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Not just Vicky Kaushal as Sam Manekshaw, here’s why Indian films goof up on military uniforms

Army veteran Lt Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain (retd) pointed out on Twitter that Vicky Kaushal’s uniform in a promotional image had badges in the wrong colour.

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New Delhi: An image of actor Vicky Kaushal portraying Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw went viral last week, receiving accolades for accurately reproducing the legendary Army man’s polished look. But it also drew flak over errors in the uniform Kaushal wore.

The image restarted the debate over an old question: Why do Indian filmmakers goof up on military uniforms?

After the promotional picture for the upcoming film Sam was released, Army veteran Lt Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain (retd) pointed out on Twitter that Kaushal’s uniform had the badges of rank in the wrong colour.

“Sam was a Gurkha, never wore brass, always black badges,” he wrote.

Speaking to ThePrint, Meghna Gulzar, the director of Sam, however clarified that the image was that of “only a look test”. She said production of the film would only begin in 2021.

“It was Sam Manekshaw’s death anniversary and instead of just a text, we released the image of the look test,” said Gulzar, adding she was “aware of the two errors in that picture”. “It happened because the reference image was an old one and the flash of the camera made the badges look like other brass badges. The ribbons were dummy ribbons,” she explained.

Stating that they give research a lot of importance, Gulzar said her Raazi, which too involved actors donning military uniforms, got everything right. “We have worked very closely with the armed forces while shooting Raazi and we got all the uniforms, for all services in India as well as Pakistan, correct, for the different eras. We take a lot of time on the research and strive on getting such details accurately.”

Also read: Sam Manekshaw, the general who told Indira when Indian Army wasn’t ready for a war

When films got the uniforms wrong on many counts

While Kaushal’s costume featured limited errors, a year-old Telugu movie Naa Peru Surya Na Illu evidently took too many liberties with military uniforms. It showed actor Boman Irani wearing an olive green uniform that had the group identities all mixed-up.

Irani’s costume carried collar tabs of the Army chief, had Army Medical Corps shoulder insignia, but also indicated he is from the Territorial Army while carrying the name tab of a lieutenant, among multiple other errors, including service medals.

The 2016 Bollywood film Rustom, too, got the Navy uniform wrong on many counts. Akshay Kumar starred as naval officer Cdr K.M. Nanavati from the 1950s, but the medals on his uniform were of much recent vintage, and the ‘Nelson’s Rings’ on the actor’s shoulder boards were reversed.

There are countless other examples — Shah Rukh Khan in Jab Tak Hai Jaan wore a formation sign on a combat dress, Akshay Kumar in Holiday wore a cap badge of the Army Ordnance Corps while wearing a rifle green beret of the Infantry.

Army has no rule preventing accurate depiction of uniforms

There is a perception that filmmakers make these mistakes deliberately because they are not allowed to show the actual uniforms. But an officer told ThePrint that the Army has no such rule.

“Showing a bearded military official can still be creative freedom, but getting the uniform wrong has to do with poor research,” said the officer who did not wish to be named.

Other officers said while minor errors could be ignored, it was sad that many filmmakers actually end up mixing the medals and the badges completely, making a mockery of the uniform.

Military historian Rana Chhina told ThePrint that such errors in films and also in other forms of art reflected a disconnect of the armed forces with the masses.

“The armed forces have always been kept in the shadows and hence the society, at large, is not aware of their culture and ethos. This reflects in filmmaking, paintings and other forms of art,” he said.

Chhina pointed out errors in other areas too, apart from the visual depiction. “It’s common to see every uniformed personnel being referred to as soldiers. These are common mistakes which everyone make. But when it is a film, it is about taking pride in your work,” he said.

Also read: Defence minister has gone mad: Gen Manekshaw on Jagjivan Ram demanding more Dalits in Army

Directors blame poor research too

Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal told ThePrint that such errors showed poor research efforts by a film’s costume team.

“Ideally, it should be accurate and there should not be a single error. Research plays such a crucial role in filmmaking. For example, if you want to show a Haryana policeman from the 1970s, it needs to be noted what the uniform of the Haryana police was in that period,” Benegal said.

“Similarly, if you are making a film on World War II, it needs to be noted with extreme precision what was the exact uniform of the military personnel to be featured in the film.”

Such attention to detail helps establish the period which the film wants to portray, Benegal said.

“Most filmmakers think that the audience is ignorant and will not be able to call out the mistakes. But at the end of the day, it is the filmmaker’s fault,” he said.

Documentary filmmaker Rakesh Sharma added that as an assistant director on Benegal’s TV series Bharat Ek Khoj, he spent countless hours vetting scripts, interacting with leading historians of the time, and filming and checking references at the National Museum. He is, thus, aghast at such basic errors creeping into films.

“It is ill-researched, lazy filmmaking at its worst to make basic mistakes about uniforms, ranks and medals. Technically, the costume designer should ensure authenticity, but the buck stops with the direction team as they’re the ones to finally approve designs and filming on the sets,” Sharma said.

“But, then, such detailing is too much to expect from regular Bollywood films, where the lead star refuses to even alter his  hairstyle and get a fauji crew cut.”

They can get it right… sometimes

It’s not as though Bollywood cannot get it right when it wants to.

Uri, in which Kaushal played an Indian Army major, got his uniform right for the most part, except in one scene where he was wearing a peak cap — Para (Special Forces) or Para SF officers usually wear maroon berets.

J.P. Dutta’s 1997 blockbuster Border and Farhan Akhtar’s Hrithik Roshan-starrer Lakshya (2003), based on the 1971 India-Pakistan war and the Kargil war respectively, had also got the uniforms correct.

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  1. Our film makers are quite often ignorant when it comes to portray a character in uniform be it a policeman or an armed forces personnel. Starting from the haircut to the uniform & finally the shoes everything must be matching with the real life character. Otherwise it becomes a comical sight for the men in uniform who are real life heroes.Ignoring the vital points in depicting a soldier or a policeman is a manifestation of a very casual approach which our filmmakers adopt whereas it calls for extensive research and careful depiction. The public at large may not notice the finer points but that is no excuse to let the film ignore the comment of the knowledgeable few.

  2. The same thing happens with police uniforms all the time. There was a lady called Bhanu Athiya who researched the dresses Indian’s wore for Attenborough’s Gandhi. It should be a simple matter to consult a retired officer and get these details right. That is true professionalism.

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