Sixty-seven years have passed and yet the partition is a delicate subject for many. Perhaps a few generations down this will be a non-issue.
Now imagine being transported back to 1948, just a year after partition. Tempers are still simmering. People are still grieving the death of their loved ones; others reminiscing their childhoods spent across the border. For most people at that time, the partition proved to be an irrecoverable loss, financially and emotionally.
The film, then, rightly begins with Jawaharlal Nehru’s iconic ‘Tryst With Destiny ‘ speech and shows the painful process of people moving bag-and-baggage across borders.Gulzar’s beautiful lines about sarhadein (borders) play in the background.
Cut to two soldiers that come face-to-face due to circumstances. The Pakistani soldier (Vijay Raaz) has been sent by his bullying leader to get an important secret map from the Indian army outpost. The hesitant soldier, the only other left alive, doesn’t have a choice. He reaches the outpost to find the army cook (Manu Rishi Chadha) inside. Gun shots are exchanged, so are abuses. Eventually both give up and begin talking. The Pakistani soldier is outside, the Indian one is inside; the window their means of conversing.
And what a conversation it turns out to be. They talks about this and that; the cook throws some potatoes for the “enemy”, who then calls him ‘bhaijaan’. They’re both stuck— the Pakistani solder cannot leave without the imaginary map; the Indian cannot let him have it.
Eventually they’re fighting over something they’re not sure exists. Now that’s a pertinent, powerful symbol. It questions that when we’re so busy fighting each other, do we really know ‘what’ we’re fighting over? Is it real, or imaginary like this map?
The story is arresting, but one wishes actor-director Vijay Raaz’s direction was as strong as his performance. The storytelling is clever but falters on the pacing. As it is, the film gives us only two central character and two peripheral ones. The location remains essentially the same. It is then up to the editor and director to make each scene striking.
In this case, we are largely dependent on the writing. The heartfelt dialogue that is equal parts humorous and tragic, tugs at your heartstrings. There are some funny lines like when the scared cook sends a message to the head-office that he is all alone, the senior officer gives him fake support saying that a soldier is never alone as he has the entire nation behind him. ‘But right now only I am here,’ says the cook helplessly.
The power play that keeps shifting depending on who has the gun is also amusing.
Another ace is the performances. Vijay Raaz is superb as the Pakistani soldier who eventually finds himself in an emotional dilemma, transcending borders. As the Indian army cook who has to pick up the gun to defend himself, Manu Rishi Chadha (also the dialogue-writer) is first-rate.
The hesitant, unlikely camaraderie that the two develop is astutely expressed by the two fine actors. And through their camaraderie, the film relays its anti-war message effectively, and refreshingly, without faux patriotic propaganda.
In the end the film urges people to have a ‘dimag mein dil’ (heart in the mind). Easier said than done, but not entirely impossible.
Rating: Three stars