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Article Hindi

20 years of Refugee: JP Dutta’s romantic drama poignantly portrays plight of those in search of a home

Refugee, an unusual choice for debut film, is best remembered as the launch vehicle of star kids Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

The year 2000 saw a few star kids being launched in Hindi cinema. Hrithik Roshan was launched in his father’s production Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai (2000), which became a huge hit, while Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor made their acting debuts in JP Dutta’s romantic drama Refugee (2000).

The story of a man known only as ‘Refugee’ (Bachchan), the film looks at the plight of displaced people as they shuttle from one border to another in search of a home.

Refugee helps illegal migrants cross the Great Rann of Kutch into Pakistan. One such family is that of Bihari migrants who, after the liberation of Bangladesh, find themselves displaced once again and are making their way to Pakistan. In this, they are aided by Refugee, who meets the daughter Naaz (Kapoor) and falls in love with her.

Written, directed and produced by JP Dutta, the story of love across borders featured an ensemble cast that included Suniel Shetty, Jackie Shroff, Anupam Kher, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Reena Roy and Ashish Vidyarthi.

The film captures the beauty of the landscape as the costumes and set design evoke Kutch in all its colour and starkness. What stands out, though, is the balanced portrayal of soldiers of the two countries, with officers on both sides sharing good relations. The systematic erosion of goodwill and ties between the countries is attributed to both sides and the film acknowledges the deep bonds that the people of the two countries share, a far cry from the jingoism and machismo that have since come to characterize ‘patriotic’ films.

In doing so, Refugee raises questions that are pertinent today more than ever. In an impassioned speech, Naaz says they are labelled Indians or Pakistanis and not seen as humans. “Isn’t a refugee a human being,” she asks. As the migrant crisis looms large in the world, this is a question all countries must ask themselves.

The love story that forms the core of Refugee gets muddled with too many subplots that slow down the film, which drags at a runtime of over three hours. The film was an unusual choice for the debut of the star kids, with breezy romances being the preferred and safe choice. The newcomers seem raw in their performances with Kapoor emerging the stronger one. The music by Anu Malik and lyrics by Javed Akhtar stand out, especially the soulful number, 'Panchhi Nadiyan Pawan Ke Jhonke'.

With all eyes on the star kids, there was, understandably, a lot of buzz around the film. Speaking of his experience working with the young artistes, Dutta had said in an interview with the news portal rediff.com, “The boy is absolutely level-headed. Knows how to respect his seniors. Kareena, on the other hand, is her own person. She has a mind of her own and shows it. Like Abhishek would be very careful about what he does and speaks because that would reflect upon his parents, but Kareena had no such inhibitions. She doesn't care; she does things the way she feels.”