- Nikhil Patel
- 24 August 2020
A tale of tragedy and hope
Looking back at 'GARAM HAVA’
Garm Hava (Scorching Winds) the 1973 drama film directed by M S Sathyu and written by Kaifi Azmi and Shama Zaidi, based on a story by Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai, is often considered as a landmark for Hindi Parallel Cinema or Art Cinema. It was India's official entry to the Academy Award's Best Foreign Film category, nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and won the National Film Award of 1974 for Best Feature Film on National Integration. The title alludes to the scorching winds of communalism and bigotry that resulted in the partition of India in 1947. Set in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, the film deals with the plight of a North Indian Muslim businessman and his family and was blocked by the Central Board of Film Certification for months before it released to both critical and commercial success.
I tried to look at Garam Hava from screenwriting point of view and understand the various elements of the script.
The premise of the film is –
Salim Mirza struggles to survive and keep his family intact in his own homeland as the socio-economic equations change in a post partition hit era.
Focusing on the post partition era in India, Garam Hava does the tough talk about the situation of Muslim households through various social layers. The crises impacted the people who decided to migrate and also those who stayed back. Though Garam Hava is primarily the story of Salim Mirza, it also highlights the agony faced by each of his family members and their ways to deal with the grim situation. Salim Mirza wants nothing but to survive in his own country respectfully. Even during the tough times as the number of Muslims migrating to Pakistan soars up Salim Mirza’s faith in a better tomorrow remains unshaken. However, things start getting intolerable for him, as he sees his own people succumbing to the harsh reality.
The plot of the film majorly revolves around Mirza. The film starts when Muslims are either migrating to Pakistan fearing loss of their lives or keen to shift their base in pursuit of better fortunes. Even in this testing period - Salim Mirza an elderly, respectable shoemaker businessman, stays in his ancestral house along with his family with hopes.
The first plot point hits in no time as Salim Mirza’s elder brother Halim Mirza, who is also All India Muslim League’s provincial leader - decides to secretly migrate to Pakistan along with his son and wife citing better opportunities, turning his back on his party workers to whom he had promised of staying in India for its Muslims.This is also an inciting incident of the story which affects the protagonist - Salim Mirza’s life in several ways that further makes things intolerable for him. Halim Mirza’s escape to Pakistan puts hold on his son Kazim’s marriage plans with Salim Mirza’s daughter Amina. Though Kazim promises Amina to return from Pakistan, once things are settled and marry her, the clouds of uncertainty hovers over their future.
In Halim’s absence, Salim’s ancestral house becomes refugee property thus Salim has to unwillingly vacate the house and search for an affordable accommodation to move in with his family. As the trend of Muslim families migrating overnight to Pakistan becomes the talk of the town, it becomes difficult for Salim to find a house on rent or get funds from lenders for his shoe making business, which is in dire need of capital. This intensifies troubles for Salim Mirza and his family.
Finally, Ajmani – a Sindhi migrant businessman from Pakistan comes to his rescue. Ajmani not only values Salim’s work but also aids Salim’s business by giving extended deadline for the delivery of his order. Eventually Ajmani is the one who buys Salim’s ancestral house which is set for an auction through custodian officials.
As the story progresses, an old school Salim turns down his elder son Baqar’s plans to modernise the family’s shoe making business and associate with newly formed affiliations. This incident offends Baqar and fuels his migrating ambitions.
Out of nowhere, Kazim visits Salim’s house to marry Amina. However, the ray of hope fades away as quickly as it shines when local Police arrest Kazim for visiting India without carrying proper documents and expel him. Shamshad – Salim’s brother in law’s son who has a crush on Amina steps in at the right moment and woos her to win her heart. Dejected Amina embraces Shamshad’s love for her. Things seem to be settled down a bit as Salim Mirza’s youngest son Sikandar clears graduation with flying colours and his hunt for the job begins.
The plot hits the mid-point on a highly emotional note as Sikandar faces biased rejections in the job interviews and Baqar decides to shift his base to Pakistan with his wife and son. This drains Salim emotionally as this leaves him with no choice but to juggle through his problems single handily. In this time of despair, faith in Allah remains his only hope.
The second plot point unfolds further with the mixed emotions. Amina’s life continues to take new turns as even Shamshad unwillingly leaves for Pakistan with heavy heart due to family pressure. Shamshad promises to return to take her back along with him. Disheartened Amina reluctantly believes his words.
Protagonist Salim Mirza is further hammered by the series of unforeseen events, his grievously ill mother eventually succumbs to death.
