Garm Hava (1973)

Published - June 12, 2014 06:06 pm IST - New Delhi

Actor Balraj Sahni in Unit 3 MM's "Garam Hava" in Eastman colour, directed by M.S. Sathyu and cinematographed by Ishan Arya

Actor Balraj Sahni in Unit 3 MM's "Garam Hava" in Eastman colour, directed by M.S. Sathyu and cinematographed by Ishan Arya

Distance does not diminish emotion. Nor does time always help in healing. Yesterday’s wounds are but a scratch away from festering all over again. A few minutes into MS Sathyu’s “Garm Hava” — the film is to Sathyu what “Mughal-e-Azam” was to K. Asif, “Pakeezah” was to Kamal Amrohi and what “Sholay” continues to be for Ramesh Sippy — and I realise it is a film that is as relevant today as when it was first made. Asking several hard hitting questions, it offers no easy answers.

Addressing the plight of Muslims who opted to stay back in the land of their forefathers, and shunned Pakistan’s one nation-one religion theory, Sathyu’s film is a grim, very grim reminder that not all is well with the nation where the minorities live in fear. Quietly, persuasively, the film reveals the psyche of the community, its anxieties, its insecurities, its longing for a past that cannot be reproduced, its inability to come to terms with the present. Sathyu shows it the way it was in 1947 and those early challenging years following the Partition. The film finds a resonance today; it was valid in 1973, it remains pertinent in 2014. Don’t we, every now and then, come across reports of Muslims being denied accommodation in supposedly cosmopolitan cities because of their faith? Haven’t we had instances of businessmen refusing to buy or sell their stuff to people of certain communities? Social disharmony, economic boycott and fissures within characterise our lives. Just as they do in “Garm Hava”.

Based on a short story by Ismat Chughtai, the film turns the concept of a Muslim social upside down. Aeons removed from the feel-good romantic tales replete with ghazals and qawwalis dished out in the name of Muslim socials earlier, “Garm Hava” charts its own course. It talks of Muslims, it addresses their plight in a newly independent nation, a society which questions their priorities, a country where their credits have vanished overnight. Caught in the crossfire between a country, Pakistan, which offers opportunity to grow but gives them the tag of a muhajir, and their motherland, India, which is increasingly marginalising them, they are nobody’s children. Sathyu builds his case gradually but in a riveting manner. Salim Mirza’s family is based out of Agra — thank God, not in Lucknow or Delhi — where life is becoming challenging. His brother has gone to Pakistan, so has his sister. He stays back, knowing Allah will protect him, and the land of his ancestors will not shut him out.

One by one, everything unravels. The moneylenders don’t trust him with loans, the State does not trust him with property, the society questions his capability. As Salim Mirza’s life resembles a bird without wings, not just the words, even the silence is so disquieting. The film moves slowly, from one frame to another, allowing the viewer to soak in the moment. Thus when Salim’s wife Jameela ferrets out her stuff from the cupboard, you know soon it will be empty. Yet you watch hypnotised. When she goes to call him for dinner following a frustrating day in business, you know he won’t come. Yet you watch to see the plight of those rejected by their own.

Sathyu though, makes sure that the film does not become an abject sob saga. There are some heart warming moments of love between the children of the two brothers; there are scenes involving the grandmother who refuses to leave the traditional haveli, preferring to die than to lease the premises where she had arrived as a bride. Then there are little instances of the character actors scoring handsome points. For instance, the tongawallah at the beginning of the film who quotes Kaifi Azmi’s poetry to convey a feeling of displacement and dejection. Or the tongawallah a little later who charges his Muslim customers four times the market rate in a bid to send them away to Pakistan.

With each such piece “Garm Hava” acquires a momentum uniquely its own. Probably the best film made on the subject, it is a rare Urdu film that is able to strike a chord with people who do not necessarily speak the language. The subject is greater, the handling superb. As for the actors, each one is a gem. Balraj Sahni as Salim Mirza comes up with a riveting portrayal. His depiction of Mirza’s anguish, his helplessness, is superb. As is Shaukat Azmi’s Jameela. Her body language speaks a million words. And Badar Begum as the grandmother commands attention with her trembling one-liners. The three women in Mirza’s life — Gita Siddharth is the third, his daughter, the love bird whose beau has gone away to Pakistan and suddenly finds himself being regarded a foreigner in India when he comes to marry his sweetheart — quietly project the angst of women of three generations during Partition.

The old lady hangs on to the past, the middle aged one is more practical but deeply wounded by the turn of events. And the youngest of them all pays the ultimate price for a nation’s division.

Nobody goes to the cinema for lessons in history. This film provides a glorious exception. Here the past rankles, it hurts. “Garm Hava” is abrasive, it bruises, it jars, it cuts. It deserves attention.

Genre : Muslim social drama

Director : M.S. Sathyu

Cast : Balraj Sahni, Geeta Siddharth, Farooq Shaikh, Dinanath Zutshi, Badar Begum, Shaukat Azmi, A.K. Hangal, Abu Siwani, Jalal Aga, Jamal Hashmi, Rajendra Raghuvanshi

Story : Ismat Chughtai

Screenplay : Kaifi Azmi and Shama Zaidi

Dialogue and lyrics : Kaifi Azmi

Musicdirector : Ustad Bahadur Khan

Qawwali : Aziz Ahmed Khan Warsi

Box office status : Successful

Trivia : Received Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration, Filmfare Awards for Best Dialogue, Screenplay and Story

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