When famous Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai narrated the story of an Agra-based Muslim family’s struggle in the aftermath of the Partition, she never thought it was going to be the genesis of a landmark Indian movie, Garm Hava (1973). Looking back, director MS Sathyu calls that “a happy accident”. Shama Zaidi turned the story into a script and Kaifi Azmi wrote the dialogues, giving it a distinct “Agra boli”. Soon, artistes of Indian People Theatre’s Association (IPTA) joined forces to complete the project that would go on to become the precursor to “the Indian New Wave”.
As the film re-released in seven Indian cities on Friday with a restored print and surround sound, Sathyu recalls the making of Garm Hava, which was the first film to talk about the 1947 Partition. “Its restoration cost us nearly 10 times more than its original budget,” he says. The film was made on a shoe-string budget of Rs 10-12 lakh and the restoration cost crossed Rs 1 crore. “During the year-long restoration, we cleaned and corrected a total of about 2.5 lakh frames at Goregaon’s Film Lab. For sound, the film was sent to Deluxe Lab in Los Angeles. Now, the restored print has surround sound in place of the original mono sound,” says Sathyu.
The story of how Garm Hava came together shows that the spirit of “indie” movies existed much before the term became a part of Hindi cinema parlance. All the actors charged much less than their usual remuneration. “Most of them were from IPTA’s branches in Mumbai and Delhi. The actors as well as technicians worked for a pittance since they believed in the project. They got paid only after the movie recovered its cost,” says Sathyu. In spite of that, he had, what would be considered today, a stellar cast.
Of the actors, Balraj Sahni — who essayed the iconic character of Salim Mirza with restraint — was the only popular figure at that time.
Unfortunately, he passed away before the film’s release. AK Hangal, a tailor from Karachi with a love for theatre, was yet to become a household name as Sholay’s Rahim Chacha. Farooq Shaikh and Shaukat Kaifi made their debuts, impressively. The only other actor with big screen experience was Tabu’s father Jamal Hashmi, who had acted in some Pakistani movies and plays. Sathyu achieved a perfect score when he cast septuagenarian Badar Begum as Dadi Amma. “Initially, I had offered the role to Begum Akhtar, who did not want to travel to Agra from Lucknow,” he says. Local references led him to Badar Begum, who in her younger days had tried to get roles in Hindi films, with little success, and was running a brothel in Agra then. “She could not believe that we were offering her a role in a film. Later on, she received several awards for it,” recalls the 84-year-old director.
Since funds were a constraint, the crew had to cut corners and constantly improvise. “We shot with just one camera and a single lens,” Sathyu says. However, working with theatre actors meant single takes were possible and that saves a lot of time. One of the most memorable episodes during its production was the filming of the Taj Mahal scene. Since getting permission to shoot was taking time, apart from costing Rs 10,000, the crew visited the monument in the guise of picnickers. They dismantled the camera and carried its different parts in their bags. Once inside, they put the camera together and shot the romantic scene between Geeta Siddharth and Jalal Agha. Since they could not use artificial light, it was shot in natural light.
Once the film was complete, the Censor Board took its time to give the certificate. “The subject was very delicate and no one had made a film on that period until then,” says Sathyu. The film was released in Bangalore first and travelled to other cities gradually. “We showed the film in Uttar Pradesh last. Indira Gandhi wanted us to delay its release in the state due to mid-term elections,” says Sathyu.
Once its latest run in the theatres is over, DVDs of Garm Hava will be released. “The younger generation should watch this film to know our country’s past,” he says.