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Here’s a war movie that avoids many of the cliches Bollywood often leans on to the genre’s detriment. Raja Krishna Menon’s “Pippa” keeps its action believably grounded amid soldiers and revolutionaries who look and sound like real people.

It takes a little while for the film to find its footing, but once it does, it delivers a portrait of battlefield bravery that eschews hollow swagger. Yes, every fighting man here is a hero — they just happen not to be blind to their own personal struggles, doubts and misgivings as they plunge into battle.

Produced by Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP and Siddharth Roy Kapur’s Roy Kapur Films, “Pippa” sets up a righteous cause and those fighting for it right at its center. The story it tells is more about tangible humanity than pulpy patriotism.

Not everything “Pippa” tries works, to be sure. But there is something in its consistently restrained approach to violence, courage and death that resonates. The battle scenes are pivotal points in the narrative, staged with all-out intensity — yet they’re hardly all there is to this film.

Set during the landmark Battle of Garibpur in November 1971 and headlined by Ishaan Khatter, the Amazon Prime Video offering never loses sight of the human cost of all that action. It concerns three siblings — two army boys with differing temperaments and their spirited sister, a Delhi University student activist who is recruited by India’s spy agency to intercept and decode secret wartime messages.

The film opens with a voiceover introduction from our protagonist: real-life war hero Captain Balram “Balli” Singh (Khatter). It provides some historical context for this 140-minute movie, if somewhat perfunctorily; but once those few early hiccups are out of the way, “Pippa” starts humming along nicely, zeroing in on a young soldier’s quest for redemption amid the heat, dust and wages of war.

Balli is the twenty something version of the brigadier from whose book (“The Burning Chaffees”) this film has been adapted by screenwriters Ravindra Randhawa, Tanmay Mohan and Menon. There is drama in “Pippa,” but not of the variety that veers into shrill chest-thumping.

It talks about tyranny and acknowledges that (borrowing a phrase from within its own screenplay) not fighting is not an option. The future of a people in chains is at stake, and so alongside the Mukti Bahini — with whom they share an uneasy partnership — jumps in to stop a rampaging West Pakistani army.

Balli, son of a martyr and younger brother of 1965 war hero Ram Mehta (Priyanshu Painyali), finds himself facing an internal inquiry for insubordination during a joint Indian-Russian military exercise. He drives an amphibious tank newly inducted into service right into the deep end of a lake against repeated warnings by his commander, Major Daljit Singh Narag (Chandrachoor Rai).

The defiant captain gets banished to a desk job at army headquarters in Delhi — though there isn’t anyone else in his squadron more adept at handling the Pippa (“a can of ghee” in Punjabi), as the 45 Cavalry’s PT-76 battle tank is affectionately known.

His big brother goes undercover and sneaks into East Pakistan with a pair of Mukti Bahini fighters (I wish they had shown us more of them), while his sister, Radha (Mrunal Thakur), finds herself indirectly in the war and becomes a military intelligence code-breaker.

Pippa has a few flaws — such as how it turns a rousing call-to-action song by Bengali “rebel poet” Kazi Nazrul Islam, “Karar oi louho kapat” (“Those iron gates of prison”), into an A.R. Rahman-produced remix that is dissonantly whimpering. But what the film does very well is to stay away from jingoism at all costs.

The 1971 Indo-Pak war was about birthing a new nation. It wasn’t so much directed at an enemy as it was against the genocide unleashed by a heartless government. The spirit of bahaduri (courage) and fateh (victory) are called upon when required, but as important to the narrative is the love that soldiers build for each other when fighting shoulder to shoulder. It’s about friendship.

Pippa brings this out just as much as it underlines that it was not politics or nationhood but humanity that brought India — then not yet 25 years old as an independent country — into the war even though she could ill afford either the human or financial cost of ten million refugees.

Pippa is about brothers-in-arms who scramble over each other’s backs quite literally to get into their father’s shoes. It’s about a family and an army finding themselves in someone else’s war because it was simply the right thing to do.

When Balli frets about how much pressure the nation will be under with refugees pouring in due to Pakistan’s brutal Operation Searchlight, his mother (Soni Razdan), herself a widow of that same war, reminds him that refugees are people, just like them.

The Indian war room includes the then Prime Minister (played by Flora Jacob for the umpteenth time), Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw (Kamal Sadanah) and a spy chief modelled on R.N. Kao (Avijit Dutt). They give the orders and the film credits them without making a song and dance about it, which is not something “ghar mein ghus ke marenge” Bollywood war films are famous for doing.

Interesting to note that the film’s cinematographer and its editor are both women — Priya Seth and Hemanti Sarkar respectively. The duo has worked with Menon before. Credit for some of Pippa’s sensitivity probably should go at least in part to these two key technicians, if not necessarily because they are women. They lend the film a tactile texture and contemplative rhythm that sets it apart from run-of-the-mill military actioners.

Ishaan Khatter is solid as a soldier who grows up on the job in a war that changed the map of the subcontinent forever. He has Mrunal Thakur and Priyanshu Painyuli for company. Chandrachoor Rai, Anuj Singh Duhan (as a lieutenant) and Inaamulhaq (as a Bangladeshi who takes orders from a Pakistani officer) are among others in the cast who aren’t sidelined just because Mehta siblings have all our attention.

Pippa deserves a round of applause. It’s a war movie that doesn’t just assault our senses and blare in our ears. That’s no small thing.

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