Starring Raaj Kumar, Priya Rajvansh, Balraj Sahni, Parikshat Sahni, Padma Khanna, Chetan Anand, Vijay Anand, Amrish Puri, Amjad Khan

The filmmaker’s earlier attempt at a war film, “Haqeeqat”, dealing with the 1962 war with China, is still regarded by the pundits as the best attempt on the subject. It was also loaded with all the ingredients that make a landmark film: a good emotion-packed story, heroics, appealing locales, heart-rending lyrics, immortal compositions and their picturisation, deft editing and excellent cinematography, and performances by not only the lead but also secondary players. And it became a big box office hit. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the director’s second go in that direction, where the action became more aerial than a ground terrain: Indian Air Force operations during the 1971 armed conflict – this time with Pakistan.

Although the narrative did contain the elementary emotional tracks, they were somewhat hijacked by, undoubtedly, mind-boggling action sequences. The story ended with a Squadron Leader rescuing his girl from across the border in a hand-to-hand fight (the director succumbing to pressure from producer Ravi Anand and his financial supporters who felt that planes bombing and strafe of the enemy was too impersonal), resulting in a tame, unconvincing climax that made it turn turtle at the box office. And with that went the magic of Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics and Madan Mohan’s soulful compositions.

The film also had an interesting ensemble cast, led by Raaj Kumar (looking too old for a serving Squadron Leader); the director’s deadpan leading lady Priya Rajvansh in a double role, especially her crooning “Hai Tere saath mein nahin to kya” with intercuts of war planes; hardly visible Balraj Sahni; quickly discarded Vijay Anand, Amjad Khan, Amrish Puri, Parikshat Sahni, Padma Khanna, and the director himself. Actual fighter pilots, Flight Lieutenants Samar Shah and Manvir Singh, with others, participated in the shoot under the supervision of Wing Commander Gautam (awarded Mahavir Chakra for his handling of operations during the war).

What made the narrative breathtaking and thrilling were the action scenes in the air with sorties through aircraft like Suk hoi, Sabers, Mig 21, Gnats, Hunters, etc. that were deployed in Operation Cactus Lilly in the western sector by IAF during the Indo-Pak 1971 conflict while the army engaged the enemy forces in the eastern sector. It also helped the filmmaker with some simulating, incredible actual footage, highlighted the crucial role the IAF played both in the war and actual filming. Unfortunately, both engaging drama and melodrama was totally missing.

The narrative opens with a poetic rendering by the director, followed by shots of a raiding PAF airplane leaving a soldier dead, forcing SL Rajiv Shukla to take a vow: “Badla hum lenge, is jawan ki kasam, jawaab dene aaoonga, Hindustan Ki Kasam” by Manna Dey-Mohammed Rafi. The credits begin — ending with a party in an air force mess mainly to introduce a set of actors of various ages, shapes and sizes. Seemingly editor Jadhav Rao found hardly any space in the engaging warfare for romantic or emotional tracks. Jal Mistry’s brilliant cinematography failed to hide ace art director Sudendhu Roy’s shoddy handiwork that is most evident in the song picturisation supposedly inside a Pakistani Television Studio, though the Lata Mangeshkar rendered “Hai tere saath meri wafa” could have been a dream catch for any other heroine. Both the song and the composition are brilliant. Similarly, also forgotten is Manna Dey’s “Har taraf ab yehi afsane hai” picturised on Raaj Kumar. Also remains forgotten the other Lata number, “Duniya banana wale yehi hai meri ilteja”. Produced by Ravi Anand, and directorially assisted by Mukul Anand, it could be described as the finest tribute to commandants of the Indian Air Force.