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'Desh ko tumhari zaroorat hai' – The patriotic zeal in Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat (1964)

In revisiting early films with themes around the country and its freedom, we look at one of the early war films, Haqeeqat, a salute to the soldiers who protect our country and ensure that our freedom remains secure.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Directed by Chetan Anand, Haqeeqat (1964) was the first realistic portrayal of war in Hindi cinema. There had been numerous historical films earlier that had well-executed battle scenes, but Haqeeqat offered the soldier’s point of view from the battlefield, based on an incident that took place during the Sino-Indian war of 1962.

The film was shot mainly on location in Ladakh in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and the crew had to navigate harsh terrain to depict the condition of soldiers in wartime.

Released two years after the unexpected and crushing defeat at the hands of the Chinese, the film did much to bolster the confidence of a country that was still reeling from the setback, and instilled a sense of patriotism once again.

Captain Bahadur Singh (Dharmendra) is a keen young soldier who falls in love with a Ladakhi girl, Angmo (Priya Rajvansh), while posted in the region. Bahadur Singh takes Angmo’s brother Sonam under his wing as the boy dreams of becoming a soldier one day.

On a visit to Kashmir and Ladakh, Bahadur Singh’s father, Brigadier Singh (Jayant), receives news of creeping encroachment by Chinese troops along the border and orders Major Ranjit Singh (Balraj Sahni) to send his officers to secure the posts. Thus begins the struggle of the soldiers, who await further instructions while facing a wily adversary.

Haqeeqat was about the grim reality of war and examined the ways in which strategies mapped out by generals have an impact on the soldier at the front. The soldiers are given orders not to fire at the steadily advancing enemy and they grow increasingly restless at the seemingly endless wait. The film captures the frustration of the soldier, cooped up in a bunker in a barren landscape, who must nonetheless stay alert as the enemy is just a stone’s throw away.

In one scene, when Major Ranjit Singh is ordered to abandon Captain Bahadur Singh and move out of the post so as to not endanger the lives of the rest of the unit, the major rails against the impossible situation: “I need men, I need guns, bullets. Mujhe kyun yahan se nikalne ke liye kaha jaa raha hai? [Why am I being asked to leave this place]?"

The film criticized the lack of preparedness of the Indian side in the face of the Chinese aggression, as the army is caught unawares and the enemy, under the guise of the slogan 'Cheeni-Hindi bhai-bhai', keeps mushrooming.

Chetan Anand also offered the Indian perspective of feeling stabbed in the back by a seeming friend, China. He used documentary footage and demonstrated the way in which China's premier Chou En-lai was welcomed with open arms during his visit to India. In a rousing speech to the troops, Brigadier Singh emphasizes that despite the respect bestowed upon China, Chinese troops have sneakily attacked a peace-loving nation like India.

But beyond all this, Haqeeqat was focused squarely on the ordinary soldier, humanizing the faceless infantryman as family scenes are interspersed with the action. There are poignant moments, like when the wife of a soldier sends the seeds of her husband’s favourite flowers and a handful of earth so he may plant them and find a ray of happiness in a barren, unfamiliar land.

Another soldier is anxious as he had quarrelled with his fiancé before coming away and is awaiting some communication from her. There are several such touching moments and one can clearly see the scenes that inspired much of the narrative of JP Dutta’s Border (1997).

The stunning cinematography by Sadanand captured Ladakh in a way that the beautiful landscape turns into a treacherous one as the soldiers struggle to navigate the land. The art direction by MS Sathyu was especially notable for heightening the sense of realism in the film.

The film is also noteworthy for depicting the civilian engagement during wartime and for presenting a woman in combat. Angmo is trained as part of the civilian training exercise and ends up fighting alongside Captain Bahadur Singh in the battlefield. This visionary scene is commendable, given that positions in combat for women in the Indian army only opened up in 2016!

There were laudable performances by an ensemble cast which included the director's younger brother Vijay Anand, Sanjay Khan, Mac Mohan and Sudhir. Dharmendra’s charisma is undeniable in this early film of his, as he matches veterans Jayant and Balraj Sahni.

But it was the film’s music that truly captured the heart of the nation. Madan Mohan’s melodies and Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics struck a chord, with the immortal 'Kar Chale Hum Fida Jaan-o-tan Saathiyon' a song that still resonates in the heart of every Indian. 'Hoke Majboor Mujhe Usne Bhulaya Hoga' is another heartrending song that captures the mindset of the soldier.

Chetan Anand’s dramatization of a crucial moment in the country's history instils a sense of patriotism without much propaganda. The film questions what it means to be brave when faced with impossible choices in the battlefield. As Major Ranjit Singh tells his troops, “Jism jawab de nahin sakta, jab tak andar himmat ki chingari hai [The body cannot crumble as long as there is strength in your soul], inspiring his men to, well, soldier on.

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