Aseem Chhabra first saw the searing Garm Hava in a Delhi theatre with his parents, who had suffered the horrors of Partition. The author of the biography, ‘Irrfan Khan – The Man, The Dreamer, The Star‘ feels this film justly celebrates the “idea of India,” reinforcing diversity as well as hope.
Garm Hava (1974)
‘This film reminds me of the ‘idea of India.’ Apart from a powerful story and Balraj Sahni’s humane performance, Garm Hava reinforces India’s plurality. It is set in the aftermath of Partition, a time when thousands of Muslims are having an identity crisis. Salim Mirza’s (Balraj Sahni) extended family is leaving for Pakistan. His own business is suffering and he’s being made to feel again and again that Pakistan might be a better option for him. In the end, out of sheer frustration, he does consider leaving. Endless tragedies have befallen him and yet, he chooses to stay back. In the heartbreaking climax, his son played by Farooque Shaikh is participating in a protest and Balraj Sahni, too, gets out of the tonga to join him, telling the tongawala to take his wife back home. In this way, the film shows that there were Muslims who wilfully chose to be a part of India. No matter how much hardship they faced, they had rejected the dream of Pakistan.
I saw Garm Hava with my parents in Delhi when it first released. They were very much affected by Partition. My grandfather, who was a landlord in Jhang, was killed by his Muslim neighbours during Partition riots. Garm Hava’s urgency resonated with them, making them emotional. For me, it’s a quintessentially Indian film. As director of New York Indian Film Festival, when we decided to show three films as homage to 100 years of Indian cinema, we included Garm Hava [the other two were Uday Shankar’s Kalpana and Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro].’
It is set in Agra and I’m lucky to have been there a few times. Of course, I have seen the Taj, but I remember this one trip with a bunch of English guests. We had an enterprising tourist guide who was walking us through Fatehpur Sikri and the way he described the gigantic chess board and the royal treasury–with music wafting in from the other side–it brought the dilapidated monuments alive, as if the aristocrats were still living there and time had stood still. Somehow, he conjured up the whole history. A little later when we stepped outside, in the courtyard of Salim Chishti’s mausoleum, the qawwali singers were performing. It reminded me of Garm Hava’s magnificent qawwali ‘Maula Salim Chishti.’ Ever since, I’ve wanted to go back to Fatehpur Sikri to retrieve that memory but I am scared that I may never experience such spiritual bliss again.’
Films that take us home is a mini-series where artists from the Indian diaspora talk about the films that remind them of the places they have left behind. Read Bibhu Mohapatra’s reflections on Mahanagar here; Behroze Gandhy’s memories of Mughal-e-Azam here; and Chitra Ganesh on The Lunchbox here.