Friday, May 24, 2013
Last Updated: 23 May 15:02 PM IST
18 November 2012
The late Chetan Anand was passing through a very lean phase of his career in the 1960s when then Punjab chief minister Pratap Singh Khairon offered him finance and support for a docu-fiction on the Indo-Sino war of 1962. The result was no less than a classic, writes ranjan das gupta
WAR has inspired great directors. John Ford, Sir David Lean and Steven Spielberg have time and again focused on war to make timeless classics. In India, the late Chetan Anand, a director with rare vision, was no exception. Prior to his magnum opus Haqeeqat, war films were unknown to viewers in the country. The morale of India was shattered after the hard-hitting defeat in the 1962 war with China.
Anand was passing through a very lean phase of his career in the 1960s, with almost no work. It was at this crucial juncture that Punjab chief minister Pratap Singh Kairon offered him finance and support to make a docu-fiction on defeated soldiers, with the 1962 Sino-Indo war as the backdrop. Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister, also promised help as he was keen that the betrayal of India’s respected neighbour be projected on celluloid.
Chetan Anand started working on Haqeeqat in an unconventional way. He moved across the Sino-Indo border and near the MacMohan Line in a jeep, at times walking several times. In a hardbound notebook, he documented the statements of a large number of Army officers and soldiers who participated in the 10-day battle. Without a formal bounded script, he assembled a formidable cast consisting of Balraj Sahni, Dharmendra and Vijay Anand. He introduced Veera Singh (Priya Rajvansh) of the royal family of Kashmir as the heroine. Rajvansh was a gold medalist from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Shot on actual locations with finesse, Haqeeqat was no less than a classic. It opened the India International Film Festival in New Delhi in 1964 to thunderous applause. President Sarvapalli Radha Krishnan, who inaugurated the festival, sat throughout the showing of Haqeeqat. In Kolkata, Satyajit Ray greeted Chetan Anand, stating that Haqeeqat had strong visuals, soul-stirring music but no story. To this Anand’s reply was, “Haqeeqat was a mosaic, not a story.” Both the stalwarts laughed their hearts out while speaking at the BFJA awards in the City of Joy in 1964.
Besides excellent cinematography and immortal melodies penned by Kaifi Azmi and put to tune by Madan Mohan, Haqeeqat boasted some landmark performances. An injured and limping Balraj Sahni, encouraging his fellow soldiers not to lose confidence, still remains a lesson in acting. Similarly, a helpless Priya Rajvansh crying, “Ma” and writhing in pain after being tortured by Chinese soldiers is also a haunting scene till date. Haqeeqat had inhibited performances by Dharmendra, Sanjay Khan and Vijay Anand. Till date, it remains India's most memorable war film. The bravery, pathos and various facets of the Indian Army, including some of the war scenes, were brilliantly shot by cinematographer Sadanand under the apt guidance of Chetan Anand.
Yet, Chetan Anand failed to depict the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. A bunch of Ladakhese were dressed and shown as Chinese soldiers and had no resemblance to the originals. They appeared ridiculous when shouting, "Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai" and the war strategies of the PLA were also incorrect in stages. Their war tactics were far superior to the then almost untrained Indian infantry. In all fairness to Chetan Anand, his was a desperate attempt to project the Chinese as villains and ridiculed the fact that even the worst of enemies demand respect when shown via cinema, the greatest medium of art. Hollywood never ridiculed the Nazis, Italians or Japanese in The Longest Day or Tora Tora Tora.
The scene in which an Indian soldier pierces the Red Book’s picture of Mao Zedong with a bayonet in front of Balraj Sahni (a socialist himself) received staunch criticism from enlightened Leftists. A renowned French critic pointed out, after seeing Haqeeqat, that he hated the Indian Army more than its opponents. Haqeeqat started off on a grand scale and ultimately turned out to be propaganda of Nehruvian Socialism. The documentation of the Sino-Indo war in Haqeeqat was nowhere compared to Neville Maxwell's India’s China War, an authentic book of international standards that was banned by the Indian government then. Even Prime Minister Morarji Desai did confess that there were many unknown facts about the Sino-Indo war that would never come to light. The essence of a defeated army was well exhibited in Haqeeqat, but at the cost of what even Chetan Anand dared not imagine.
Apart from Haqeeqat, no other film dared to show the 1962 Sino-Indo war in true light. Humraaz only consisted of a few battle scenes of that period, with a crackling of machineguns; Humsaya and Shatranj, both fictitious spy thrillers, showed the Chinese as villains and were fiascos. Fifty years after India's debacle in the war with China, one wonders if ever an introspective film will be made that projects the war authentically as just or unjust.