The news of Shamshad’s wedding plans in Pakistan, breaks Amina completely. Failing to cope up with destiny’s recurring miseries she decides to end her life by committing suicide leaving the Mirzas numb.
The final act of the plot becomes more dramatic as Salim Mirza is booked under spying charges by the local police, which are later found baseless. The false espionage case maligns Salim Mirza’s reputation in the society which makes his life more miserable.
After facing the biased job rejections due to Muslim’s mass migration to Pakistan, Salim’s name in the spying case gives employers another excuse to turn down Sikandar’s job application.
Here, the Point of resolution is activated in the plot. The humiliation in the adverse situation makes Salim feel choked. He feels broken, decides to shift his base to Pakistan to put an end to this misery. Sikandar objects Salim Mirza’s plan to leave the homeland. He offers to fight against injustice along with other fellow citizens than running to Pakistan leaving their own country.
The climax of the plot completes as Salim’s conflict ends. He embraces his homeland with its situational societal flaws and considers fighting collectively to make things better.
The film is the world of Mirzas, their world is specifically shown to us through the lens of Salim Mirza. He is the symbolic protagonist who is honest, kind and believes in Allah with the hope of betterment. Sikandar – Salim’s youngest son fights the parallel battle of being side lined in the society as the country deals with the post partition chaos. We see very humane and relatable characters throughout the film. The character of Amina – Salim’s daughter is portrayed very beautifully. Every emotion, be it love, heartbreak, agony or silent emotional outburst, is dealt with minute nuances.
The supporting characters like Salim’s elder son Baqar, Amina’s love interests Kazim and Shamshad have their own perspectives to offer. Baqar believes in adapting to the change by being ready to move anywhere to earn bread respectfully than being attached to motherland and struggling to pave ways through the old defined ways. Whereas Kazim and Shamshad’s characters have more or less the similar character arc as they both truly love Amina but it is messed up in the end as they migrate to Pakistan. Salim’s support system in the tough times – Sindhi businessman Ajmani, is an empathetic character who himself has migrated from Paksitan so he realises the grievousness of the situation. Ajmani stands firm with Salim even when his own people distance themselves from him. He is like a cold breeze to Salim in the hot summer.
Halim Mirza – Salim’s elder brother acts as a driving antagonistic force as his deeds pushes Salim Mirza and his family into the valley of uncertainty and deep trouble. They end up losing their ancestral house, credibility in the market and most importantly their daughter’s love and later her life as consequences of his sudden overnight migration to Pakistan. The post partition situation itself plays an antagonistic role in protagonist’s life in the form of reluctant money lenders, house owners, system or society as a whole to create enough hurdles for him to test his steel like tolerance.
Eventually the broken family man, the protagonist - Salim Mirza’s resilience wins over his inferiority as he decides to stay back and fight the battle of situational crisis.
The screenplay of the film is crisp- to the point and from the very first scene it is able to convey what the film is going to be about. The structure of the storytelling is linear. Mirzas world is established very swiftly for us. The discussion amongst the Mirza family members during the initial dinner scene sets all the different perspectives of its characters on post partition situation in the country. Though the topic of the film is very sensitive, screenplay handles it very efficiently by staying true to its topic without being biased or exaggerating the tone of it.
There are few light hearted scenes between Amina-Kazim and later between Amina-Shamshad which have been plotted rightly to do justice to the semi subplot of Amina’s love life. The so-called antagonistic characters do not feel heavy as they are kept as real as possible. The film gives you the feeling of how exactly it would have happened then and how people would have reacted to the situation.
Use of Tonga – as a device works perfectly fine in the film. It is being used as a powerful medium to narrate the tale. Set up and pay off scenes that depicts the bond between Salim’s mother and their ancestral house are crafted really well.
The film does not lose its pace much throughout its duration. Its plot is so well written that the gradually increased tension in the film does not over complicate the drama. It is satisfying to watch the journey of different characters as they sail through the tough times in their own ways. We feel connected from the beginning till the end. And when that happens, we already know that the script is clear winner.
Post partition era isn’t an easy topic to deal with; it is very sensitive as thousands of families lost everything in the transition. The film does its best to touch upon almost all the segments that would have been impacted due to this epic change. Love, politics, employment, perspectives, family, society, it extends its arm to every possible corner that touches a civilised human life. The point to note here is, it doesn’t get preachy or does not hammer us with the hyper patriotism. It stays real throughout and not only entertains us but also awakens us while portraying such a sensitively serious topic.