Garam Hawa - A Classic on the Partition


Film Review – Garam Hawa (Scorching Winds) – 1973
Director: M.S. Sathyu 
Cast: Balraj Sahni ( Salim Mirza ); Gita Shauhat Kaifi ( Amina Mirza ); Jalal Agha ( Shamshad ); Dinanath Zutski ( Halim ); Badar Begum ( Salim's mother); Abu Siwani ( Baqar Mirza ); Faroukh Shaikh ( Sikander Mizra ); Jamal Hashmi ( Kazim ).

Based on an unpublished story by Ismat Chugtai
The story of a shattered family
A departing train, people moving to the land of the ‘other’ and families parting with their loved ones. Garam Hawa (1973) begins with Salim Mirza (Balraj Sahni) dropping his elder sister at the railway station to catch a train that will take her to Pakistan. It is the post-partition era during which hordes of Indian Muslims left their homeland to be a part of the newly created state of Pakistan. The Partition of undivided India, which led to the existence of Pakistan, haunts the national memories of both Indians and Pakistanis to this day. It was a complex event which has to be understood from many perspectives. To the viewer of this tragedy, Garam Hawa offers a humane take on the pain and agony of having to leave one’s homeland. Partition Cinema especially in mainstream Hindi films has undertaken a very violent view of the event. The process of the division of India has been depicted as full of violence and massacres of ordinary people from both sides of the border. While there is no denying this portrayal, cinema has failed to sketch the Partition as one which forced emotional turmoil on people, thereby playing havoc with their identities and national loyalties. Garam Hawa is credited with bringing in this face of the Partition to the forefront.
The film is a telling commentary on the journey of Salim Mirza who is a successful shoe-maker facing the aftermath of Partition only because he is an Indian Muslim. Mirza is a firm believer in secular ideals, not willing to desert his homeland even as most of his relatives choose to flee to Pakistan since they see it as the land of opportunities for the Muslim community. The film poignantly tells the story of the belief, commitment and loyalty of Mirza towards the Indian State. As communal violence shatters the country and Muslims begin to believe that there is nothing that the Indian State can give them, Mirza places his trust on the secular fabric which was the foundation stone of India’s creation which distinguished itself from the theocratic basis of Pakistan.
The partition was not only about violence and killings; it was also essentially about human suffering, displacement, loss of homeland, loss of identity and a constant struggle over national loyalties. It is very deftly that Garam Hawa examines such intricate issues. The politics behind the partition carried out by the Britishers as well as the State did not account for those Muslims who chose to stay back in India. It impacted their life, their trade and their relations with the majority community. Mirza’s trade prospects diminish as he fails to procure a bank loan. He suffers heavy financial losses and is forced to leave his ancestral home which is taken over by the state. Even at this point of despair and gloom, he is an eternal optimist who believes that the fighting and destruction in his ‘home’ is going to end one day. The ‘home’ for him, is the nation and he expresses his grief over the communal fights that are going on in the country. He believes in Gandhi’s sacrifice for the nation and says that it will not go down the drain.
There are many scenes in the film which depict what the Partition meant to ordinary people. For eg: Mirza’s grandson, a five year old child is curious to know if he will be able to fly kites in Pakistan? Each time there is a letter from some relatives in Pakistan; Mirza’s wife curiously wants to know how things are in the land of the ‘other’. Mirza’s daughter Amina is twice deserted by her prospective suitors who flee to Pakistan while promising to come back to marry her. This never happens. The question that the characters in the film keep engaging with is why they should leave their country. This relates the question to that of identity. Is the Indian Muslim not Indian enough? Does he have to repeatedly prove his loyalty to the nation-state? Can he not lead a flourishing life in the Indian state? These and other such disturbing questions are raised in the film. The members of Mirza’s family are attached to their conception of being ‘Hindustani’ and they do not wish to leave it at any cost. Yet they are compelled to do so. Mirza’s ailing grandmother and his qualified but unemployed son are mirrors of hope which Indian Muslims during the Partition kept alive. While the ailing grandmother is unwilling to leave her ‘haveli’, his unemployed son chooses not to go to Pakistan for a job.
Was the Partition really a decision taken in the interest of people as it was claimed to be? It was a perfect example of a few elites deciding about the lives of millions consequently uprooting them. Did Indian really achieve freedom at the dawn of August 15, 1947? This new found freedom had given rise to the menace of corruption and unemployment. Was such a freedom desirable?
