. The battle had just begun, and as shown in the film, there would have been panic in the ranks if Balram Singh Mehta, who was the second in command at that time, had not risen to the occasion and led his forces in that hour of crisis. It is shown in the film that Balram Mehta and Lieutenant Tajinder Singh were quite close to “Chiefy,” and they were almost like friends. We don’t know if Balram once again went into the battlefield after being confronted with Tajinder to bring back Chiefy’s body or not, but we can say for sure that he did grieve the loss of a good friend and an able soldier who was ready to give his life for his country.


Did Speedy’s leg burn in the tanks?

In reality, Lieutenant Tejinder Singh, aka Speedy, did get injured in the battle, but he was brought back to the base camp. As shown in Pippa, his legs caught fire, but somehow, he managed to climb out of the PT-76 tank and lay on the ground until his colleagues rescued him. We believe history had been cruel to the soldiers who gave their lives and got injured in the 1971 war, and the nation did not remember their sacrifice, which probably explains why Brigadier Mehta decided to pen down his experiences and give a first-hand account of the world about what happened during the battle of Garibpur.


Did Brigadier Mehta’s siblings participate in the war?

Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta comes from an illustrious military family, and he had four brothers, all of who were in the army, whereas his sister was a dentist. In the film, it is shown that Ram Mehta was sent to the battlefront, and from there, he was asked to trespass on enemy territory and meet the revolutionaries of Mukhti Vahini. But soon, he was caught by the Pakistani forces and tortured for days. The Pakistani officials didn’t kill him because they wanted to prove to the world that India had defied the laws of the war and breached into hostile territory. India had, under the leadership of Sam Manekshaw, the Chief of Army Staff during that time, made a plan to incite the dictator Yahya Khan.

It was not India’s battle, and the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted to take a politically correct stance. She wanted the world to believe that it was Pakistan who had made the first move and that India was just replying back to them. Sam Manekshaew’s strategies paid off, as we saw in Pippa, which was why Balram’s brother became a very important asset for the enemy forces. It is also shown that Balram’s sister, Radha Mehta, was good at cryptography, so she was recruited into the Communications and Analysis wing. Though all four brothers of Balram Mehta were in the army, we do not know in what capacity they were present during the battle of Garibpur, and we are not sure if there was a tiff that existed between Balram and any of his elder brothers as shown in the film.


Where does the name Pippa come from?

There is a short scene at the end of Pippa where we see that Balram Mehta climbed over the enemy tank and didn’t shoot at the soldier. Instead, he asked him to throw away his arms and take him as a prisoner of war. This instance, as the Brigadier narrates, did happen in real life, and it was proof of the fact that even in such a hostile environment, the soldier didn’t forget to show empathy. The most amusing thing that we got to know about the nomenclature of the PT-76 Soviet amphibious tanks was that they were given the name Pippa because they floated like a tin can of ghee (clarified butter) in water. Also, for the purpose of the film, a real PT-76 was resurrected, and the one you see Ishan Khattar on is actually not a replica.


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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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