The conflict between India and Pakistan has been the subject of many popular movies in Hindi cinema (Bollywood). Both in India and Pakistan, the mainstream movies' discourse is based on the construction of hatred for the 'other', so as to glorify patriotism and add a sense of national superiority. Few movies have dealt with the human side of this cross-border conflict that has been raging on since 1947. It’s for this reason that Kya Dilli Kya Lahore (What is Dilli What is Lahore), presented by renowned Indian lyricist and writer Gulzar (Sampooran Singh Kalra) and directed by Vijay Raaj, comes across as a breath of fresh air.
How easy is it to picture camaraderie between a Pakistani soldier and a cook in the Indian army? Was it impossible in the immediate war-dominated scenario of 1948, that followed the partition of the Indian sub-continent into India and Pakistan? The movie builds upon a conversation that these two individuals have, while they are fighting for their own country. Samarth Pratap Shastri (Manu Rishi) is a cook in the Indian army, left to guard an army outpost all alone at the height of war. On the other side, you have Rehmat Ali (Vijay Raaj), a young, newly inducted soldier in Pakistan’s army sent by a senior, to get a hold of a confidential security document from the Indian camp. Hesitant as he is, Rehmat proceeds towards the Indian side, only to meet Samarth at the isolated outpost situated in difficult terrain. What follows thereafter are conversations that are not only funny, but also heart-wrenchingly emotional.
As Rehmat and Samarth talk, they predictably blame each other for the mess created due to the partition. At this point in time, the murdering of innocent people, mayhem, destruction, and severing of relationships that had survived peacefully through centuries, had become unfortunately common. We learn that Rehmat belonged to Delhi before being forced to move to Lahore after the partition, and Samarth had his roots in Lahore, before he moved to Delhi.
The mass movement of Hindus to northern and central parts of India, along with that of Muslims to what was now Pakistan, resulted in many people leaving their homes, cities, and their loved ones far away, to never return. Both Rehmat and Samarth begin their relationship with distrust, a sentiment that many Indians and Pakistanis know very well. In the beginning, as they talk to each other through the lens of ‘otherness’ and ‘hostility’, a wall of antagonism separates them (only after some time in the film, do they finally face each other, before continuing to converse through a barrier of distrust, in the typical Punjabi dialect).
The most poignant scene of the film, is when the two men remember their old houses: Rehmat gets emotional, as he shares his love for Delhi and the narrow by-lanes of Chandani Chowk, while Samarth remembers the Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore, where he once lived with his family and Muslim neighbours. To both of them, Delhi and Lahore were once home, and the displacement caused by the partition has affected them immensely. Both cannot come to terms with the fact that they had to leave their beloved city and friends to settle for a new life across the border. It’s a fact that prior to the partition, Delhi was home to many Muslims, and Lahore was inhabited by Hindus. The loss of one’s home is evident from the teary-eyed faces of both Rehmat and Samarth, something that most people who experienced the partition can relate to.
As the film progresses, the unthinkable becomes a reality. An Indian and a Pakistani start to recognize the human inside of the ‘other’, slowly breaking down the hatred and animosity. At one point, Samarth even makes ‘aloo paratha’ (a sub-continental dish) for Rehmat and, as both of them share their lives over a meal, borders become insignificant. A gradual realization creeps in among them: this conflict is a creation of one-upmanship and self-serving leaders, who care the least for the sufferings of people on both sides. Rehmat and Samarth become friends, who realize and fear that they will be labelled as ‘traitors’, because the last thing that one expects from a soldier is friendship with the ‘enemy’, whom he is supposed to destroy. They sense that their nationalism will be questioned and their loyalty doubted. In fact, both of them are repeatedly cornered by their senior officials for being ‘refugees’ whose loyalty is now suspect, as their heart beats for the ‘other’ side.
The film is filled with heart touching moments of the friendship that develops between two people, who fought on opposite sides of the border and begin to realize the special bond through which they are connected to each other. Rehmat starts referring to Samarth as ‘bhaijaan’ (brother), and in the same way Samarth also acknowledges the special place that Rehmat has made in his life, in a very short time.
One can view this movie from a soldier’s perspective. While the duty of a soldier is to serve one’s country in defence against its enemies, he / she is, in the end, a common person who longs for his / her familyand wants to lead a normal and peaceful life. War and conflict have a damaging impact on a soldier’s psyche and the movie lets the audience come face to face with the human side these soldiers. Rehmat and Samarth become friends after a very short period of time, under extremely trying circumstances. In the end, they prove to be worthy friends divided by the border, but united by hearts that don’t succumb to man-made divisions.
The climax scene is a reinforcement of their unspoken, yet deep, pure friendship and love for each other. Kya Dilli Kya Lahore highlights the spirit of this friendship where there is more in common that can bring people together, as opposed to keeping them apart. Because once upon a time, the cities of Dilli (Delhi) and Lahore were a symbol of sub-continental unity. Today, even as they belong to different countries, they remain very much similar in character, spirit, and love for the one who is on the other side of the border.
Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar is an independent researcher based in Ahmedabad, India. She has a Ph.D in Political Science from The M.S. University of Baroda, Gujarat. She is interested in research on young people in peace building, the role of religion in peace building, and counter-narratives to mainstream Indian secularism in the digital space. She is a team member with Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein, which works to promote peace between India and Pakistan. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Nidhi Shendurnikar and published on 22-March-2017