Arts & Entertainment
'Our Intellectuals Are Not Moved By Recent History'
You're a South Indian, many times removed from the realities of Partition. How did you come to make 'Garam Hawa'?
It's not about being a South Indian, but more to do with one's sensibility. As a filmmaker, it makes no difference where you come from. Amita Malik, in her review of Garam Hawa in the Statesman in 1973, said after 25 years of Independence, a film has been made about Muslims and the Partition and it had to be made by a South Indian Iyengar. I don't know how she got to know my caste. But the fact is that there were so many filmmakers, producers, actors directly affected by the Partition in the film industry in Bombay, yet the first film on the subject had to be made by me.
But it is a fact that South Indians didn't feel the trauma of the nation's division as much as people in the North?
That is not true. Partition was an event that touched the lives of people across the country. You see, a lot of South Indian Muslims from Kerala, coastal Karnataka and to an extent, from Goa are in Gulf countries today. Many of these people first went to Pakistan but felt they were not being accepted...they later went to the Gulf in search of jobs. I don't think Southerners are outsiders to the idea of Partition or Pakistan. If Southerners are outsiders, then everybody else is, other than the Punjabi Muslim. The way the UP Muslim had to face the Punjabi Muslim after Partition was not a small thing. They had to suffer a great deal there and some even migrated to places like Canada later.
So, the Punjabi Muslim was a major player in the Partition and he called the shots.
That's right. The divide between the Punjabi Muslim and others was well established and strong. They would not accept anybody from outside. Basically, Partition was a Punjabi phenomenon. Their dominance was so much that even people in the North West Frontier Province and the Sindhis did not like it. So in Garam Hawa we tried to show how an Agra Muslim family's dream of a homeland turns into a nightmare.
What was the provocation for you to make 'Garam Hawa'?
There was no special political reason to do this film at that time. But one also had felt that filmmakers in Bombay were reluctant to take up this subject. When Europeans were facing war, they made a lot of anti-war films. Lots of films were made in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Soviet Union. But our people, who had suffered the Partition and lost everything they had, were not ready to even touch the subject. There are not many films on the Independence movement either. Our intellectuals are not moved by recent history much. We are more comfortable dealing with extreme past. It is perhaps very painful to touch something that is contemporary. Even when Garam Hawa was made, everybody was apprehensive about what would happen if the film was released and the censor board denied me a certificate for 8 long months.
Was Jinnah a hero or a villain?
Neither. He was a product of his time and the political happenings were such that he had to opt for Pakistan. You should remember even the great poet Mohammed Iqbal opted for Pakistan but that does not make him any less progressive a poet. There were other wonderful people too, writers like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who opted for Pakistan. How is it possible to paint them in black or white? It was a certain inevitability which forced people to accept the reality of Partition.
How about other films on Partition that followed 'Garam Hawa'?
Govind Nihalani's Tamas is a re-enactment of the Partition. He very graphically shows the incident of women jumping into the well to avoid being molested. It is a very theatrical presentation and not highly realistic. To an extent Train to Pakistan directly showed the trauma of Partition but unfortunately, it was a bad film. Pamela Rooks did not understand Khushwant Singh's novel. But Pakistani filmmaker Sabiha Sumar's recent movie, Khamosh Pani, is a very sensitive film. She refers to the very same instance of women jumping into the well, but narrates the story of a woman who did not jump.