When one talks about the Jewish Holocaust, the first film that usually comes to mind is Schindler's List. In the same vein, talks of Partition Cinema usually leads to Garm Hava, directed brilliantly and valiantly by M S Sathyu.
Unlike many other films on Partition, Garm Hava is not about the physical violence during Partition.
It is about what one family - which before August 14, 1947, was considered Indian but is now looked down as a 'Muslim' family that is ready to depart to Pakistan - had to go through.
In breathtaking and agonizing detail, and minus either the sentimentality or often the nationalistic jingoism attached with Partition Cinema, it tells a humanistic story of a man, stuck in a place he can't get out of, in an emotional no-man's land that's of his own creation.
It becomes the story of millions of households in both Pakistan and India. There were millions of Hindu Salim Mirzas in Pakistan as there were millions of Muslims like him in India during Partition.
A shoe trader in the city of love, Agra, Salim Mirza (Balraj Sahni), watches aghast as the nation breaks into two after Partition. His friends, brother and even his son leave for Pakistan, but Salim refuses to go stating that if India was a good enough nation for his ancestors, it is good enough for him.
However, he is looked upon with suspicion and is even denied a loan for his business from his usual sources. Things deteriorate to such an extent that he has no option but to pack his bags and family to go to Pakistan. But, does he?
It is not hard to guess the reason for the brilliance of this film as it passed through the brains of some of the most creative artists in the country. Arguably India's best living screenwriter today, Shama Zaidi took up the mantle of the script, first working in collaboration with the inimitable Ismat Chugtai and then the humanist Kaifi Azmi.
Balraj Sahni's performance as the stoic yet emotional patriarch trying to keep his family's head above water won rave reviews, with most critics calling it his best. Sadly he couldn't see his own performance, as in a twist of fate, he died just the day after finishing dubbing for the film.
Its stature is further enhanced as the film not only refuses to pander to the lowest common denominators of populist cinema, but also the melodrama or enforced empathy manipulated out of audiences in a film like say Schindler's List. Thus Garm Hava rises above most films that bases itself on, and chooses to document, a human tragedy.
Thematically Garm Hava handles a topic, that not only a film on Partition, but films otherwise across the globe have failed to address - the plight of people who refuse the politics of displacement, be it on religious lines as in the film, or sectarian, cultural or religious lines in other instances across the world.
Despite being a film about the after effects of Partition, it is a universal human document of the suffering and loss of millions of people forced into displacement across the world.
Image: Director M S Sathyu and writer and conceptualizer Shama Zaidi during the shoot of the Garm Hava in Agra in 1972