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Upperstall Review


Garam Hawa


Hindi, Urdu, Drama, 1973, Color

Cast And Crew

Mirza Salim (Balraj Sahni) is a middle aged shoe manufacturer in Agra whose family like many other muslim families has been in the leather business for generations. But Partition shatters not only their flourishing business but also their family. Following the exodus of many of their colleagues Mirza Salim's brother, Halim, leaves for Pakistan with his wife and son Kazim with the promise that Kazim would return to marry Salim's daughter Amina (Gita Siddharth) after he had secured a job. Their ancestral house being in the eldest son Halim's name is declared evacuee property and claimed by a Sindhi Refugee. Salim and his family are forced to shift to a much smaller rented house nearby. Kazim gets a Scholarship to go to Canada and sneaks across the border to meet Amina before leaving. Their marriage is arranged but the police get a wind of it and he is whisked off in the middle of the ceremonies. Faced with stiff competition from the Hindu migrant traders who enter the leather Salim's business suffers. His sisters husband, Fakhruddin, is embroiled in a fraudulent transaction and skips across the border to escape his debts. His son, Shamshad (Jalal Agha), who has a soft corner for Amina and wants to marry her, also leaves with his father. Salim is shattered yet refuses to follow his relatives across the border. One day while going to his factory he is embroiled in a fight with a hand cart puller which turns into a minor communal riot. Salim's factory is an easy target and is set on fire and Salim sustains head injuries. Blamed for instigating the riot he is taken to the police station for questioning but released for lack of evidence. Meanwhile news of Shamshad's marriage to a girl in Pakistan drives Amina to suicide. Hounded by the other traders and called a spy Salim finally decides to migrate. But as he is enroute to the station he is stopped by aprocession of young people demanding jobs, bread and better education from the government. Among them is his second son Sikander (Farouque Sheikh) who has just graduated from college. Sikander refuses to give up and leave and Salim turns back and joins the procession of protesters.

Garam Hawa remains today one of the most poignant films ever to be made on India's partition. Although Ritwik Ghatak and other film makers had made films touching on the Bengal Partition, this was a rare Hindi film to tackle this sensitive subject in a direct and realistic manner. Although it was released in 1973, in many ways it is a precurser to Ankur and other films of The Indian 'New Wave' that followed. For first time director MS Sathyu it remains today one of his best films. It was a bold attempt to break out of the cliches of mainstream Hindi cinema of those days. Inspired by Satyajit Ray and De Sica among others Sathyu attempted to potray a slice of our history that had effected everyone but had been swept under the carpet in an attempt to hide the pain and trauma. Sathyu's main motivation was to potray the affects the partition had on the ordinary family against the backdrop of the socio-economic changes that were an afternath of the division of the country. It brings home to the viewer not only the emotional trauma of losing your roots but also the complete social and economic devastation that follows. To quote Sathyu,

"What I really wanted to expose in Garam Hawa was the games these politicians play...How many of us in India really wanted the partition. Look at the suffering it caused."

Based on an unpublished story by famous Urdu writer Ismat Chugtai, the story was developed and scripted by Kaifi Azmi. The original story centered around a station master who watches the slow exodus of his family and friends to Pakistan. Putting his valuable experience as a union leader with shoe factory workers to use, Kaifi Azmi turned the protagonist from being merely an observer into someone whose livelihood and with it his entire world crumbles, thus highlighting and personalising the trauma.

Made with a shoestring budget, the entire film was shot on location in Agra. Except for Balraj Sahni, most of the other cast members had hardly any film acting experience and were drawn from the Indian People's Theatre Association, IPTA. It is Sathyu's superb handling of the actors that ensures that each character, however minor, hold their own giving the film a lyrical realism never seen before. Dadi Amma, the old matriach of the family who delivers an unforgatable performance as Salim's mother was discoved in the Mohalla where the story was filmed. Balraj Sahni himself agreed to do the film for a pittance and was so enthused that at the conclusion of shooting he organised a strike among the shoe factory workers of Agra demanding better wages. When Sathyu was shooting at location in Agra and was being harrassed by bystanders, he diverted them with a fake second unit using an unloaded camera!

Garam Hawa is dominated by Balraj Sahni's remarkable performance in his last major role, perhaps his greatest ever, Do Bhiga Zamin (1953), notwithstanding. Excellent camera work portraying the lyrical quality of the Agra monuments and the Art Direction by Shama Zaidi with careful attention to detailing add authencity to the film, rare in Hindi films of those days. Although the film was shot in the haveli of a Hindu family, certain tiny details in the differences in lifestyle between a Hindu family and a Muslim family were incorporated adding to the originality of the film. Ustad Bahadur Khan evocative music helps lift the film even more.

The film was held up at the censors for eight months due to its politically sensitive theme. However after it was passed it opened to rave reviews and was a commercial success at the box office. Contarry to apprenhensions that the film would create communal tension it was applauded for the empathetic manner in which such a sensitive aspect of India's history had been handled. The Film went on to win a National Award for its contrubution to National Integration. To quote Sunil Sethi in the Junior Statesman dated October 27, 1973,

"The film remains one of the most sensitive and evocative studies without the slightest contrivance of a minority group in India...It is the story simply of what a breaking up of a nation does; not only to human relationships but to individuals themselves, who begin to crumble under the obtuse pressures as things around them begin to fall apart."

- Priya Chandrasekar

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