Set against the Sino-Indian War of 1962, a small platoon of Indian soldiers in the hilly terrain of Ladakh are considered dead but are rescued by Kashmiri gypsies and by Capt. Bahadur Singh (Dharmendra). They are asked to retreat from their chowky as the Chinese have surrounded them. Capt. Bahadur Singh and his gypsy girfriend Kammo (Priya Rajvansh) die holding the Chinese at Bay so that their comrades can retreat to safety. But even the retreating soldiers are heavily outnumbered and ultimately give up their lives for the country.
Before Chetan Anand was emboldened to make Haqeeqat, war films in this country were alien as a genre unlike Hollywood where war films have been an integral part right from the days of the silent cinema such as King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925) or All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). But then, maybe India never had to make a proper war film till Haqeeqat because till the 1962 Sino-Indian War, India hadn’t been directly involved in a war – we did send our soldiers to fight for the British in World War II but the ’62 war with China was the second war that independent India faced though after the schirmish with Pakistan earlier in 1947-8. With Haqeeqat, Chetan Anand made easily the most memorable war film that India has ever produced.
Haqeeqat is a film dedicated to Nehru and trading on the resurgence of nationalist sentiment in the wake of the India-China War of 1962. The war had led to a sobering awareness of India’s military capability and contributed to a number of schisms about Nehruite notions of non-alignment while accelerating the split in the CPI between Moscow and Beijing aligned groups. But though propagandist in nature (which patriotic film is not?!), the film is one made straight from the heart. The film deals honestly with the mistakes made by the leaders and the defeat suffered by India in the war even as it looks at the plight of those who mattered the most in the war – the jawans.
The main strength of the film is its rugged landscape and authentic battle scenes seldom seen in Indian Cinema. Shot mostly on location in Ladhakh, the entire unit braved climatic hardships as they set out to make a gripping and scathing film deriding China for betraying Nehru. Highlights scenes include the platoon commander Balraj Sahni excoriating Mao’s little red book, which a soldier spears with a bayonet, and the commanding officer Jayant denouncing the Chinese to documentary footage of Zhou-en-Lai landing in Delhi and being given a guard of honour.
The grim battle scenes aside, Haqeeqat is actually boosted by an extremely well-written screenplay that engrosses the viewer. Even the smallest characters are fleshed out and given a small back-story so that one understands what they are going through in the harrowing war conditions. This also makes you feel for them as they are far away from their family and loved ones fighting for the country in sub-human conditions knowing death is almost inevitable. Often, the documentary footage merges with the fictional frames and art director MS Sathyu (the same Sathyu who directed Garm Hava (1973)) blends the interior of the Bombay studios with the exterior of Ladakh! Of course, there are times the ‘fakeness’ shows but one is so swept up with the film that one forgives the makers! The film is particularly well shot on location by cinematographer Sadanand Sengupta.
Haqeeqat is well-supported by its large ensemble cast, which blends into the film perfectly and creates the whole. The list of actors playing the soldiers makes for interesting viewing. Seen in their early roles are Sudhir, Sanjay Khan, Mac Mohan, Bhupinder, Johnny Bakshi, and Rakesh Kumar among others. As far as individual performances go, Balraj Sahni is his usual brilliant self as the major in charge of the men. His helplessness at the situation and yet extolling his men to fight for the country is beautifully done. Jayant leaves his mark and it was an early success for Dharmendra, who was just beginning to make his mark in the industry.
A film like this with emphasis on the war front has precious little roles for women who basically complete the back-stories of the soldiers. But seasoned artists like Indrani Mukherjee, Achala Sachdev and Shaukat Azmi effortlessly do full justice to their characters. The most important female role in the film is of Bahadur Singh’s love interest, Kammo, played by Priya Rajvansh. Rajvansh was specially brought down from London for Haqeeqat. Haqeeqat was the beginning of a long professional and personal relationship between Priya and Chetan Anand. She went on to work exclusively with Chetan Anand in several of his later films – Heer Ranjha (1970), Hindustan ki Kasam (1973), Hanste Zakhm (1973), Sahib Bahadur (1977), Kudrat (1980) and Hathon ki Lakeerein (1986). Never the best of actresses, Priya is at best adequate here.
Rather than detract from the grim and serious theme, Madan Mohan’s music in fact enhances the film. Each of the songs are masterpieces. Zara Si Aahat Hoti Hai is an unforgettable melody performed by the flawless Lata Mangeshkar. Masti Mein Chhed Ke Tarana is a happy go-lucky track, one of the very few lighter moments in an otherwise grim and serious film. As for Main Yeh Sochkar, this is a subtly layered melody that blends rather beautifully with the entire album, what with its evocative lyrics. Aayi Ab Ke Saal Diwali represents the loneliness of the beloved whose husband is away at war.
But even in this treasure of melody, two songs stand out and how! Hoke Majboor Mujhe Usne Bhalaya Hoga is sung by the virtual whos who of Bollywood male playback singers of those days, but the soulful voice of Talat Mahmood stands out amongst this celebrated lot. Who can not feel for the fatigued soldiers as they sing this song? But the piece de resistance of the film is the climactic song – Kar Chale Hum Fida Jaan-O-Tan Sathiyon. The words juxtaposed with the dramatic orchestration and the voice of Rafi more than successfully evoke the pathos of the war situation. Even today not a dry eye remains whenever this song is heard or played. Haqeeqat and particularly Kar Chale sees lyricist Kaifi Azmi at his very best. Ironically, he was considered lucky only after Haqeeqat scored the box office as the earlier films he had worked in like Kaagaz ke Phool (1959) had all flopped!
Haqeeqat, released in 1964, ignited a sense of oneness and a patriotic pride among Indians at a time when the Nation’s morale had hit rock bottom. And that is its greatness. With this one film, Chetan Anand remains the leading director associated with this genre till date. It is the major reference point on another war film made in 1997 – JP Dutta’s Border perhaps the only other Indian War film of some note. In fact, the similarities of the screenplay and treatment of Border owe a lot to Haqeeqat. Chetan Anand again tried his hand at another War film –Hindustan Ki Kasam in 1973 but this time the impact was minimal. Which proves that films like Haqeeqat are made but once in a lifetime.
Hindi, War, Drama, Black & White