Interview Hindi

20 years of Border: JP Dutta’s daughter Nidhi discusses the lasting power of the film

As the film completes 20 years (13 June), filmmaker JP Dutta’s daughter Nidhi speaks about her father’s vision for the war drama and why it resonated with audiences.

Sonal Pandya

JP Dutta’s Border (1997), based on the Battle of Longewala from the 1971 India-Pakistan war, had an ensemble cast of Sunny Deol, Jackie Shroff, Suniel Shetty, Akshay Khanna, Rakhee, Tabu and Pooja Bhatt. A majority of the characters were based on real people who were part of the war. The National award-winning film brought to life the battles and showed the emotional trauma of those who said goodbye to their family members.

Nidhi Dutta, daughter of filmmaker JP Dutta and actress Bindiya Goswami, told why she thinks the film succeeded. She said, “In 2013, we completed 100 years of Indian cinema and, apart from Haqeeqat (1964), there weren’t many war films that were made. Border, being his first war film, I think it came after so long that there was a certain patriotic wave that took over the country and the rest of the world and Indians all over.”

For an entire generation of Indians, JP Dutta’s films became the primary source of war films. Nidhi herself, who has assisted her father on Umrao Jaan (2006), has watched the film numerous times. “I watch it every time as an audience member and not as his daughter," she said. "There are times when he’s like, ‘Oh god, you all are watching it again!’ Sometimes, everything falls into place, at the right time.

"Dad has this thing which he says, ‘Woh dikhata hai, toh main dekhta hoon.’ He always says there is a force above which shows him the vision that he then translates. So I think there was a vision he was gifted with and blessed with and he executed it brilliantly so we all had our Border."

Nidhi also said that all of JP Dutta's war films have been made with the support of the armed forces and the defence ministry. The films don’t use extras or junior artistes; those are real soldiers you are watching on screen.

“There is a certain feeling of having [around] 500 soldiers on set," said Nidhi. "On your own, you start wanting to do it better. I think what sets him apart is that there’s a lot of family of his, from his tayas [paternal uncles], his cousins that were in the army and, of course, Border is dedicated to his younger brother [Deepak Dutta] whom we lost at the age of 30 in the air force in a MiG-21 crash. Jackie Shroff’s character in the movie is actually Deepak chacha in the real war. The firsthand report of the war was given by him to Dad.”

Nidhi, who was seven when the film was made, remembers visiting the far-off sets of the film. “Mom was expecting my sister at that time. Dad was away for a 45-day outdoor [shoot] in the desert and I remember Mom wanting to go and meet Dad because she was missing him. She and I went to Bikaner and from there we drove to Jaisalmer into the sand dunes and Mom was sick the entire way there and back. She was just throwing up all over. It is pretty hilarious now when I look back. But Dad always had this knack of going and taking us into these absurd places in nowhere,” she laughed.

But Nidhi felt the actual power of Border when she and her family attended the Screen awards that year. It is her favourite memory from the time. "I’ve actually not shared this with anyone," she said. "We were walking the red carpet and could hear the crowd on our right side. People had climbed on the walls, looking at [the actors], and they were screaming their names. In front of us, there were a couple of other filmmakers, contemporaries of Dad.

"When we entered the metal detector, I was holding Dad’s hand. The minute he entered the red carpet, I remember the crowd on the right side screaming ‘Border, Border!! JP, JP!!', as if he was one of their own. It was like a wave of the word ‘border’ that was just resounding and everyone on the red carpet just stopped and turned and looked at Dad because it was like, ‘What just happened?’ That day, kind of, registered in my head as okay, this is what Border has done. This is how big a success it is.”

To celebrate the film’s grand anniversary, the makers had organised a bash for the cast and crew on 11 June at the St Regis hotel in Mumbai. Nidhi excitedly shared her plans and said, “Twenty years ago, there was some crew that had shot the making of the film. For some reason, somebody did not play that making. I’m going to shock the cast and crew with the making of the movie."

After raising a toast to the success of Border, JP Films is already looking forward to its next, Paltan, which is due to be released in 2018.