On August 15, 1947, the British Indian Empire was divided into the independent nations of India and Pakistan. Ever since this pivotal partition, the heritage and culture of these two countries have remained intricately tied together, despite the political turmoil and historical scars that persistently impact their relationship.
Bollywood has depicted the conflict that ensued in many unique films. The movies featuring the India versus Pakistan theme have ranged from hate-filled to heart-warming. Sadly, the fair and even-handed approach to India versus Pakistan lies in the minority—but it is safe to say that over the years, Bollywood has started turning towards bridging the gap between India and Pakistan as opposed to widening the divide.
Here’s a look at a few select films over the past several years that have taken a stab at the perpetually complicated rishta between India and Pakistan. In part one of this two-part series, we will look at movies that focus attention on the partition and key battles between the Indian and Pakistani Armies.
Movies set against the backdrop of partition often risked setting off communal rioting in India, as was seen with Yash Chopra’s 1961 film “Dharamputra.” This movie told the tale of two Delhi families before and after the partition. “Dharamputra” focused on the flawed ideologies of fundamentalists in the name of either Hinduism or Islam.
Raised by a Hindu family, Dilip Rai (Shashi Kapoor) is a Hindu fundamentalist who is teaming up with others to force Muslims out of India. Unbeknownst to Dilip, he is actually the illegitimate child of a Muslim woman, Husn Bano (Mala Sinha), who had to leave him with the Rai family years earlier.
From the brief clip above, it seems as though Yash Chopra attempted to speak for harmony as opposed to blind patriotism. Unfortunately, the movie flopped at the box office and the communal rioting that resulted from it led to most filmmakers avoiding movies with this theme for several years.
2. “Gharam Hava”
After the debacle “Dharamputra” faced, filmmaker M.S. Sathyu decided to tackle the sensitive subject of communal rioting during the time of partition with his 1973 drama “Gharam Hava.” The film was based on an unpublished short story by famed Urdu writer Ismat Chugtai, and it told the story of the trials and tribulations faced by the Muslim Mirza family in the aftermath of the partition.
Despite fears of communal unrest after the release of the movie, “Gharam Hava” did well commercially and critically thanks to its sensitive handling of such controversial issues.
In fact, “Gharam Hava” was also submitted as India’s nomination for the Academy Awards the year it was released—and was restored and re-released in 2009, as noted in the trailer above.
3. “1947: Earth”
No list of movies including partition-themed films is complete without Deepa Mehta’s 1998 drama “1947: Earth,” starring Aamir Khan, Rahul Khanna, and Nandita Das.
Dil Navaz (Khan), Hassan (Khanna) and Shanta (Das), are all friends who watch their relationships fall apart in the aftermath of the partition, when religious divide becomes more important than their friendships.
Based on Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel “Cracking India,” Mehta’s film is sensitive and her nuanced characters made the turmoil of the partition relatable for all viewers.
4. “Gadar: Ek Prem Katha”
This 2001 action flick starring Sunny Deol and Amisha Patel is by far the least even-handed of the partition films featured here.
“Gadar” was partially based on the true story of an ex-British Army officer, Bhoota Singh, who rescued a Muslim woman in the communal rioting of 1947.
A huge commercial blockbuster, this story of love between Sikh Tara Singh (Deol) and Muslim Sakeena (Patel) was loaded with anti-Pakistan sentiments. The polarizing patriotic attitudes are hard to miss in the clip above, so you can just imagine what roughly three hours of this movie must be like.
This 1997 J.P. Dutta film is set against the backdrop of the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War—specifically, the Battle of Longewala in Rajasthan, which was one the first major battles in the war.
With a huge multi-star cast including Sunny Deol, Sunil Shetty, Akshay Khanna, Jackie Shroff, Tabu, Pooja Bhatt and Rakhee, the film ended up being one of the most successful movies of 1997.
Unfortunately, it is also remembered for its anti-Pakistan opinions and for straying from the truth of the actual Battle of Longewala for dramatic effect.
6. “LoC Kargil”
J.P. Dutta released yet another war movie in 2003—this time, the backdrop was the Kargil War, which took place between India and Pakistan in May and June 1999 in the Kargil district of Kashmir.
Yet another multi-star cast supported this movie and all of its 255 minutes of run-time. But even, Sanjay Dutt, Ajay Devgan, Nagarjuna, Saif Ali Khan, Sunil Shetty, Sanjay Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan, Monish Behl, Akshay Khanna, Manoj Bajpai, Rani Mukherjee, Raveena Tandon, Esha Deol, Mahima Chaudhary and Kareena Kapoor, could not save this movie from its unbearable length.
This 2004 Farhan Akhtar movie starring Hrithik Roshan and Preity Zinta was also set against the backdrop of the Kargil War, but this time the focus was less on the war and more on the growth of Roshan’s character, Karan Shergill.
“Lakshya” was a commercial and critical success, thanks in part to Akhtar’s realistic characters and his even-handedness with the portrayal of India versus Pakistan.