This is the story of the Indo-China war of 1962 (also known as ‘Sino-Indian’ war) – a watershed in modern Indian history - a war that demonstrated to the world the infirmity of doctrine of Panchsheel without a powerful and equipped armoury to back it. In his treatise on war, Sun Tzu says - “Talks succeed only from a position of strength”…only our leaders chose to forget it. This is the story of the great sons of our motherland who were sent to be the sacrificial lambs for the great Chinese feast while the citizens of the nation they defended celebrated Diwali and the government they represented was busy providing aid to Congo and Korea. It was this war which virtually broke Nehru’s heart to such an extent that he never recovered from that and died soon after.
Picture this: Soldiers with fingers gone numb on their triggers, waiting for an order that never came. Children of the motherland slaughtered en masse to take the moral high ground on the world stage. An army told to defend frontiers with outdated rifles and insufficient bullets in its arsenal, against a well-equipped enemy. A government incapable of providing its defenders with the basic clothing to defend itself from biting cold and numbing frost but ready to sacrifice them at the first hint of danger…
Considering the importance of this war to the military psyche in particular and Indian history in general, it’s surprising to note that the populace as well as the historian has conveniently forgotten the war. Maybe because the defeat rankles us to a large extent even today and so we go on with our daily chores forgetting the fact that it was the loss in this war that emboldened other nations to up their ante and move ahead with their anti-India program. Not surprisingly then, the award winning Haqeeqat is the only film that depicts this war in all its reality, however to consider it as a purely war film would be to ask too much. The film is more of a dramatic presentation of the effect of the aggression on an average soldier than an actual presentation of the war.
Having said that, the director Chetan Anand has brilliantly woven drama and history together on his cinematic canvas so that one actually goes through history since the facts have not been twisted and history has been allowed to follow its true course. Even up to the extent of showing the effeminate responses of the government that failed to fight the war when the soldiers were ready and willing to do so. One can easily say that Chetan Anand has undoubtedly made and directed the best war movie of all time since the movie not only invokes a sense of pride but also brings a tear to the dry eye as one goes through the turmoils of the soldiers who fight with abandon to save their motherland. Critics may differ and call the movie propaganda but then all patriotic movies feed on propaganda. Still this movie is different because it also shows our shortcomings in a subtle manner.
Balraj Sahni is perfect as the Commanding Officer of the Platoon and brings to life the character that can fight back but is forced to retreat under orders from his superiors. The actor stands up and delivers a gamut of actors and one can feel the anguish in his tone when he shouts in despair and frustration, “I need men; I need guns; I need orders”. That one scene puts the entire war into perspective.
Dharmendra, as a valiant soldier, does complete justice to his role. He is very much earnest and looks a soldier on a mission. Likewise, Jayant is brilliant in his role as the Brigadier of the platoon and along with Balraj and Dharmendra makes for a compelling performance. Vijay Anand is competent. His skills as an actor have been utilized to the maximum and it’s indeed sad that the actor in him always played a second fiddle to the director and this is definitely our loss. Sanjay Khan impresses in a cameo performance however his track is the least developed of the actors. Priya Rajvansh is amazing in the role of a Ladakhi girl and impresses in what can be considered her best performance ever.
However, the film belongs to two character actors who perform beyond appreciation. Sudhir, the baddie of a number of films of the 70s delivers a mind-blowing performance, as does McMohan who literally lives his role of a young soldier. Sudhir makes you cry and feel for him as he pines away or a lost love while fighting a lost war while McMohan is exceptional in the role of a soldier who has grown in stature although young in age. Others like Indrani Mukherjee, Sulochana and Achala Sachdev are good in their brief roles.
Kaifi Azmi pens some of his best lyrics for this movie and Madan Mohan is in his elements as he composes some of the gems of his legendary repertoire. This is indeed surprising for in movies as grim as this, songs normally have nuisance value but Madan Mohan being the great composer that he is manages to bring in compositions that actually enhance the effect of the movie.
Lata Mangeshkar is brilliant in her rendition of “Zara Si Aahat Hoti Hai”, a song that plays on the mind of one who’s awaiting the return of a loved one. Mohammed Rafi on the other hand is equally brilliant as he pines away for lost love in “Main To Utha Tha”, a song that is aided only by a violin while the maestro uses his soulful voice to convey the emotions of a lost lover. Talat Mehmood, Mohammed Rafi and Bhupinder then join forces to sing “Hoke Majboor Mujhe” one of the best songs ever about a man remembering a lost love. But the masterpiece of the composition is “Kar Chale Hum Fida” which is sung by Rafi as only he can- one of the best songs on patriotism, this song is still a perennial favorite always played on the loudspeakers on national days.
Chetan Anand can doff his hat for what is arguably the best and only portrayal of the Indo-China war on the cinematic front. He deserves special commendation for the way in which he has handled the screenplay to ensure space to even the minor players and the brilliance with which he has captured the war scenes in the inhospitable terrain of Ladakh. His sense of music is exceptional and he’s in his elements while documenting the frustration of the average soldier. Not only so, the make-up of the actors is also mindblowing considering it was done in 1964.
A film that every citizen of independent India should watch, if for nothing just to understand what the defenders of the nation went through in a forgotten past of our nation’s history- as they would proudly say…
“Saans Thamti Gayi; Nabz Jamti Gayi;
Phir Bhi Badte Kadam Ko Naa Rukne Diya;
Kat Gaye Sar Humare To Kucch Gham Nahin;
Sar Himalay Ka Humne Naa Jhukne Diya.”