GADAR: EK PREM KATHA (2001)

Ameesha Patel and Sunny Deol in a still
  • Release Date: 15/06/2001
  • Cast: Sunny Deol, Amrish Puri, Ameesha Patel
  • Director: Anil Sharma
  • Writer: Shaktimaan

Appreciating the masterful emotional and dramatic manipulations that soar Gadar to the skies

— Ambar Chatterjee

My first tryst with Gadar: Ek Prem Katha was in late 2001 or early 2002 when I received a VCD of it along with the new PC that my father brought for me. Over the years I would go on to watch the film numerous times and appreciate its many aspects without even understanding why I was enjoying certain things about it so much. As I delved deeper into cinema, I came to appreciate the film even more. This was not only for the film’s unabashed storytelling and ability to tap into the raw emotions of the characters and the situations but also for remaining honest to itself and not trying to include forced angles of pseudo-secularism and pseudo-liberalism that were so prevalent in the 80s and the 90s Bollywood.

The story of Gadar is inspired by one of the great tragic romances of the partition era —The legend of Boota Singh and Zainab. Boota Singh was a soldier in the British Indian Army who rescued Zainab from the brutal riots that broke out during the partition of India and Pakistan. The two fell in love, got married, and had a daughter. Tragically, Zainab was deported to Pakistan and Boota followed her there. Boota was subsequently thwarted by Zainab’s family who refused to accept the relationship and after much hue and cry, even Zainab surrendered to the whims of her family members. Boota was so distraught at losing the love of his life that he committed suicide by jumping in front of a train at Shahdara station in Pakistan. The story of Boota and Zainab is mentioned in “Freedom at Midnight” by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.

The story of Gadar somewhat follows the legend of Boota Singh and Zainab but with one little change. The protagonist of the story, Tara Singh (Sunny Deol) is no ordinary man and has the physical strength of 10 bulls. He would not stop until he has rescued his wife from the clasp of her parents and brought her back to India. In doing so he not only kills numerous Pakistani soldiers and police officers but also proves every step of the way what a dedicated husband and father can achieve when his greatest fear is losing his wife and the love of his life. While Tara is nearly superhuman in his actions and thoughts, I for once was permanently hooked to the larger-than-life achievements of the man and reveled in the fact that Boota Singh’s love story ended with such a thunderous roar even if it was in a fictional world. I would have loved this fiction to be true.  

Love is the most precious and important commodity in the world today and it justifies the hardest of battles fought for it. When love wins there isn’t a better payoff than that. This is the primary reason that made Gadar such an enduring classic. This is why it still inspires and sometimes haunts its viewers with its storytelling. The film is essentially about romantic love but it shows various facets of love through the many relationships and tragedies of the different characters. By doing this it also draws our attention to the all-encompassing nature of love and why it is a feeling that blesses just as much as it burns. While Gadar is primarily looked upon as a whirlwind action-packed romantic adventure, I love the film for some of its masterful emotional manipulations that it pulls off using visual, emotional, and dramatic cues. In this piece, I would like to draw my reader’s attention to some of these moments and how they lead to a compounded impact that rendered these moments extraordinarily. 

“Hindustaniyo Katna Humse Sikho”

After the time frame of the film is set up, the first major emotional jolt comes in the form of the death of a Sikh family at the hands of the Pakistani rioters. The men and older women are killed while the young girls are brutally raped to death. All this happens inside a train that is on its way to Amritsar. When this train reaches Amritsar, we see Tara Singh waiting for his loved ones. As the train pulls into the platform, Tara and a host of others realize that everyone on the train is dead. The camera closes in on Tara’s eyes and documents him reading what is written on the walls of the train in blood. “Hindustaniyo Katna humse sikho (Indians!…learn how to decapitate from us)”. As he reads the line, we see the expression in his eyes change and in the very next cut, we see him unleashing hell on a host of Muslim travelers at the very same station forgetting the difference between men, women, and children. There couldn’t have been a starker and more appropriate introduction for a protagonist like Tara Singh in a film like Gadar.

“Lo! Ab ye ho gayi Sikhni” 

Sakeena (Ameesha Patel) is left behind at the station after she gets separated from her family during their attempts to get to Pakistan. By the time she comes to her senses, it is already night. She is soon discovered by a mob that then chases her to get their hands on her. She ends up running into Tara Singh. The two knew each other from before and Tara decides to defend her. The rioters are hell-bent on getting her and they sight her religion as the primary reason for their animosity. Tara, in a moment of heightened emotion, symbolically puts his blood on her pate symbolizing that she was now married to him and was not a Muslim anymore but a Sikh. While this may feel corny and over-the-top, this scene assumes a lot more emotional weight when moments later, Tara tells Sakeena that he did what he did only to save her life and that he knew well that no matter how hard he tried, he could never touch the moon. To him, she was as elusive and pristine as the distant moon. The expressions on the faces of the actors when this dialogue is unfolding make this scene extremely special. There is nothing as good as “goodness” in this world and this scene signifies that very fact.

“Yada Teriyan Audiya Ne”

After Sakeena learns that her parents might have been killed by rioters in Atari, she attempts to commit suicide. Tara saves her, brings her home, and then tells her how his entire family got butchered while traveling to Amritsar. He tells her that, no matter how hard one’s life may get, it is essential to live on. As the two sit pondering on what they had lost, we see Tara take out a picture of his family and clasp it firmly. This happens with the track “Yada Teriyan Audiya ne” playing in the background. This sequence lasts a few seconds but the compounded impact of the haunting score, the performances of the actors, and the sheer tragic weight of the predicament of the characters make it one of the most haunting and memorable scenes to have ever graced a commercial Bollywood film.

“Hindustan Zindabad”  

This will rank as one of the most overtly patriotic scenes in the history of Bollywood. Sakeena’s father, Ashraf Ali (played by Amrish Puri) forces Tara Singh to convert to Islam and stay back in Pakistan if he wanted his wife back. Tara Agrees but to prove to the people of Pakistan that he can be trusted, Ashraf Ali asks him to say — “Hindustan Murdabad (death to India)”. Tara bursts out into his trademark outburst and instead shouts “Hindustan Zindabad” (Long Live India) with never seen before vigor. He is seconded by his wife Sakeena and kid Jeete. Every time I watch this scene it gives me goosebumps and fills me up with such patriotic fervor that I find very hard to put down in words. You need to experience it to understand its raw power.

Pakistan Police faces the wrath of Tara Singh

Tara is on the run with his wife and child from the Pakistan police and there comes a time when he is cornered in a forest at night by the police. The police are innumerable and they are after him with weapons and flashlights. They expect him to hide or run but instead, Tara pounces on the “Daroga” and decapitates him with his own sword. Then he lets loose such a roar that resonates through the forest and fills the police up with such fear that they tuck tail and run. This is another scene that has to be experienced to comprehend its impact. Its power and quality can never be quantified with written words.

Final Words

Gadar: Ek Prem Katha was a massive hit and remains one of the biggest hits in Indian cinema to date. It was released along with Lagaan and yet carved out a bigger niche for itself than Lagaan. It will not be wrong to say that a film of this nature may never be made again. While it is perpetually lost to the generation that came after 2000, I feel that anyone interested in Indian cinema and how emotional manipulation can be used to elevate scenes and action needs to watch this film and appreciate it for its craft. This is also a film that teaches filmmakers to be unabashed and never to surrender cinema and entertainment to propaganda and agenda. Gadar’s documentation of the horrors of partitions is also an important reminder for every Indian, especially now when we are celebrating our 75th Independence day.

Rating: 5/5 (5 out of 5 Stars)             

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