The film opens amid scenes of actual history and with Gulzar reciting his poetry: “Lakeerein hain toh rehne do, kissi ne rooth kar gusse mein shayad kheench di….”
Picture an isolated stretch of no-man’s-land on the Indo-Pak Kashmir border – and only two soldiers left uninjured of their respective Indian and Pakistani platoons. Pakistani Rehmat Ali (Vijay Raaz) crawls along on his belly to the Indian side in search of water and also a file on a “surang” (tunnel) which his wounded captain (Vishwajeet Pradhan) has commanded him to get from the Indian post. Coincidentally, Indian Samarth Pratap Shastri (Manu Rishi Chadha) arrives at the well at the same time. On seeing Ali there, he panics and runs back to his bunker. Ali gives chase and the entire movie is pretty much composed of a dialogue between the two during this one night and part of the next day. Woven into the tale is also Barfi Singh (Raj Zutshi) who plays a postman desperately wanting to be recruited into the Indian army. It is Barfi Singh who calls Shastri a “gaddar” and picks up the radio set to inform the Indian commander there is a Pakistani soldier at the post. By this time the two soldiers have formed a camaraderie, to the extent that when Ali’s commander is beating up a hurt Shastri, Ali kills him, but alas, when Indian reinforcements arrive, they shoot down Khan and the movie ends with the camera panning on to Shastri holding a dead Ali in his arms and crying out loud at the loss.
The movie starts off on a sluggish note but soon picks up pace in the repartee between the two soldiers. Raaz’s inimitable dialogue delivery style is superbly complemented by the typically Delhi style affected by Chadha; the way he stutters “janaab, bhai jaan, virji, maalik” one after the other in a bid to appease the Pakistani soldier is very true-to-life. The dialogues are simply outstanding; earthy, simple and poignant, liberally peppered with Punjabi swear words and the ubiquitous “haanji.” Some examples of the banter: “Bada bhai samjha hota toh Pakistan banta hi nahin;” “Ghadi mein mazaa nahin hai. Time dekhna hai ya mujra dekhna hai?” “Bhaijaan waali baat kar, kutte waali baat na kar.” Nostalgia and yearning ripples through in: “Mausam bhi ek hai.” Harsh truths are stated with resignation: “Aur teri ammi? Usse toh kaat ke bheja tha tum logon ne;” “Sab siyasaat ki gaddi ke chakkar mein hua hai.”There is dry humour in the fact that there is now a half hour time difference between the two countries: “Aap aage ho.” Rarely has a movie stirred one so with its words. The love and friendship between Hindu and Muslim families living as one in one big, united country is brought forth with a starkness that many people who have been forced apart from their families and ancestral homes face with a yearning even today.
All the angst, all the pain of Partition, has been beautifully emoted by just these two actors in the course of their dialogues. There is bitterness and quiet acceptance at “Afsaron ke kaam,” passion and anger at the trains full of corpses on both sides and finally, a sadness and kinship as they discover they both are personal victims of the displacement Partition brought in its wake; Ali grew up in Delhi and now finds himself in ‘Pakistan’ while Shastri grew up in Lahore and is now in a refugee camp in Delhi.
This film also marks Vijay Raaz’s directorial debut. Somewhere, his grasp of the baton is weak and there are superfluous scenes such as him cutting the crotch of his pants to free the underwear drawstring, Shastri throwing out boiled potatoes, or the scene with Barfi and the screwdriver. Too much footage has been given to the Barfi Singh character. Although the movie is just a 100-minutes and there is pithy repartee between the main leads, it tends to get slow going in patches. The movie is saved from mediocrity only by Raaz’s sheer acting skill, most ably counter-balanced by Chadha. The two are a perfect foil for each other and Chadha is very much in character with his owlish glasses and portly frame as the somewhat bumbling, terrified cook-turned-soldier. Raj Zutshi overplays it in a few scenes.
I have absolutely no clue why the Government of Fiji has been thanked in this film! What I do know is that cinematography is jerky at times. Lyrics are by Gulzar and music by Sandesh Shandilya is apt; thankfully, we are spared any song-and-dance routines. Dialogues are by Manu Rishi Chadha – take a bow. Editing should definitely have been tauter.
This must be the first Bollywood offering in a long time with the absence of any female face whatsoever. Hallelujah!