M.S. Sathyu’s Garm Hawa (1974) is the very first Hindi film on the Partition of India within 25 years of the event. It has remained one of the immortal classics on the Partition of India.

And yet it almost never got made and even after it was made, we might never had had the opportunity of watching it.

M.S. Sathyu, who was by then known in theatre and film circles for his production design, art direction, submitted a script to the Film Finance Corporation (which later became the National Film Development Corporation). The script submitted by him to the FFC was rejected, so he handed in another one—a story about a Muslim family that chose to stay back in India after Partition in 1947 but was uprooted from within in the process.

Even by the financial budgets of films made in the 1970s, Garm Hawa was made practically on a shoe-string budget of Rs.10 lakhs of which FFC provided a loan of Rs.2.5 lakhs and Sathyu borrowed Rs.7.5 lakhs from his friends. He persuaded most of his cast and crew to work promising payment whenever able and since he had many friends in the Indian Peoples Theatre Association and the Progressive Writers Union, everyone came forward to help.

Even cinematographer Ishan Arya who made his debut with this film, came forward to join the production with some money he had earned from his ad films and theatre work. Sathyu managed to borrow a second hand Arriflex camera from his friend Homi Sethna.

One distinctive feature of the film is that this is the last film to bring together members of IPTA and PWA together in the making of Garm Hawa both in front and behind the camera. Young and veteran actors from the IPTA came forth to act in the film from Delhi, Bombay and Agra.

Farookh Sheikh who played the younger son of the protagonist Saleem Mirza and made his debut with this film, was a young actor with IPTA. A.K. Hangal who plays Saleem Mirza’s friend, was of the IPTA and so was Shaukat Azmi. Sheikh, who was 24 at the time, was promised a remuneration of Rs.750 which he was finally paid in full 15 years later.

Balraj Sahni, who portrayed the protagonist, was also a known Leftist and the only star of the film. He was paid the highest sum – Rs.5000. Writer Kaifi Azmi, of the PWA and IPTA, who wrote the dialogue, added to the screenplay his experiences of working with shoe-manufacturing workers in Kanpur.

Shama Zaidi, Sathyu’s wife, a noted screenplay writer of several Shyam Benegal films, based the script on a conversation she had with Ismat Chughtai, the Urdu novelist who had written extensively on Partition. Chughtai shared with Sathyu and Zaidi accounts of her family members, including an uncle who worked at a railway station and watched Muslim families gradually leave India in hopeful search of a better welcome across the border.

The couple showed the script to Kaifi Azmi, who wrote the dialogue and added to the screenplay his experience of working with shoe-manufacturing workers in Kanpur.

Garm Hawa (1974) was the first feature of M.S. Sathyu. It was the first film to deal with the human consequences resulting from the 1947 partition of India. This action, ordered by British Lord Mountbatten, split India into religious coalitions, with India remaining Hindi and the new country of Pakistan serving as a refuge for Muslims. Is ‘refuge’ the right word for Muslims who did not wish to leave? Would they be accepted socially and economically by the original residents of the newly formed Pakistan.

The story's protagonist Salim Mirza is a Muslim shoemaker and patriarch who does not want to relocate to Pakistan. There is the added element of a love story woven into this political narrative which adds greater meaning to the story and takes it to its dramatic climax.

The filmmaker's imaginative creation of use of light and framing added another dimension to the characters and their struggles. Salim is rendered helpless by the forces of this shift in attitude and in the sensitive and volatile political environment. But he stubbornly refuses to cross over to the other side because he considers India to be his home.

It is one of the best films on how Partition victimized the minority in India and what impact it had on human lives, lifestyles, ideology and economics.

The sad story is that the film’s release became a hurdle even before its release. The Mumbai office of the Central Board of Film Certification rejected the film, citing its potential to stir up communal trouble. Sathyu approached PM Indira Gandhi through his contacts.

Indira Gandhi ordered the film to be released without any cuts. But even she could not ensure a smooth theatrical release. “N.N. Sippy took up the film’s distribution, but he backed out when we showed the film at a festival ahead of its release,” Sathyu says. “I eventually approached a friend in Karnataka who owned a distribution company and a chain of cinemas, and he released the film first in Bangalore.”

Only then did other distributors step in to ensure that movie goers saw for themselves the tragedy of a Muslim family that opts for India over Pakistan. The Shiv Sena rising in power at the time, wished to watch the film and this was followed by other vested political groups too.

“We found that we were holding more private screenings for free for different groups than we could expect to earn from the ticket sales of the film” said Sathyu in an interview.

That is not the end of the story. Even after the release and the accolades became to come in including the acclaim at Cannes and the string of national awards, the story of Garm Hawa was hardly over. The prints of the film simply vanished into thin air. No VHS tapes or DVDs were made—surfacing occasionally on Doordarshan. But all that finally changed when a privately funded restoration process put back the wheels of restoration of the classic film to recreate history.

The process was started by Subhash Chheda, a Mumbai-based distributor who runs the DVD label Rudraa. Chheda approached Sathyu asking for permission to produce DVDs from the film’s negative. The negative had aged badly and was damaged in many places. The idea then took root of expanding the scope of the project—to re-release the film in theatres and re-introduce audiences to its sobering pleasures.

The picture and sound quality in the close to 200,000 frames that make up the movie were individually treated. The original negative was cleaned up, and the sound was digitally enhanced to suit the latest formats. According to reports, “The film was visually corrected in consultation with Sathyu,” Chheda says. “We have also upgraded the sound. Dolby digital, 5.1, whichever format is there, the film is now available. People should not feel that they are watching a dated film.”

The project, which cost 100 times more than the movie’s budget, was bankrolled by Pune-based developer R.D. Deshpanday, whose businesses includes Indikino Edutainment Pvt. Ltd. Indikino ploughed close to Rs 1 crore into the restoration, supporting its picture spruce-up by Filmlab in Mumbai and the sound quality improvement by Deluxe Laboratories in Los Angeles, US.

The rebirth of Garm Hava is the result of passion, doggedness, and deep pockets.