Sunday, July 13, 2008
Garam Hawa (Hot Winds) was the first feature from director M.S. (Mysore Shrivinas) Sathyu of India. The film was controversial from its inception, as it was the first film to deal with the human consequences resulting from the 1947 partition of India. This action, ordered by British Lord Mountbatten, split India into religious coalitions, with India remaining Hindi and the new country of Pakistan serving as a refuge for Muslims.
Despite its controversial subject matter the film was initially accepted by a commercial producer, but then pressure and fear of the critical and governmental reception of such a work led to a rapid withdrawal of the offer. Sathyu turned to the government sponsored Film Financing Corporation (FFC) for support. This agency was created as an alternative for filmmakers seeking financing for work which was not commercially embraced by institutional distributors. Its aim was to free these artists from the dominance of loan agencies and their control of film content. Sathyu secured FFC financing and his film, based on an unpublished story by Marxist activist Ismat Chughtai, was completed in the city of Agra. The production of the film was plagued by a smattering of public protests; ultimately, Sathyu had to divert attention from his actual locations by using a fake second unit crew and sending them out with an unloaded camera.
Once finished, Garam Hawa was again the subject of controversy; it was banned as an "instigation to communal dissension." Sathyu was strong in his conviction, however, and he showed the film to many government leaders and journalists. The influence of these people on the censorship board led to a reversal of the ban. The film went on to win a national award for its contribution to "national integration." More recognition followed, including accolades that praised the film's efforts to create "a language of common identity" and to humanize the situation endured by Muslims in North India who did not wish to move from their homes after the partition.
The screenplay for Garam Hawa was written by Kaifi Azmi (an Indian poet and lyricist) and Shama Zaidi, Sathyu's wife. The tale is a complex narrative assembled with loving attention to detail. The story's main focal point is Salim Mirza, played by veteran actor Balraj Sahani in his final film before his death. Salim is a Muslim shoemaker and patriarch who does not want to relocate to Pakistan. There is the added element of a love story woven into this political narrative, however, and it is this element which adds greater meaning to the story. The filmmaker's adept use of light and framing adds dimension to the characters and their struggles.
Salim's daughter, Amina (Gita Shauhat Kaifi), is betrothed to Kazim (Jamal Hashmi); they are shown to be deeply in love and very happy together. Kazim goes across the border to Pakistan to find work (as there is none for Muslims in Agra as the story progresses). When he returns to marry Amina, he is arrested. She pines for her lost lover, but has the attentions of Shamshad (Jalal Agha), whom she does not love and does not wish to marry. Her agony is a reflection of her father's; these people are trapped between two worlds.
Salim is powerless against the shift in attitudes and political climate; he finds himself unable to secure bank loans, unable to keep possession of his family home, and losing his means of survival as once-loyal customers take their business elsewhere. He has done nothing wrong, yet he is punished by the post-partition environment in Agra. As Salim's situation becomes more grave, the camera frames him in smaller spaces, implying his imprisonment in his own hometown. He says, "They have taken everything. Only our faith will survive." He is strong, but he is discouraged by the exodus of family members into Pakistan. In the end, he too makes the journey to the train. On the way, Salim and his son Sikander (Faroukh Shaikh) encounter a massive protest rally which seeks to unite the dispossessed of the nation. First Sikander, and then Salim, join the flag-waving mob. The train is forgotten, and the final scene brings a sense of hope as we see Salim accept his situation in a new way and begin to take charge of his life.