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As we celebrate Kargil victory, ‘Hindustan Ki Kasam’ reminds us not to caricature Pakistan

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The film maintains a respectful dignity toward the enemy, a sentiment that is relevant in these hyper-nationalistic times.

Director: Chetan Anand
Producer: Ravi Anand
Year: 1973
Cast: Raaj Kumar, Priya Rajvansh, Balraj Sahni, Vijay Anand
Music: Madan Mohan
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi

Just as we celebrated the 19th anniversary of the Kargil war victory this week, comes the news that the Pakistan army is firmly back in the saddle after engineering an election victory for Imran Khan. It may just be a good week to watch the 1973 Hindi movie Hindustan Ki Kasam.

As India and Pakistan grapple with strained ties today, Hindustan Ki Kasam reminds us of an enduring Bollywood tradition when it comes to our neighbour. The film starts with a note that India’s war was not with Pakistan’s citizens but its dangerous military dictatorship.

Released two years after the 1971 war, the film is about rivals on the war front, but they are portrayed as brothers and not enemy caricatures. The film also endowed agency to the Pakistanis, unlike the reductive Sunny Deol treatment meted to them usually. This probably contributed to Hindustan Ki Kasam’s massive failure at the box office when it released.

The film maintains a respectful dignity toward the enemy, a sentiment that is relevant in these hyper-nationalistic times.

The 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War was the third major conflict India fought in a span of just nine years. In that turbulent phase for the country, almost a decade after he made his first war film Haqeeqat (1964) on the 1962 India-China conflict, director Chetan Anand followed up with an even more ambitious Hindustan Ki Kasam.

After backing the British forces during World War II, the Indian Left was on the defensive in the first two decades after Independence. Chetan Anand, a leading light of the Indian People’s Theatre Association and a Communist, was, in a way, bridging the nationalism gap through these war movies.

Hindustan Ki Kasam revolves around a family that had a long martial tradition, including wing commander Ranveer Batra (Vijay Anand) and squadron leader Rajesh Batra (Parikshit Sahni). As operations begin, Rajesh succumbs to injuries after his aircraft gets shot at by Pakistan Air Force pilot Usmaan, who turns later out to be a cousin separated during Partition. From then on, the Indian Air Force’s mission becomes to destroy the PAF radar blocking Indian pilots’ communication. The Indian intelligence plants Batra family’s daughter, Mohini (Priya Rajvansh), at a TV station in Pakistan as the PAF pilot’s fiancée.

In a departure for conventional narratives at the time, Anand’s female protagonist Mohini successfully completes her task as a spy and helps the IAF locate the said radar. But Anand films the climax as a typical hero-rescues-heroine combat with squadron leader Rajiv Shukla (Raaj Kumar) finally taking charge. However, Anand did portray an interesting dogfight in the climactic battle.

Based on Operation Cactus-Lilly, the operations of the Indian Air Force in the eastern theatre of the war, Hindustan Ki Kasam can be called India’s first IAF film. Featuring many aircraft including the Sukhoi Su-7s, MiG-21s, Gnats and Hunters, the film intersperses stock footage with combat shots. The IAF is said to have provided a lot of support to the film crew including actual pilots, in probably a hat-tip to the inspirational value for the defence forces of Anand’s Haqeeqat.

In her book, The Nation In War: A Study of Military Literature and Hindi War Cinema, researcher Gita Viswanath wrote, “In Hindustan Ki Kasam, Chetan Anand uses a narrative strategy similar to the one he had used in his previous film, Haqeeqat. The film is interspersed with shots of war scenes in the style of documentary leading to what Roland Barthes called the ‘having been there’ quality of the photographic image.”

But with its dated performances, especially from the two leads, and poor drama, the only thing that worked unequivocally for Hindustan Ki Kasam was Madan Mohan’s music, in collaboration with lyricist Kaifi Azmi. Singer Lata Mangeshkar’s renditions of ‘Duniya Banane Wale Hai Meri Iltija’ and ‘Hai Tere Saath Meri Wafa’ remain memorable.

With its emotional cues and air force setting, the film paved the way for Govind Nihalani’s Vijeta (1982), Sanjiv Puri’s Agnipankh (2004) and Pankaj Kapoor’s Mausam (2011). But the number of movies on the Air Force compares unfavourably to films made on the Indian Army.

In both Haqeeqat and Hindustan Ki Kasam, Anand’s choice to use the female protagonist to play an important narrative function was inspired. “In the latter, she is a spy who uses her feminine charm to work her way through the enemy territory. The films (however) end with the recuperation of the conventional image of the heroine as a sexualised being,” wrote Viswanath. Meghna Gulzar’s Alia Bhatt-starrer Raazi, released earlier this year, was particularly reminiscent of this trope.

In his illustrious career, Anand made a number of significant films, including the Cannes-winner Neecha Nagar (1946), but Haqeeqat and Hindustan Ki Kasam remain popular, especially among the defence folk. A third war film, on the navy, may have completed a (wishful) trilogy.

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  1. “Just as we celebrated the 19th anniversary of the Kargil war victory this week”, you folk actually do that? Getting big brother, the US, to threaten the Pakistani PM into withdrawing his forces is a rather funny description of a ‘victory’, ‘celebrating’ it does stretch incredulity. Then again the Pakistanis celebrate the 1965 war as a victory, though they have managed to keep a hostile neighbour over six times their size in population from invading this country, to date. South Asian’s have nothing better do to than insult each other, whip hatred designed to get under the others skin, as if that’s all they do for enjoyment in life. This article demonstrates that quite well with it opening words. You’re all welcome to each other. Only ended up here due to Google news giving a misleading description, then I noticed the .in domain and though, here we go, this will be a Pakistan bashing article; I was not disappointed.

    • Insecure Hypocrite Illiterate madrassachap jaahil islamofascism apologist Pakistani’s have poor grasp of history of their own failed state aka Pakistan whose constitution formed by their Quais was changed at will numerous times as was their democratic leaders by their stupid Pakistan Army who show thei manliness on defensless citizyof Balochistan, Waziristan etc after being exposed of their impotency in battlefield in each war with its neighbour India. Though we no longer consider it our Problem,as this mental psycopancy of pakistan is reason your nation is doomed to get destroyed as it was in 71.

    • It’s failed state of pakistan that butchers its own 80,000+ worthless citizens to please its dad US in so called “war on Terrorism” not India. Pig face Nawaz that ran to his daddy US after seeing its coward impotent recived banging day & night by Indian Army,Bofors,& IAF etc.,not to forgot the Atlantique incident few months after Kargil where IAF hunted down PAF aircraft & killed all its crew members

  2. ‘Hindustan Ki Kasam’ didn’t do well but it raised as much adrenaline as ‘Top Gun’. However, the key difference is that the former evokes a huge sense of macho yet genteel patriotism.

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