Recalling: HAQEEQAT (1964)
We had been always told as kids that India defeated Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 wars, but lost to China in 1962 conflict. But I, for one, had little clue about the scale of the clash and the enormity of the loss that India suffered at the hands of China. Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat is an EPIC on the Indo-Sino war, and a telling account of how poor we were as a nation strategically while dealing with the war. Starring Balraj Sahni, Dharmendra, Vijay Anand and a number of other faces that were willing to trade the last drop of blood in their body for the life of an enemy soldier, Haqeeqat was shot in the virgin locales of Ladakh, in black and white.
The film opens with the deployment of officers at various potentially dangerous locations across Ladakh. Brigadier Singh (Essayed by Jayant- a veteran actor who starred in many epic movies through the 1950s and 60s) travels to Srinagar to visit his son, Captain Bahadur Singh (Dharmendra in one of the early roles of his career). The situation they are faced with is tense, with India and China engaged in a dialogue regarding the territorial uncertainties in Ladakh, and China’s claims for a large piece of India’s territory in the area. Lack of a concrete border line only complicates the issue further. The initial few minutes of the film are spent establishing this fact while the soldiers reminisce about their romantic endeavors and families. The narrative is deliberately kept fractured, and no one actor is given an absolute prominence above others, though it does take some time to develop the relationship between Captain Bahadur and a Ladhaki girl. The relationship between her kid brother and Captain Bahadur too is very labouredly developed, but it is completely justified as this bond ultimately gains supreme importance in the larger scheme of things during the culmination of the film.
The key statement that this movie makes is that wars are won and lost on the table. And India suffered not just at the hands of an unexpectedly determined and savage Chinese aggression, but also because of its own tactical inadequacy and lack of preparedness. We refused to open fire till the Chinese forces were literally staring us in our faces, from twenty meters across, on the pretext of being a peace loving nation that picks that resorts to aggression only when some other nation starts violating our territories. We refused to understand the vested Chinese tactics that were directed towards catching us napping when we were the least prepared.
There are many memorable scenes that the movie leaves you with, and Major Ranjit Singh (Balraj Sahni in a stellar role) features in most of them. The instance when he lashes out on a junior officer who was undermining the importance of the imminent clash, and further bursting into a monologue on the Chinese intentions, is clap worthy. Another, when he displays his inability to prevent a retreat of his men from the front, is a poignant sequence that asks a lot of questions on the stance that the Indian Government took during the whole combat. His cry of “I need men, I need guns, and I need bullets”- while almost breaking down, is truly heartwarming and makes you boil in rage at the futility of the whole exercise.
The climax sequence involves Captain Bahadur Singh and a colleague of his, who together are given an almost impossible task of stopping a whole platoon of Chinese soldiers (read Bastards). They, together with the Ladhaki girl and her brother almost achieve the impossible, laying down their lives in the process. What follows is one of the most memorable songs ever to have graced the Indian silver screen- ‘Kar Chale Hum Fida, Jaanon Tan Saathiyon- Ab Tumhare hawale Watan Saathiyon’- The song is sure to leave you with a lump in the throat- Chetan Anand uses some actual footage from the post war era to accentuate the effect.
What makes this saga truly unmatchable is the realism with which it is shot, and the grand scale of the war scenes. The performances from each member of the cast are top-notch, with Balraj Sahni leading the way. Jayant also gives an award winning performance as the helpless leader of the whole operation who himself has a son fighting the more than formidable enemy. Vijay Anand, the director’s brother, gets preferential treatment in a way that he gets a solo song, and the girl who was the love of Major Ranjit Singh’s life. Dharmendra plays the role of the charmer initially and then intense soldier with much aplomb. His love interest and her brother too pitch in with natural performances.
Haqeeqat truly is a landmark film in Indian cinema’s journey over the years. And it certainly acted as a reference point for later films like Border and LOC. It is one of the absolutely must watch movies- a film that every Indian should watch, feel, and absorb. STUNNING.