This week’s release Mulk, examines the trauma that the innocent family members of a terrorist suffer; their religion brands them as anti-national, and the words thrown at Muslims most often are “Go to Pakistan.”
Every incident of terrorism puts the entire community in the dock, and the wounds incurred during the Partition are reopened.
It is time to take another look at the film that stated with sensitivity and empathy, the condition of patriotic Muslims, who considered India as their home, and did not want to go to the newly-formed Pakistan; the film is MS Sathyu’s masterpiece Garm Hawa (1973) that was restored and re-released around four years ago.
Based on a story by Ismat Chughtai and a script by Kaifi Azmi and Shama Zaidi, the film tells the story of one Muslim family in Agra, that opts to stay behind in India after Partition. Times are bad, the economy is shot, young people are unable to find jobs, and across the border prosperity beckons Muslims who choose to cross over — homes and businesses snatched from Hindu families driven out of Pakistan are up for grabs, and those without humanity or scruples take advantage of the situation.
Salim Mirza (Balraj Sahni’s performance can be counted among the best ever in Indian cinema), who has a shoe manufacturing factory resists going to Pakistan even as his siblings go one by one. His daughter Amina (Gita Siddharth) engaged to her cousin Kazim (Jamal Hashmi) and in love with him, is distraught when circumstances take him away from her. She reluctantly returns the affections of Shamshad (Jalal Agha), but is abandoned by him too.
Business is tough for Mirza — his workers have left, he cannot fulfill orders, no bank or money-lender will give him a loan, yet he is hopeful things will change. He is evicted from his home, and finds another with difficulty — nobody wants to rent to Muslims. Even his indomitable spirit starts to sag when he is accused of spying for Pakistan and his friends shun him. Then, his factory is burned down and he is attacked in the street.
His supportive older son Baqar (Abu Siwani) cannot take it any longer and leaves. Away from her beloved home and seeing her clan scatter, Salim Mirza’s mother (Badar Begum) dies of a broken heart. Humiliated by the cowardly Shamshad’s mother, Amina commits suicide. Mirza’s younger son Sikander (Farooque Shaikh) joins a band of hot-headed young men demanding their rights. Mirza’s wife (Shaukat Kaifi) persuades him to leave too.
Salim Mirza’s character, always impeccably dressed, with traditional courtesy intact, goes through his travails with incomparable dignity. His only friend, in the end, turns out to be a Sindhi businessman, Ajmani, (A.K Hangal), who had to leave his home in Sindh and start again in India; like Mirza, he has not let the experience embitter him or make him less humane.
Made on a tiny budget then, and released after much protest and controversy, the film managed to make its mark and went on to win several awards. It is perhaps an indirect inspiration for Mulk.