The week’s major Hindi film title is on an over-the-top service. Bloody Daddy, starring Shahid Kapoor, will be premiered on June 9 for free on the JioCinema streaming platform. The only other release of note will be in cinemas. It’s 22 years old. It’s OTT too, in the original definition of the term.

Anil Sharma’s Gadar: Ek Prem Katha will be back in movie theatres on June 9. There are a few reasons why this hugely familiar blockbuster, which has been widely shown on television and is available on ZEE5, has made a comeback.

Gadar has undergone a restoration process to improve its picture and sound quality. The re-release serves as an advance marketing tool for the sequel, which will be out on August 11. Part one had Partition as its backdrop. Gadar 2 takes place during the 1971 Indo-Pak War.

Ameesha Patel and Sunny Deol in Gadar (2001). Courtesy Zee Networks.

Gadar was released on June 15, 2001, the same day as Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan. Both films pushed pop patriotism. Lagaan, led by Aamir Khan, used a cricket tournament to show Indians uniting against their British colonisers. While Lagaan emphasised inclusiveness and team spirit, Gadar openly identified its adversaries and unleased a one-man army named Sunny Deol on them.

Before Gadar, Anil Sharma made a string of films with explosive titles (Tahalka! Elaan-e-Jung!) in which daredevil heroes battled tyrants ruling fictitious realms. Sharma was served well by his ability to deliver the kind of star-studded, action-heavy and preposterous productions that stun audiences into submission despite indifferent performances and tacky production values.

The plot borrows elements from the legend of Boota Singh, the Sikh ex-soldier whose relationship with a Muslim woman ended in tragedy because of Partition.

In Gadar, Sunny Deol’s rustic truck driver Tara Singh saves the aristocratic Sakina (Ameesha Patel) from rioters. Tara’s family has been slaughtered on one of the trains bearing Hindus and Sikhs fleeing Pakistan.

Sunny Deol in Gadar (2001). Courtesy Zee Networks.

Tara is part of a mob attacking Muslims. But his blood-shot eyes turn a tender brown when he sees Sakina, whom he has previously met. Tara and Sakina marry and have a son. A few years later, Sakina’s father Ashraf (Amrish Puri) turns up to ruin their bliss.

While Tara was transformed overnight from vengeance seeker to love guru, Ashraf’s bug-eyed bigotry is attributed to the loss of social status and the murder of his son by rioters. But Ashraf is arguably a goner even before 1947. Is this what I get in return for supporting the Muslim League, he fumes. He is also rude to the Sikh policemen who herd his family to safety.

Ashraf’s villainy is heightened in Pakistan. He tricks Sakina into staying back in Lahore during a visit. Ashraf wants Sakina to leave Tara and her son and re-marry. Sakina’s copious weeping cannot melt his adamantine heart.

Dissatisfied with Tara’s resolve to convert to Islam, Ashraf tries to force Tara to declare “Hindustan murdabad” (Down with India) in a public square. Tara’s response is similar to Rajinikanth’s character in the Tamil film Baasha (1995): he wrests a water pump out of the ground with his fists.

Gadar isn’t for those who care about their eardrums or have someplace else to be. The run-time is 10 minutes short of three hours. It’s also not for viewers who want a sensitive, thoughtful portrayal of one of the most cataclysmic events in history.

Gadar’s pitch is best captured by Sunny Deol’s roar, which can shatter glass across the subcontinent. The honey-eyed hunk who meshes raw muscle with youthful bashfulness ably steers Gadar from one outrageously overwrought moment to the next.

Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001).

With Pakistan, Pakistanis and the Indian Muslims who supported Partition as its chief villains, Gadar’s re-release is strangely well-timed. The film is perfectly placed to exploit the fear-mongering over Muslims that has propelled The Kerala Story to an estimated Rs 220-crore box-office haul.

Several characters in Gadar conform to community stereotypes, from a Muslim man with six children to an assortment of wild-eyed fanatics ready to slay at the slightest provocation. The Muslims in Pakistan commit the first slaughter. We have taught Indians how to kill, a rioter brags.

Treachery is one of the film’s motifs. A straight line runs from Gadar’s Quislings to the Muslim characters in contemporary cinema who choose their faith over loyalty to India.

The film couches its themes in a sentiment commonly found in Partition movies: political machinations made monsters out of ordinary people. Tis the season for madness, says a movie dedicated to the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh survivors of Partition.

Manoj Punj’s Shaheed-e-Mohabbat Boota Singh does a better job of exploring the ethical dilemmas that were forced upon Partition victims. Tara’s hysterics, which result in what appears to be the entire Pakistani military on his trail, beggar belief. By contrast, Boota’s heroism is on a human scale. His rescue of Zainab is an economic transaction – he buys her from the men who want to possess her.

Zainab’s betrayal of Boota is blamed on family pressure. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s rendition of Ishq Ka Rutba plays over the end credits. India and Pakistan may be doomed to be sworn enemies for some filmmakers. But Khan’s music has no borders.

Shaheed-e-Mohabbat Boota Singh (1999).

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