During the making of Priyadarshan’s recent damp squib Aakrosh, Ajay Devgn was quoted as saying, “How many of this generation would know about M.S. Sathyu’s Garm Hava and relate to it?" According to media reports, the star was making a case for the use of the title Garm Hava for the film which features him in the lead role. As it happened, director Priyadarshan settled on another second-hand name “Aakrosh" as the film’s title. Devgn may have spoken too soon about Garm Hava, which is considered as the finest film made on the subject of Partition of India.

Rebirth: A still from Garm Hava after restoration.

Kaifi Azmi wrote the screenplay for the film, along with Sathyu’s wife Shama Zaidi (who also did the costumes) and it is based on a story by Ismat Chugtai on the impact of politics on individuals. Centred around a Muslim family in Agra caught in the socio-political whirlwind of Partition in 1947, the film remains a cinematic milestone for its sensitive depiction of the turmoil leading to the biggest mass migration in the subcontinent, and has held its own against other later excellent films on the subject, such as Govind Nihalani’s Tamas, Pamela Rooks’ sensitive Train to Pakistan and Chandra Prakash Dwivedi’s Pinjar. The film was made memorable by Balraj Sahni’s performance— which was also his last appearance on the silver screen—as the protagonist Salim Mirza.

Subhash Chheda, a Mumbai-based film society activist and film historian, took up the restoration project. For Chedda—who has also bought the rights to many regional language films for home video distribution—this is a labour of love. “Restoration of a timeless classic is tricky. The integrity of the original has to be maintained while making it appealing to viewers attuned to current technologies," he says.

It is a lot of work. For instance, for image restoration, the damaged picture negative was cleaned to remove physical blemishes, following which every single frame—the whole film contains over 197,000—underwent a high-resolution scanning. An army of technicians then worked to remove flicker, dirt and dust injuries, and scratches and tears. Frames whose colours had faded were re-colourized and missing frames were recreated by comparing them with adjacent frames. For sound restoration, similarly, every single sound wave was enhanced and split into different tracks to sync it to international theatrical sound systems.

“The effort is to make this classic live for at least another 100 years, when hopefully a new generation will find new relevance to this masterpiece," says Chheda. “Taken at face value, it is a simple story of a proud, stoical man who refuses to give up his roots and identity even as the hot winds of communalism and religiosity threaten to uproot his family. You wonder how a film set in 1948, shot in 1973 and seen in 2010 will be relevant. However, this deceptively simple film, which has just one single scene of physical violence while depicting a very violent time, has a lot going into it than meets our eyes."

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