In this weekly column, we revisit gems from the golden years of Hindi cinema. This week, we revisit the 1964 release Haqeeqat.
As we have seen in recent years, cinema and politics are more interwoven than we would like to believe and while one might think of this as a recent phenomenon, that’s not really the case. Back in the 1960s, India was a nation that had only seen one Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and much of the narrative that was accepted by the people of the nation was the one that came from him and his allies. When India lost the Sino-India War of 1962, it demoralised the nation in a way that it had not experienced since the aftermath of the Partition. A couple of years later, Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat documented a small chapter from that war where Indian soldiers emerged as victorious. The film seemed to be Nehru approved.
The 1962 film Haqeeqat is possibly the first full-length Hindi war film that was made in the Indian film industry. From the opening titles, it is clearly stated that the film is dedicated to Jawaharlal Nehru so you know that this is the version that does not entertain any thoughts about the bad decision-making of the administration, or the lack of resources and manpower that the army faced while in combat. But despite those restrictions, director Chetan Anand made Haqeeqat as an ode to soldiers who fought until the very end, even when they were tasked with unrealistic goals.
Watching Haqeeqat in 2021 might remind you of the many JP Dutta films that have since made the genre quite formulaic but it is important to note that Chetan does not amp up the familial emotion as the film explores personal relationships. A mother is happy to send another son to the border, and a wife longs for her husband, and a father who has to sacrifice his son for his nation – Haqeeqat explores these storylines through its supporting characters and gives enough personality to these characters that makes us care for them.
From a commercial film’s standpoint, Haqeeqat is led by Dharmendra and Balraj Sahni. Dharmendra plays Captain Bahadur who falls in love with local Ladakhi girl Angmo (played by Priya Rajvansh) pretty early on. Balraj Sahni plays Major Ranjit, who is also struggling with his heartbreak. The first hour of the film gives a lot of undue attention to the love story but given how brutal the second half is, it would have been necessary for the makers to make it palatable by softening up the introduction of the film.
Haqeeqat was the first film to be shot in Ladakh and even though it is monochromatic, the scenic landscapes here look breathtaking. The aerial shots, the long pans, and the description of the visuals in dialogues insist on translating the beauty of this paradise. The visuals offer a stark contrast against the brutal violent combat that must have been heart-wrenching for the audience of that time.
The country was in collective mourning after the 1962 war as the Chinese actions were perceived as betrayal. The slogan ‘Hindi Cheeni Bhai Bhai’ was popularised in the 1950s when India was working towards building a strong relationship with China. In Haqeeqat, the slogan is used with a sarcastic stench by Chinese soldiers who constantly shout it in the megaphone from their barracks. The film also makes it a point to remind you that India is a non-violent country and would never encroach on someone else’s territory and by the same principle, they will never be the one to open fire.
Haqeeqat, much like many other war films, talks about killing in the name of loyalty to the nation in a very matter-of-fact way and does not explore the nuances of war. Treating soldiers as war weapons, sacrificing human lives in the name of serving the nation – these concepts are not even mentioned here. But despite all of that, Haqeeqat does stir up a patriotic feeling in the viewer and huge credit for the same goes to music composer Madan Mohan.
With ‘Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyo’, Madan Mohan created a song that is still played with pride. With lyrics by Kaifi Azmi and vocals by Mohd Rafi, the song has a certain pathos that leaves you teary-eyed, even without watching the film. ‘Ho Ke Majboor’ the song which was the original inspiration for Border’s ‘Sandese Aate Hain’ is another track that is still cherished.
In 2021, the mainstream Hindi cinema is yet to crack the code of making a nuanced war film and from that standpoint, Haqeeqat still works as the representation of the patriotic sentiment is largely the same.
Haqeeqat is streaming on ZEE5.