by Allan Fish
(India 1973 135m) not on DVD
Aka. Garam Hava
Should I stay or should I go?
p Abu Siwani, Ishan Arya, M.S.Sathyu d M.S.Sathyu w Kaifi Azmi, Shama Zaidi ph Ishan Arya ed S.Chakravarty m Aziz Ahmed, Aziz Ahmed Khan Warsi, Ustad Bahadur Khan
Balraj Singh (Salim Mirza), Gita Siddarth (Amina Mirza), Jamal Hashmi (Kazim), Yunus Parvez (Fakraddin), Farook Shaikh (Sikander Mirza), Jalal Agha (Shamsad), Abu Siwani (Baqar Mirza), Badar Begum (Salim’s mother), Dinanath Zutshi (Halim), Shaukat Azmi (Kaifi), A.K.Hangal (Ajmani Sahab), Vikas Anand,
Considering the availability of so many Bollywood classics of this and previous eras, the other side of Indian cinema can still be difficult to track down. Satyajit Ray, of course, is now becoming available in Hi Def, while Ritwik Ghatak will doubtless soon follow. But it’s the next generation of directors who joined those two erstwhile masters in the late sixties and seventies that can be hard to appreciate. Where can one find decent prints of films by Mrinal Sen, Mani Kaul or the director of the film in question, M.S.Sathyu. Any that are on DVD are in deplorable condition and interrupted by those God-awful logos so prevalent in Indian DVDs that float in and out of vision like the mother ship in Space Invaders.
One should be grateful then, I suppose, that in an age when British television channels ignore film and its history completely, that occasionally Indian classics pop up in the small hours on Channel 4 in one of the sporadic celebrations of Indian culture. It’s how I first saw Hot Winds. Not ideal, perhaps, but you take what you’re given.
The film focuses on the plight of the Mirza family. For generations they have called this part of India their home. But as the credits tell us, independence has been declared and, after the assassination of Gandhi, the relations between Hindustanis and Moslems have never been more volatile. Many local Moslems have gone west across the border into Pakistan, while those that stay behind find themselves if not victimised then marginalised. Graduates cannot find work, and businessmen can’t get loans. One such businessman, Salim Mirza, owner of a shoe factory, finds contracts being lost and his business going to the dogs. One of his sons has already left while his daughter, Amina, sees her chances of marriage go up in smoke.
There haven’t been too many major Indian films dealing with the fallout of the partition, but Hot Winds – the title referring to the winds of change that would scorch an entire people – is surely the most powerful. The fate of the Mirzas is as wrenching as it is inevitable. Indeed, it would have been easy for the continual heartbreaks to have veered into parody, and it’s only through the sheer professionalism of the piece, and its heartfelt intent, that it doesn’t do so. It’s not afraid to be a little unconventional, though, not least in its use of overlaid sound; Sathyu using applause, train whistles, gunshots, dialogue and a narration in such a way as to leave the audience dangling between the real and the make believe. And if it naturally would mean more to someone who recognises the time and place, it does have a universal sense of moral outrage at the humiliation of a community seen through the microscope of this single family. Indeed, the scene where the matriarch is only happy when she’s allowed to die in her old home recalls scenes with old men in such disparate classics as The Grapes of Wrath and Dovzhenko’s Earth. This connection with the earth one calls home and fear of displacement and loss of identity cannot be overstated. As one character puts it, “they’re uprooting many flowering trees.” And yet Sathyu goes further, commenting on the corruption that inevitably follows when a people unaccustomed to power are suddenly given it. He’s also helped by his cast, with Shaikh in his first key role, Siddarth excellent as the unfortunate Amina and, at its centre, the wonderful Balraj Singh in a performance of such humane delicacy as to move a heart of granite. It’s one of the great films of the sub-continent.