I lazily crumbled into a soft cushion in Khar Starbucks after interviewing a popular music director. Grabbing our individual mugs of Americanos each, me and a friend got down to discussing about Garam Hawa, the 1972 film which has been restored digitally and re-released this Friday. It must have taken a considerable deal of toiling to restore over 2 lac frames and why despite the lapse of four odd decades, is this film relevant even today, is a question whose answer lies in the complex working of a country that still treats one of its prime communities as minorities. Before this article resembles the chronicles of a secularist’s rantings, let me deviate from its relevance to the central point of what makes this movie a timeless classic. Besides the story’s ability to forsee the fate of Muslims in India in the years to come, the film was probably the only one of its times to perceive and present Partition from an Indian Muslim’s perspective. Hindi Film Industry as a norm has never cared to explore that sentiment in its films and Sathyu was the only one who decided to tirelessly slog to make this film see the light of the day.
Based on the incomplete short story of Ismat Chugtai, the film’s writing reflected her trademark boldness. Sathyu, in an interview, told a magazine that the reason why he finds the film even more relevant today is because of the return of communal forces in power. Quite subtly, Sathyu despite not attempting to be offensive, did note that not much has changed since the time of Partition. A Balraj Sahni doesn’t walk out of Agra station today to have a Tangawala tell him, “Aaj Kisko Chorne Aaaye The.” The dialectics of the problems have changed definitely but the core problem remains – osctracization of a community who don’t qualify as Indians despite being Indians.
At its time, the film was given the tag of an anti nationalist movie. Waiting for 11 months to find itself at the mercy of a Censor certificate, there was a long ban on the film. In my opinion, there isn’t a more patriotic film in its times. A Muslim who is striving against all odds to survive in a country, fighting his volatile situation and still sticking by his decision of staying behind when everyone else has fled to Pakistan needs great love for your homeland.
The film’s first premiere was held in France, following which it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival and after that the film also became India’s official entry for Oscar that year. Casting Balraj Sahni in a role that made him eternal along with a flock of brilliant theater actors who made the film memorable benefited the film heavily. Most actors worked on the film without pay. Sathyu himself had to raise a loan from the Film Finance Corporation because to find an apt producer for a movie like this was nearly impossible.
I had learnt in depth about the film as a part of my film criticism course in college. But a lot of its realities I fathomed much later in life. From a naive feminist perspective I found Amina’s suicide inappropriate, but only to delve into its layers later that a young woman being betrothed twice and lost her man twice over, it was almost a natural culmination of the climax (essayed by Kiran Juneja) . Also, the film’s climax is highly debatable as the red flag takes over the end and concludes on Kaifi Azmi’s sign off note. How much has really changed? probably not much , afterall, the rightist forces are again back in the lead (and not wrongly, but that’s for another story)
Aamir Khan had once told us how he loved Sathyu’s Garam Hawa, which is amongst his most favorite films. Partition was indeed one of the most painful scars in world history and yet, no mainstream film has ever been ballsy even to view the theme without taking sides. Though criticized heavily for allowing the undertones of supporting the underdog community, anyone who has truly understood the film will know how purblind the criticism is.