Indian movie classic Garm Hava, which has been under restoration for the past few years, is finally ready and will be re-released on November 14. MS Sathyu’s acclaimed drama, released in 1974, is set in Agra in the post-Partition period. It traces the gradual disintegration of a Muslim family that has chosen to stay in India instead of moving to Pakistan.

Garm Hava will be shown in PVR Cinemas in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Pune for at least a week as part of the company's PVR Director’s Rare programming slot for independent and offbeat films.

The restoration of the film was funded by Pune-based property developer RD Deshpanday. The project started three years ago and cost upwards of Rs one crore. “We have been keen to put the film in theatres, but we needed to be sure about the technical upgradation, especially the sound quality,” Deshpanday said. “We have converted the sound from mono to surround, and it is finally ready. This is a very emotional and important movie. Common people are keen on watching it, and we should honour that expectation.”

Re-energising the classics

The move to restore re-release movie classics is very popular in many other parts of the world. But in India, several factors make it difficult to refurbish older productions. For instance, there could be multiple rights holder for a single title. Some producers and filmmakers are unable to see any immediate commercial benefits in conserving films and prefer to let a film rot away.

Of course, there are exceptions. The Bansal family of Kolkata, which funded several Satyajit Ray films, recently paid for their restoration and re-release in cinemas and on the film festival circuit. The National Film Development Corporation has also been touching up its productions for release on DVD.

In the case of Garm Hava, Sathyu has the rights to the negative, which simplified the process. “The film has a completely different look and feel now,” said the filmmaker. “I am eager to understand how it will be received.”

Funded by the Film Finance Corporation, which later became the NFDC, Garm Hava was part of the so-called Indian New Wave, forming part of the parallel cinema movement. This phase lasted from roughly the late sixties to the late eighties, and broadly referred to realistic films that explored social probelms such as the exploitation of the underclass, misogyny, caste discrimination and communal polarisation.

A collaboration on many levels

Garm Hava was a collaboration of several minds and hearts. Screenplay writer Shama Zaidi, who is married to Sathyu, based bits of the script on conversations with Urdu novelist Ismat Chughtai. Lyricist Kaifi Azmi wrote the dialogue and brought in his own experiences with shoe-factory workers in Kanpur. The story was initially titled Wahaan, and it was given a Rs 7.5 lakh grant by the Film Finance Corporation. Sathyu borrowed Rs 2.5 lakh to complete the movie.

The movie that was destined to become a classic nearly didn’t make it to the cinemas. Garm Hava was initially refused a screening certificate by the Mumbai office of the Central Board of Film Certification. It was finally released in 1974 in Bangalore, and then in other cities.

Apart from Balraj Sahni’s career-best performance as the family patriarch Salim Mirza, Garm Hava boasts of memorable turns from Geeta Kak, Jalal Agha, Shaukat Azmi, and Farooque Sheikh (in his first screen role). Garm Hava’s examination of the identity issues that have plagued Muslims in India since Independence remains as relevant as they were back in the seventies.

Sathyu is curious about what present-day audiences will make of the storytelling style. “I hope Garm Hava will be acceptable because this kind of film is not being made today,” said the 83-year-old director. “It is a totally different genre, and I wonder if that kind of old-fashioned narrative will work for modern audiences who have gotten used to all this bang-bang stuff?”