Dear Reader,

My choice of hero has always been the unsung one and my earliest memory of this choice involves Suniel Shetty.

Okay, okay. If you’ve stopped giggling, let me explain.

One of the earliest movies I remember watching is Border, the 1997 JP Dutta war classic based on a true story from 1971, when a few hundred Indian soldiers held the Longewala post in Jaisalmer against two Pakistani tank regiments. It was one of the most important victories during the ’71 war and the movie, 26 years later, was a raging success in India, winning national awards across disciplines.

In the actual battle in the Thar desert, India lost two soldiers, five camels, and a jeep in an overnight battle, before the air force obliterated Pakistan at dawn and forced a withdrawal. Dutta’s film kept most of this narrative alive, but had to produce dramatic effect to push through his anti-war message.

So, nearly two decades before Game of Thrones, I experienced what it was like to watch the ensemble cast…well…die, one after another. Suniel Shetty was one of them.

Playing Border Security Force commandant Bhairon Singh, Shetty has a fight sequence with a fellow soldier in the movie, literally because the other guy laments out loud about how dry and lifeless the desert sand is. Hyper-nationalist Bhairon Singh doesn’t take lightly to anyone insulting even the soil of his country, equates it to his mother, and makes it very clear that he’s willing to sacrifice greatly for it. Even his spotless white 100% cotton vest.

So, as the best marksman in the infantry when he’s targeted and neutralised, he can’t sit still. He goes head-on against a tank as one last sacrifice. By literally walking towards it with an anti-tank mine, absorbing the bullets being fired at him, and blowing it up along with Pakistan’s commander.

 

Bloody ridiculous.

 

But the greatest moment of the film for me when I first saw it, and also for the next 15 years through the (at least) 40 times I’ve seen it on TV. I believe it still airs at least once a week.

That was the start. Then my father introduced me, probably through his Bangalore bias, to the ultimate Indian unsung hero – Rahul Dravid. And the cycle began. The quest to find the unsung heroes in every situation, the compulsion to point their contributions out, the hipster need to talk about the background actors during the blockbuster moment.

I’ve been able to temper it lately – there are far too many false fairytale stories floating around now – but I remain just as much of a sucker for unsung heroes. This week’s story of the week is one of them – Robert Smalls. Who escaped slavery and took 16 others with him, in the late 1800’s. By stealing a ship.

Bloody ridiculous.

Smalls came up on a Twitter rant I saw this week: ‘We have three Pitch Perfect movies, eleventy billion Fast and the Furious, 14 remakes of Spiderman, and not one gotdann Robert Smalls  movie. I would watch the HELL out of that.’

 

And you’ll see why it would make a good film. There are several stories around him, other articles that offer more information too, I implore you to find them. The whole picture is always the best.

 

Shetty only got as far as a best supporting actor nomination for his role in Border, a 20th century tragedy. I can say with conviction he won’t be playing Robert Smalls if a movie were to be made. But he has Drake’s approval, and that is better than a national award.

 

Yours,

Varun

 

Articles:

Story of the week – How Robert Smalls seized a Confederate Ship and sailed it to freedom

How the shared family computer protected us from our worst selves
The romance of small intimacies
What is the morally appropriate language in which to think and write?
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