When two war movies release together on OTT to mark Independence day, looking back at Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat (1964), one of the finest war films made in India:
Very few films have referred to the 1962 war between India and China.—maybe because India suffered a crippling defeat–but soon after, while the wounds were still raw, Chetan Anand made Haqeeqat about Indian soldiers fighting courageously under inhuman conditions, with inadequate equipment and government dithering sending them to certain death.
The black-and-white film (no CGI back then, obviously), with songs like Ab tumhare hawaale watan sathiyon, wore its patriotism on its sleeve, and at the time, nobody accused it of jingoism.
Today, the film appears to be melodramatic and perhaps, propagandist, but it still remains the best war film made in India—it fearlessly said what needed to be said against the government’s lack of preparation, major tactical errors and excessive trust in the Panchsheel Agreement. The film made the audience proud of the loyalty and bravery of Indian soldiers and also made them weep at their suffering. The families of the soldiers wait for news anxiously, while the rest of the country celebrates Diwali. Chetan Anand’s script was studded with simple and moving scenes between the soldiers and their families, as well as their sacrifices on the battlefield.
Haqeeqat starred Balraj Sahni as the Commanding Officer of the ill-fated platoon, fighting in snow bound Ladakh, without enough guns, ammunition or warm clothing. He was supported by a cast of stars and newbies, like Dharmendra, Vijay Anand, Sanjay Khan, Jayant, Jagdev, and Priya Rajvansh (in her debut film) as a Ladakhi girl; the scene of her torture by the Chinese was heart-rending). Even supporting actors like Sudhir, Macmohan, Ruby Myers, Indrani Mukheree, Chand Usmani, and Achala Sachdev excelled in their brief roles.
Madan Mohan composed perhaps the best score of his career, with Kaifi Azmi’s brilliant lyrics for songs like Zara si aahat hoti hai, Hoke majboor mujhe, Main to utha tha and Aaye abki saal Diwali.
Chetan Anand had handed over the reins of Guide to his brother Vijay to make this film, loosely based on the battle of Rezang La, when soldiers, vastly outnumbered by the Chinese, kept waiting for reinforcements or orders to attack first, and later, to retreat, and gave up their lives to protect that snowbound Ladakh outpost.
Beautifully shot mostly on real locations, ironically with the help of the government, the film is undoubtedly a masterpiece. In these intolerant times, it would probably have been held up by the censors, or, quite possibly banned.