Play it again

In darkened cinema halls across the country, a post-Partition pain was prised open in 1973. It was MS Sathyu's Garam Hawa. And the cinematic moment that crystallised the howl of a bloodied nation was Salim Mirza (Balraj Sahni) staring vacantly at his young daughter Amina's body. The movie was powered as much by Sathyu's direction as by Sahni's acting. "Balraj had been through the suicide of his daughter Shabnam. I told him to react to Amina's body as if it was Shabnam lying lifeless in front of him. It was cruel but it was worth the effort," says Sathyu, 79.

The moving saga that dealt with the plight of Muslims in post-Partition India, however, was left to gather dust in archives, the film unavailable on television channels or home videos because of the bad quality of prints and soundtrack. Now 36 years after it was first released, the film will again hit theatres in August, thanks to the restoration work that is being undertaken, frame by frame, by 15 technicians at Cameo Studios in Pune.

"I am happy that a generation that is untouched by the severity of Partition will finally be able to see the movie," says Sathyu over a telephone conversation from the first Ahmedabad International Film Festival, where he is busy with the screening of his latest film, The Incompatible.

Meanwhile, Purab Gujar, CEO of the two-year-old Cameo Studios, is busy supervising his technicians who are scanning the negatives and removing the chemical stains on 40-odd prints. "I am honoured to undertake a project like Garam Hawa. The damage to the film is medium to high. Since it is a colour film, the composition structure is tough, and restoration work takes time," says 28-year-old Gujar, who has been working on the film for the past three weeks. They have also recently restored Chetan Anand's 60s hit Haqueequat. However, Sathyu rues the absence of a government body for restoring old films: "The National Film Archive of India lacks the kind of modern equipment that is needed to restore a badly damaged film like Garam Hawa. Moreover, it is mostly responsible for preservation of prints and not restoration."

Sathyu also laments the fact that most of his colleagues from the film are not around for the second release. "I will miss Balraj immensely. His profundity sort of immortalised the film. Others have also left me, especially Jalal Agha and AK Hangal. I am still going strong," laughs Sathyu.

But somewhere you sense an apprehension-and he agrees-about a Friday when Garam Hawa will be released once again.

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