Set in the post-Partition era of 1948, ‘Garam Hava’ which released in 1973 is a film which sensitively portrays the travails of a family that chooses to not ‘Go to Pakistan’ but prefers to stay on in India.
Although shot in Eastmancolor, most of the film seems to be in shades of grey; there is very little actual colour. Perhaps the lack of colour is symbolic of the lives of the characters.
The Partition is over, Mahatma Gandhi has been assassinated and people on both sides of the border are trying to come to terms with the trauma inflicted on them and its repercussions that widen and spread like ripples into every aspect of their lives.
At the centre of this story is Salim Mirza, the owner of a successful shoe factory in Agra. Salim Mirza has just seen off his sister on the train to Pakistan. Although he is unhappy that she has chosen to leave her country and family, he is equally determined not to follow suit. But the deadly combination of politics, religion and social constraints are factors that are beyond his control. One by one his family members get on that train to Pakistan, compelled either by fear of persecution or lured by the prospect of a better, safer life. It’s only his aged mother who is firm about not leaving the home of her forefathers.
We watch how his family starts falling apart; slowly but inexorably. The elder brother is the next to leave; which is a jolt since the ancestral haveli is in his name. The shoe factory is already in a bad way with most of the workers having left for Pakistan and banks refusing to give loans to a Muslim who might at any moment do the same. Years of association and friendships have now become meaningless. Mirza and his elder son struggle to keep the factory running but are assailed from all sides by strikes, cancelled orders, lack of finances. Soon they have to vacate their haveli since the legal owner has left the country. The elder son is the next to give up the struggle get on the train to Pakistan.
As the large family of Salim Mirza disintegrates, the space that they occupy also shrinks. From a sprawling haveli, they are now forced to live in a much smaller house, and the number of people who sit down at the family dinner keeps reducing. The aged mother breathes her last, the younger sister, along with her scheming husband also departs. His shoe factory was set on fire during clashes between the two communities and Salim Mirza is forced to ‘work from home’ to keep the home fires burning. Alongside all this is Amina, his daughter, who is anxiously waiting for the man she loves, to return from Pakistan and marry her, as he promised. It doesn’t happen and she turns to another for comfort. He too leaves, promising to send for her, but doesn’t. Heartbroken and distraught, one night, Amina locks herself in her room and quietly takes her life. For Salim Mirza, this is the final blow and the most cruel of them all.
Mere words cannot do justice to Balraj Sahani’s portrayal of Salim Mirza. It is an impeccable performance, nuanced, restrained and completely spot on. There is also a very young Farooque Shaikh in the role of Sikandar, Mirza’s spirited younger son who refuses to leave the country but prefers to stay on and join his friends in the movement for jobs and a better life. Each character in the story is perfectly cast and the story itself is shown without any melodrama whatsoever. There is no moralizing or preaching, no grand speeches and no taking sides. The viewer is allowed to absorb, reflect and reach a conclusion. Or not. What does stay with the viewer is the poignant verse composed and recited by Kaifi Azmi at the start and end of the film:
Taqseem hua mulk toh dil ho gaye tukde,
Har seene mein toofan wahan bhi tha, yahan bhi
Har ghar mein chita jalti thi, lehrate they shole,
Har sheher mein shamshaan wahan bhi tha,yahan bhi
Gita ki koi sunta na aur na hi Quran ki
Hairaan imaan wahan bhi tha aur yahan bhi;
Jo door se toofan ka karte hain nazara,
Unke liye toofan wahan bhi hai,yahan bhi,
Dhaarey mein Jo mil jao toh ban jaoge dhaara,
Yeh waqt ka elaan wahan bhi hai aur yahan bhi..”-