Recalling the making of film ‘Garam Hawa’ and tribute to MS Sathyu 

MS Sathyu calls it an accident but the rest of the world continues to call it a classic. KK KOHLI recalls how the film was made on a shoestring budget of less than three lakh Rupees

Recalling the making of  film ‘Garam Hawa’ and tribute to MS Sathyu 

KK Kohli

Mysore SirinivasanSathyunever quite cared about being addressed as a Mr, Shri, Esqr or Sahib…even his granddaughter calls him Sathyu.

Born in Mysore, he moved to Delhi, did some theatre in Jamia and joined Hindustani Theater, the first professional theatre in Delhi founded by Begum Qudsia Zaidi and Begum Pataudi.

Sathyu worked as a designer, as an art director and as a director. Hindustani theater had to close down due to the sudden demise of Begum Qudsia Zaidi in 1961. Sathyu and Shama worked for Door Darshan for a period of four or five months (in the meantime Sathyu and Shama got married) before moving to Bombay. Chetan Anand was making Haqiqat, a film on Chinese aggression in 1962. Sathyu was the art director of the film and picked up the Filmfare Award as Best Art Director.

Ideologically tied to the Left, his concern for the underdog is not some fashionable fad, it is a conviction with which he has lived all his life. His first love was theater…designing sets, costumes, headgears, properties, lighting…a one-in-five kind of director. He is a senior member of IPTA.

In the world of cinema Sathyu was on the lookout for a story. Shama was visiting Rajinder Singh Bedi in his office when he suggested there should be a film on the condition of Muslims left behind after the Partition. He suggested IsmatChugtai’s name for a story.

IsmatChugtai did not have a written story but she had this tale from her own family, where some members of her extended family had migrated to Pakistan but her mother or grandmother had refused and stayed back. It was at the most a vague idea. With some work on this by Shama Zaidi, they approached Kaifi Sahib.

His first suggestion was that the story is based in Lucknow and the female characters of the story are far too bold, the ladies of Awadh are too sophisticated for such characterisation. So, to suit the story line the locatiion was changed to Agra, the main character Salim Mirza (played by Balraj Sahni) was a Station Master but Kaifi Sahib changed it to a shoe manufacturer to fit in with the traditional business of some Muslim families in Agra.

The horse shoe of a story and screenplay done, Sathyu needed the horse. For finance he approached Film Finance Corporation which agreed to finance (I think a sum of Rupees Two Lac Eighty Thousand ). With that kind of money Sathyu, Shama and their comrades set out to make a film that Sathyu calls an accident today but the rest of the world calls a classic.

We all have heard of a shoe-string budget but this was a strangulation budget. With his friends Abu Siwani (played Mirza Bakar in the film) and Ishan Arya (who wielded the camera),Sathyu formed 3M Unit to produce Garam Hawa. Most of the actors, including Balraj Sahni, were associated with IPTA.

To shoot in a densely populated city like Agra is a challenging assignment even for a normal film but a film on such a sensitive subject became a Godsent opportunity for the local right-wing politicians. All through the shooting, protests on location were common but film makers are also no less than others in strategising. Most of the protesters were led to a mock camera unit, while the actual footage was being canned elsewhere. What looked glamorous to an average Agra spectator, was anything but glamorous.

In this story there is a sub plot…if you have seen Garam Hawa, you will never forget the scene where Salim Mirza and his family shift from their own Haveli to a smaller, rented house. Suddenly they find the old mother of Salim Mirza missing. They look around and finally find her hiding in a pit where charcoal and firewood were stocked. This episode was evidently a true story that happened in IsmatChugtai’s family when some members were migrating to Pakistan but the mother had similarly gone missing.

Sathyu needed an old lady to play this character. One of Sathyu’s friends took him to the house of an old ladyBegum Badar - who agreed to do the role. When they were about to leave, Begum Badar started crying and wailed, “You have come now when all is gone”… she narrated that when she was young she went to Mumbai to become an actress but except for exploitation nothing was achieved. She returned to Agra and to her trade, the oldest profession.

The most famous Qawwalli of Garam Hawa, ‘Maula Salim Chishti…..” written by Kaifi Sahib was recorded after the film had been shot. That it bacame the best Qawwalli in film history must be divine intervention.

For dubbing, Sathyu roped in Allaudin Khan of R.K. Studio who needed all actors to come to the studio and record their dialogues doing the actions they were doing on the set…Balraj Sahni just managed to finish dubbing before his death.

Ustad Bahadur Khan filled up music with traditional Indian instruments. The censors obstructed it for eleven months. A Muslim Member of Parliament objected to the film’s subject. Mr. L.K. Advani, then writing on films, also made damaging remarks about the film without seeing it. Bal Thackrey asked to see it when it was being processed.

Sathyu knew Indira Gandhi. He approached her. She saw the film and admired it. The censorship certificate came through but during the waiting period of eleven months, film distributors walked away. It is an irony of fate that it was premiered in Paris from where it was recommended for Cannes (Competition section) and then nominated for Golden Palm, selected for Oscars screening in foreign film category. Indian premier was at Regal cinema in Mumbai.

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was the Chief Guest.

This film is also the story of M.S. Sathyu and his lifelong commitment to causes close to his heart. Be it his films like Barra, Sookha, Kaneshwar Rama, Kahan Kahan Se Guzar Gaya or his theatre productions Bakri, Moteram ka Satyagraha, Sufaid Kundali, Dara Shikoh, Amrita or Mudra Rakhshas, once he decides to do something no obstacle can stop him.

Once an interviewer asked him, “Why don’t you serialise the subject?” Sathyu merely smiled and replied, “Do you want me to make Garam Hawa 2, Garam Hawa 3 like Dhoom 2…Dhoom 3. There is one Viva Zapata, one Marlon Brando. You cannot repeat the revolution.”

Happy 90th Birthday Sathyu…here was only one Leonardo da Vinci also!

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