70mm War Drama evokes Nostalgia: Movie Review of Kya Dilli Kya Lahore
by Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere (India)
Directed by: Vijay Raaz
Starring: Vijay Raaj, Manu Rishi, Raj Zutshi & Vishwajeet Pradhan
A 2014 Release
The conflict between India and Pakistan has been the subject of many a popular movies in Hindi cinema (Bollywood). Mainstream movie discourse in both India and Pakistan rests on building upon a hatred of the ‘other’ so as to glorify patriotism and a sense of national superiority. Very few movies have dwelled upon the humane side of this cross-border conflict raging since 1947. It is for this reason that Kya Dilli Kya Lahore (What is Dilli, What is Lahore) presented by renowned Indian lyricist and writer Gulzar and directed by Vijay Raaj comes across as breath of fresh air.
How easy it is to picture camaraderie between a Pakistani solider and a cook in the Indian army? Impossible in the immediate war dominated scenario of 1948 following the partition of the Indian sub-continent into India and Pakistan? The movie builds upon a conversation that these two individuals have with each other while they are fighting for their own country. Samarth Pratap Shastri (Manu Rishi) is a cook in the Indian army, left to guard an army check-post all alone at the height of war. From the other side, you have Rehmat Ali (Vijay Raaj), a young, newly inducted soldier in Pakistan’s army sent by a senior to get hold of a confidential security document from the Indian camp. Hesitant as he is, Rehmat proceeds towards the Indian side, only to encounter Samarth holding on his guard from an isolated check-post in a difficult terrain. What follows thereafter are conversations that are not only funny but also heart wrenchingly emotional.
As Rehmat and Samarth talk, they very predictably blame each other for the mess that India’s partition brought along. Murders of innocents, mayhem, destruction and servering of relationships that had survived peacefully through centuries. We learn that Rehmat belonged to Delhi before being forced to shift to Lahore after the partition and Samarth had his roots in Lahore before he moved to Delhi. The mass movement of Hindus to northern and central parts of India while that of Muslims to what was now Pakistan resulted in many people leaving their homes, cities and their near and dear ones far away, to never be able to return. Both Rehmat and Samarth begin their relationship with distrust, a sentiment that is commonly acknowledged by many Indians and Pakistanis. In the beginning as they talk to each other with the knowledge of ‘otherness’ and ‘hostility’, a wall of antagonism separates them (it is only after some time in the film that they finally face each other, before that continuing to converse through a barrier of distrust in typical Punjabi dialect).
The most poignant scene of the film comes when Rehmat gets emotional as he shares his love for Delhi, the narrow by lanes of Chandani Chowk and Samarth is reminded of the Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore where he once lived with his family and Muslim neighbours. To both of them Delhi and Lahore were once home and the displacement caused by the partition has affected them immensely. Both cannot come to terms with the fact that they had to leave their beloved city and friends to settle for a new life across the border. It is a fact that prior to the partition, Delhi was home to several Muslims and Lahore was inhabited by Hindus. The loss of one’s home is evident from the teary eyed faces of both Rehmat and Samarth. Something that most people who experienced the partition can relate to.
As the film progresses, the unthinkable becomes a reality. An Indian and a Pakistani start to recognize the human inside the ‘other’, leading hatred and animosity into oblivion. At one point, Samarth even makes ‘aloo paratha’ (a sub-continental food item) for Rehmat and as both of them share their lives over a meal, borders become insignificant. A gradual realization creeps in among the two that this conflict is a creation of political one-upmanship and self serving leaders who care the least for the sufferings of people on both sides. Rehmat and Samarth become friends who realize and fear that they will be labelled as ‘traitors’ for the last that one expects from a soldier is friendship with the ‘enemy’ whom he is supposed to annihilate. They sense that their nationalism will be questioned and their loyalties doubted. In fact, both of them are repeatedly cornered by their senior officials for being ‘refugees’ from whom loyalty cannot be expected as their heart beats for the ‘other’ side.
The film is filled with heart touching moments of the friendship that develops between two people who though on opposite sides of the border, begin to realize the special bond through which they are connected to each other. Rehmat starts referring to Samarth as ‘bhaijaan’ (brother) and in the same way Samarth also acknowledges the special place that Rehmat has made in his life in a very short time.
One can view this movie from a soldier’s perspective. While the duty of a soldier is to essentially guard the borders of his country from the enemy, he/she is at the end a common person who pines for his family, who wants to lead a normal and peaceful life. War and conflict have a damaging impact on a soldier’s psyche and the movie lets the audience come face to face with the humane side of a soldier. Rehmat and Samarth become friends in a very short period of time under extremely trying circumstances. Yet in the end, they come out with flying colours as they prove to be worthy friends divided by the border, but united by hearts that don’t succumb to human-made divisions. The climax scene is a reinforcement of their unspoken yet deep, pure friendship and love for each other. Kya Dilli Kya Lahore signifies the spirit of this friendship where there is more in common that can bring people together as opposed to keeping them apart. Because once upon a time, the cities of Dilli (Delhi) and Lahore were a symbol of sub-continental unity. Today, even as they belong to different countries, they remain very much similar in character, spirit and love for the one who is on the other side of the border.
This review was previously published on the author’s blog www.68pagesofmylife.blogspot.com
Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere has a PhD in Political Science from The M.S.University of Baroda, Gujarat and presently works as an independent researcher and writer based out of Ahmedabad. She is the Baroda Co-ordinator of Aaghaz-e-Dosti.