Long after the 1971 Indo-Pak war was over, 100s of Indian soldiers languished in Pakistani prisons. Pakistanis denied their very existence even though random letters flew in from different jails in Pakistan to the families of the soldiers. The Indian government acted on this information and managed to get the Red Cross involved for the handover of the Indian Prisoners of War. However, the Pakistanis were still in denial of the existence of any such soldier. 1971 is a film that chronicles the journey of six such soldiers who dare to escape from one such concentration camp and try to create a ruckus loud enough for the Red Cross and Pakistani Human Rights to hear and act in a manner befitting of the rules of war.
1971 is a little heard of film in Bollywood and the reasons for that are many. To start with, it has no big stars in its ranks. If that’s not entirely true, it can be safely said that the men involved were not big stars when this film came out. The film is made by Sagar Arts, a house known for the TV series Ramayana and Shree Krishna. Subtlety and realism were the last things that we expected from them in those days and their over the top treatment of various themes didn’t hold them in good stead for the thinking masses of Bollywood. No stars meant no “aam junta” and with the thinking masses out of the equation, the film was doomed. The story involved no heroines and at that time to have a film without heroines and songs and song and dance routines was just not Bollywood like. Hence the film mostly went under the radar.
A few days back, I just popped in the DVD of the film into my Home Theater and tried to watch it. As the film progressed, I realized what a great job the Sagars had done with the film. Not only was this one of the best Indian war film of recent times, It is laced with wonderful performances, believable screenplay and above all some truly exhilarating moments. Yes it is true that the film does take a few ques from films like “The Great Escape” but the points taken are so marginal that we can safely call this film original. That in itself is a great achievement. The director is able to build and sustain a tense atmosphere which really makes the film better. There are multiple chase sequences which are not only tense but extremely affecting. We come to love and connect with the characters of the story and that in itself works wonders to extract tension and reactions from the audience.
Manoj Bajpayee leads from the front. He is authoritative in his essay but at the same time has a vulnerable side to him which makes his performance very real. I was bowled over by the chemistry between Manav Kaul and Deepak Dobriyal. These two are a revelation in this film. They play two Air Force officers in the midst of the Army men. They are men who have a different outlook towards their whole predicament. An outlook that is not necessarily serious but always funny. They add a sense of charm to an otherwise somber environment. Ravi Kishen has a smallish role but does well. Kumud Mishra is great. He has become so much more these days but to see him in that role was fun in itself. Piyush Mishra who co-wrote the film with Amrit Sagar is great as a Pakistani officer who is trying to track down the escaped prisoners. He is not always a villain. His dialog delivery and mannerisms are entertaining and stand out.
The action sequences are done with aplomb. Two elaborate chase sequences followed by the final run for the border are all executed clinically. The blasts, though a tad bit too large for the capacity of the explosives used, look breathtaking. The production design and the art work are great and leave room for no complaints. The background score and the music are apt for the occasion. The editing is slow in the beginning which is understandable as they had to establish the characters and allow them time to reach out to the audiences. But once the action begins, the cuts increase organically. That’s actually a good thing in this case. The cinematography lets you enjoys the wide vistas as well as give you the claustrophobic feel of being stuck in an enemy country. The hand to hand combats are done well too.
Overall, 1971 is a hidden gem. I recommend it highly if you haven’t seen it already. But do get into it knowing what it is. If you are willing to shrug off your Bollywood notion of what a film should be, chances are you will be bowled over by its honesty, superb performances and above all, the terrific story that it sets out to tell.
Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)