by Sonia Chopra
Director: Amrit Sagar
Cast: Manoj Bajpai, Ravi Kissen, Chitaranjan Giri, Kumud Mishra, Manav Kaul Deepak Dobriyal
There was a spate of war films that came out a few years ago, packed with melodrama, songs about missing home, tragedy, and the mandatory sardar and sacrificing Muslim soldier. This formula for a war film, is what, I suspect, put audiences off for good. And 1971 has a good chance of redeeming this genre.
Yes, it has the faithful Muslim soldier, the good guys and bad guys are neatly stacked apart, there is melodrama and gore, but it's a far more restrained and mature work of storytelling.
The film, set in 1977, starts with the rounding up of Indian Prisoners of War (POWs) languishing in Pakistani jails since the `71 war. Their state is pitiable; some have lost their mind, others have kept their sanity in the hope of a better tomorrow.
Major Suraj Singh (Manoj Bajpai) and his team are part of this coterie that is shifted to a base in Chaklala, to escape the Red Cross that suspects the government of wrongful keeping of these POWs.
While in the Chaklala camp, the bewildered soldiers are lied to and told that they will be released in a few months time, only to assure that they do not attempt an escape. The actual plan is to throw them back in the jails to languish, as soon as the Red Cross is out of Pakistan.
A handful of them, headed by Major Suraj Singh decide to attempt a last valiant shot at freedom, and what happens after forms the crux of the story.
What is credible about the film is that it does not paint the two nations in black and white. Most civilian Pakistanis, especially from the Red Cross, are shown to be sympathetic to the cause of the POWs.
Even the Pakistani generals and army men are not growling, sneering brutes, but rather sophisticated sorts, who just feel that this needs to be done. While the film mercifully goes easy on the gore in the first half, it falls into the war-film cliché of sacrifice and friendship in the second.
Performance wise, the film is a treat. Right from Bajpai who is seen relishing a meaty role after a long time, to Ravi Kissen who plays Major Jacob, Chitaranjan Giri as Ahmed, Kumud Mishra as Capt Kabir, Manav Kaul as Flt Ltn Ram and Deepak Dobriyal as Flt Ln Gurtu, to name a few.
Debutant director Amrit Sagar impresses, and his stress on technical finesse hints that he may be a world cinema aficionado. The cinematography by Chirantan Das, is interesting, and is elevated by the biting contrast between the beautiful snow-capped mountains, the serene scenery and the violence that takes place in its very presence.
Music by Akash Sagar who makes his debut as composer with this film is one of the high points of the film. Especially the song Sehlenge Hum sung by Shibani Kashyap, which stays with you long after the film ends. Sound designing, using both sync sound and dubbing is particularly effective.
It's credible that the first time filmmaker has chosen this challenging subject to debut with. The subject makes one a bit partial towards the film, but if one were to review it dispassionately, then as just a stand alone drama, it scores well for its characterizations, its tight script, and the thrilling and suspenseful moments. Don't dismiss it as just another war film; it's also a fairly moving human drama.