As a tribute to MS Sathyu on his 90th birthday, a look at his masterpiece, Garm Hava:
A film like Garm Hava (1973), should be made compulsory viewing and also be screened every time communal violence flares up in India—MS Sathyu’s masterpiece, that stated with sensitivity and empathy, the condition of patriotic Muslims, who considered India their home, and did not want to go to the newly-formed Pakistan.
Based on a story by Ismat Chughtai and a script by Kaifi Azmi and Shama Zaidi, the film tells the story of one Muslim family in Agra, that opts to stay behind in India after Partition. Times are bad, the economy is shot, young people are unable to find jobs, and across the border prosperity beckons Muslims who choose to cross over—homes and businesses snatched from Hindu families driven out of Pakistan are up for grabs, and those without humanity or scruples take advantage of the situation.
Salim Mirza (Balraj Sahni’s performance can be counted among the best ever in Indian cinema), who has a shoe manufacturing factory resists going to Pakistan even as his siblings depart one by one. His daughter Amina (Gita Siddharth) engaged to her cousin Kazim (Jamal Hashmi) and in love with him, is distraught when circumstances take him away from her. She reluctantly returns the affections of Shamshad (Jalal Agha), but is abandoned by him too.
Business is tough for Mirza—his workers have left, he cannot fulfill orders, no bank or money-lender will give him a loan, yet he is hopeful things will change. He is evicted from his home, and finds another with difficulty—nobody wants to rent to Muslims. Even his indomitable spirit starts to sag when he is accused of spying for Pakistan and his friends shun him. Then, his factory is burnt down and he is attacked in the street.
His supportive older son Baqar (Abu Siwani) cannot take it any longer and leaves. Away from her beloved home and seeing her clan scatter, Salim Mirza’s mother (Badar Begum) dies of a broken heart. Humiliated by the cowardly Shamshad’s mother, Amina commits suicide. Mirza’s younger son Sikander (Farooque Shaikh) joins a band of hot-headed young men demanding their rights. Mirza’s wife (Shaukat Kaifi) persuades him to leave too.
Salim Mirza’s character, always impeccably dressed, with traditional courtesy intact, goes through his travails with incomparable dignity. His only friend, in the end, turns out to a Sindhi businessman, Ajmani, (A.K Hangal), who had to leave his home in Sindh and start again in India; like Mirza, he has not let the experience embitter him or make him less humane.
Made on a tiny budget then, and released after much protest and controversy, the film managed to make its mark and went on to win several awards. It was restored and re-released in 2014, and like all true classics, never loses its power and poignancy.