January 26 is three days away. My I-love-my-India feelings are running high, and being ‘poori filmi’ my thoughts inevitably race towards the movies. There’s one in particular, a story of love, loneliness and loss, inspired by a border skirmish that took place in 1962 when Chinese premier, Zhou-en-Hai, was promoting ‘Hindi-Chini bhai bhai’ in Delhi, with our then Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
That was the year of the Black Diwali when a lot of ‘jawans’ died fighting, leaving their families bereft. Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat, touted as India’s first ‘real’ war movie, was a tribute to these unsung heroes.
Dying lovers reaching out for a final clasp… Their hands not meeting… The comrades they died to save, outnumbered and killed… ‘Kar chale hum fida jaan-o-tan saathiyon…’ playing in the background and conveying the futility of a senseless war… Even in black-and-white, the images are stark, sombre and soul-stirring!
Four years ago, Chetan saab’s son, Ketan, inspired by the success of Mughal-e-Azam, had promised to bring the classic back to the theatres to commemorate his father’s 10th death anniversary in colour, in cinemascope, with a revamped background sound.
He had accompanied his 75-year-old father to Ladakh for the shoot of Param Veer Chakra. They climbed 15,000 feet to Lake Pangong where the first attacks had taken place, and where the climax of Haqeeqat was shot.
“And guess what? The army has renamed it Haqeeqat Hill. They even felicitated dad with a guard of honour,” Ketan told me excitedly, confiding his plans for a special screening for the ‘jawans’ and a charity premiere for war widows.
“Perhaps I can persuade the Chief of the Army to attend it, he did, back in ’64. In fact, the chief guest then was Dr Radhakrishnan, the President of India, who broke protocol to sit through the entire film.” Haqeeqat is one of my favourite films too that never fails to move me. And I’m in illustrious company. A fellow Bengali, the great Satyajit Ray, had publicly acknowledged back in the ’60s that Haqeeqat was the only Indian war film to match up to western standards.
Ketan narrated an anecdote involving these two masters of cinema. Chetan saab had been voted Best Director by the Bengal Film Journalists Association. At Kolkata’s Grand Hotel, he met Ray whose Charulata had been adjudged Best Film, and in his typical tongue-in-cheek fashion he quipped, “Chetan, I saw your film. Mind-blowing visuals and music, but no story.”
Quick on the rebound Chetan saab retorted, “It’s not a story but a mosaic.” And the two filmmakers burst out laughing. I wish I’d been around to capture that moment on my camera. But I hadn’t even entered this world then. I can only visualise it and click, hold on to it till my last day.
The film almost turned out to be Bhupinder’s last shoot. He was one of the several soldiers who jump into the river and wade through it to the poignant strains of Hoke majboor… The water was icy. It accumulated in Bhupinder’s lungs almost drowning him in his own fluid. Fortunately, in his case the hypothermia was just a deadly scare and not fatal!
How I wish that the film’s real and reel life story could have had a happy ending too. I’m devastated every time I see my Darling D, Dharmendra, die on screen. How dashing he looked in uniform! For a while, I had wanted to marry a Captain Bahadur Singh. May be even become a Kammo myself. But then, during the 1970 Indo-Pak war, when my father was posted in Shillong, I watched bodies of ‘uncles’ returning in closed coffins. And I never wished to be a part of any war again.
Should Ketan finally come out with his ‘rangeen’ Haqeeqat this year, I will be in the theatres, to see the colours of war. Even in black-and-white, I’d been able to feel the tragedy in all the blood shed. In vivid reds the impact will be that much more. And who knows it may just help change history. Jai Hind!