In every aspect, Garam Hawa shows that the state intervenes in human life. It is the state which decides upon the division of borders and it is the state which separates two people in love because one is Indian and the other Pakistani. These identities matter to the state, not to individuals who want to merely lead a life of dignity. The Indian state was created on a secular ideology, guaranteeing a respectable life to people of all faiths, religions and castes. Why does then the Indian state fail to intervene and instead accuse Mirza of being a Pakistani spy? When Mirza moves out to search for a makeshift home, he is refused shelter because he is a Muslim. His son is advised to go to Pakistan for a job because India cannot offer anything to him. The state distrusts the Muslim at a time when they have lost not only their property but also their dignity. Mirza fails to understand why he is punished for being a Muslim. This can be very well related to contemporary alienation of Muslims across the globe especially after attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11. Even in the case of Amina, her marital fate is left at the mercy of the state. In the end, she commits suicide out of desperation. It is the individual’s pain that is the focus of Garam Hawa.
Garam Hawa was the first feature from director M.S. (Mysore Shrivinas) Sathyu. 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. Based on an unpublished story by Marxist activist Ismat Chughtai, the film won the National Award for its contribution to the cause of ‘national integration’. It made an attempt to humanize the situation endured by Muslims in North India who did not wish to move from their homes after the partition. (Kinsey). Garam Hawa’s portrayal of the partition trauma is remembered in the same breath as the representation of the Jewish Holocaust by Schindler’s List (1993). The reason why the film should be of interest to those who wish to explore Partition based cinema is because it shifts the focus of the event from violence to subtle suffering that was forced upon ordinary human beings  (Bordoloi, 2012). This is precisely the reason why I have chosen to review this film. Present day partition based Hindi films rely heavily on jingoism, dramatization of the war spectacle, nationalism, loud and heroic dialogues and scenes and portraying Pakistan as the ‘other’. They reduce the partition to a bitter memory of violence which people have not been able to erase and how they still guided by the events of 1947 in their view of Pakistan. Most notable are films like Gadar (2001), Border (1997), Upkar (1965), Maachis (1996), Sarfarosh (1999), LOC Kargil (2003) and others. Hindi cinema’s static depiction of India-Pakistan relations is very stale when compared to the refreshing treatment provided by M.S.Sathyu. Garam Hawa is minus the nationalism, jingoism and dramatic treatment that characterize India-Pakistan films. Mirza is not the only one who is being asked to leave his homeland. There were millions of Mirzas in India as well as in Pakistan where countless Hindus and Sikhs were displaced and rendered homeless. Thus, Garam Hawa is thus the story of human life and resilience brilliantly enacted by Balraj Sahni and other actors in the cast.
Unlike the negativity which has been illustrated in many partition based films, this creation is full of optimism and hope not only on part of the main characters but of his family members who stay with him and support him till the very end – his wife and his younger son. In the last sequence of the film, Mirza has given up all his hope and decides that India is not the place for him to stay. He packs his bags along with his son and wife. Having lost most of family to the division of the country, he is now certain that he does not want to lose the remaining loved ones. He regrets being a refugee in his own country. As he is all set to leave the country, he sees a crowd of people protesting against inefficient governance, corruption and unemployment. He decides to join the crowed with his son and sends his wife back home. He decides to stay back thus justifying his eternal optimism.
Garam Hawa questions the position of the ‘other’. Who is the ‘other’ and how has he becomes one? How one becomes the ‘other’ in one’s own land? It addresses the position of all kinds of ‘others’ – the subaltern, the marginalized, the displaced, the poor or anybody who is refused his rights in his homeland. It is a moving documentation of the suffering of a family seen through the lens of the most significant event in the history of India-Pakistan relations – the Partition.

Bibliography

Bordoloi, S. K. (2012, August 12). India-Pakistan Partition - Cinema's forgotten footnote. Retrieved August 21, 2012, from Sify: http://www.sify.com/movies/India-Pakistan-Partition--Cinema-s-forgotten-footnote-imagegallery-bollywood-mioooPhjhej.html?html=5&fod=textonly&story=2

Kinsey, T. (n.d.). Garam Hawa. Retrieved August 23, 2012, from Film Reference: http://www.filmreference.com/Films-Fr-Go/Garam-Hawa.html#b

 

 

 

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