Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who is scheduled to visit Islamabad next month for a regional summit, and his deputy, Lal Krishna Advani, known for his hardline stance on Pakistan, took time off on Saturday to watch the 270-minute LoC-Kargil.
LoC stands for Line of Control, a 760km de facto border dividing the Himalayan region of Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
The film was launched with much fanfare over the weekend in major Indian cities, even as the two neighbours try to mend relations.
India and Pakistan have also announced a ceasefire on the heavily-militarised Loc.
J P Dutta, the director, producer and writer of LoC-Kargil, shrugged off criticism that his multimillion-dollar magnum opus was jingoistic.
“Just because peace efforts are on does not mean we should forget our fallen heroes”
“So what?” he said of the timing of the film which casts 38 top Bollywood actors including Sanjay Dutt, Saif Ali Khan, Abhishekh Bachchan, Akshaye Khanna, Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee and Raveena Tandon.
“When our prime minister went to Lahore with a peace message, the Pakistani army was plotting the attack on Kargil. Wasn’t that the wrong time?
“Just because peace efforts are on does not mean we should forget our fallen heroes,” Dutta told reporters at the movie’s premiere in New Delhi.
Vajpayee took a bus to Lahore in February 1999 and four months later thousands of Indian troops fought to dislodge Pakistan-backed fighters who had crossed the peaks of Kargil.
More than 1,000 combatants died on both sides during the six-week bloody conflict that took India and Pakistan to the brink of their fourth war since 1947, two of them already fought over Kashmir.
“If the Americans can make Pearl Harbour to justify the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, why should we shrink from making a film to pay tribute to our soldiers?” Dutta said.
But prominent film critic Nikhat Kazmi felt Dutta could have spruced up the massive film.
“The soundtrack is one long volley of gunfire, punctuated by half-expletives which does not help to lessen the tedium”
“Too many characters. Too many stories. Dutta fails to whip up the emotional quotient of the film.
“The soundtrack is one long volley of gunfire, punctuated by half-expletives which does not help to lessen the tedium,” Kazmi wrote in The Times of India newspaper.
But the right-leaning Pioneer daily stuck to the nationalist script in its review, as did the film buffs who screamed to fill in the expletives that had been censored out of LoC-Kargil.
“The film makes us remember these courageous soldiers who never returned to their beloved ones… in order to protect the country,” The Pioneer said.
Cinema-owners are also laughing their way to the bank as they pack in full houses for LoC.
Bollywood has only started to rebound in the past year after suffering repeated duds at the box office.
“We are booked for days in advance and the best part is that the high and mighty of the country are queuing up for a ticket to watch LoC,” said Ratan Shetty, general manager of New Delhi’s upscale Chanakya theatre.