MUMBAI — “Gadar: Ek Prem Katha” re-evokes patriotic sentiments even after 15 years. On Jun. 15, 2001, history was made with the release of the patriotic “Gadar: Ek Prem Katha” featuring Sunny Deol, Amisha Patel and Amrish Puri. Aamir Khan’s debut production “Lagaan” was released on the same day, making it a seeming clash of titans. But with all due respect to the accolades it won, it did only a fraction of the business of “Gadar.” In fact, “Gadar” remains the most watched film of the first decade of the millennium. Not even the Rs. 202-crore “3 Idiots” (2009) comes anywhere close.
Based on a love story that was set around the time of the Partition, the now-cult film was not a smooth ride initially, as distributors had refused to pay the quoted amount for the film’s distribution. “Gadar” became the highest-grossing film of those times, even breaking the long-held ‘90s record of “Hum Aapke Hain Koun!...,” which had already trounced “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” as the film that saw the maximum footfalls in the entire ‘90s.
For the Record
After adjusting box office figures for inflation, “Gadar: Ek Prem Katha,” at an estimated Rs. 287 crore, is one of Hindi cinema’s biggest-ever grossers. Director Anil Sharma told India-West: “Those were the days when the best theaters had their costliest tickets priced at Rs. 25. My film has joined the select ranks of ‘Mother India,’ ‘Mughal-E-Azam’ and ‘Sholay.’ As a film, it’s as fresh as it was then. Even today, a surge of sms-es and emails come from people discovering my film, or of them telling me that they are watching it for the 50th or even 70th time!”
Sharma feels that success on this scale is just divine blessings: “The film is timeless. In Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat, there were shows held round-the-clock on public demand. I have been told that 5,000 or more villagers would ride into small-towns on tractors and camp there outside the theatres!”
Sharma adds: “The management had to oblige them, so shows were held at 12 midnight and 3 a.m., and at 6 and 9 in the morning. A unique case was there in Bihar, where the people for the next show waited outside the theater, and the audience watching the show inside was refusing to come out, because, as soon as the film ended, they wanted to watch it again!”
“Over 100 million tickets have been sold during the worldwide theatrical run of my film,” claims Sharma. “That’s more than even ‘Titanic!’ It was also a stupendous success overseas. An interesting case was in Amsterdam where Pasha, a Pakistani exhibitor, owned a theater that ran only two single shows on Friday and Saturday for Hindi films. He ran my film daily for three weeks!”
Dismissing the mischievous campaigns by vested interests against the film, Sharma says that the effort to give the film a communal color failed miserably: “Manoj Desai, who runs Maratha Mandir in a Muslim-dominated area in Mumbai, was witness to an incident on the first day’s first show when we both went to gauge audience reaction. When Sunny delivers his famous lines on how India has more Muslims than Pakistan and how they all salute our Tricolor with ‘Hindustan Zindabad!’ the crowd went mad, and the entire auditorium reverberated to that slogan with many even standing on the seats!”
Sharma even remembers how almost 400,000 locals turned up at the Amritsar Railway Station in response to an advertisement for crowds for the sequence of the train coming in from Pakistan: “We had stated that anyone who wears a kurta-pyjama will be in the frame, and the stock of these garments in the town’s shops got exhausted! One old Sikh gentleman was banging his head on the platform and howling. When I told him, ‘Papaji, the shot is over!’ he looked up with tears in his eyes and said, ‘It was 50 years ago, when I was about 10, but what happened to me was exactly the way you have filmed it! A real train full of corpses had arrived, and it was as if everything was happening again!’”
“Gadar: Ek Prem Katha” was amazingly authentic in its detailing in costumes, makeup and sets.
“We took care to reproduce that era,” says Sharma. “Even the music and songs needed that authenticity and faithfulness to 1947. We were also very particular about the languages used by the characters.”
The springboard for the film, recalls Sharma, was a sub-plot for a magnum opus named “Kashmir” that Sharma was planning on the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits.
“Eighty percent of the script was ready, and Dilip Kumar was very excited about his character. Dharam-ji (Dharmendra) was also to be in the cast. I wanted a sub-plot about a love story between a Pandit boy and a Pakistani girl. My writer Shaktimaan told me about the real-life love story of Buta Singh, and that made me restless, a sure sign that something had touched by soul,” Sharma says.
The next day, to the writer’s consternation, Sharma told him that he was scrapping “Kashmir.”
Recalls Sharma: “I had always dreamt of making a film on the Partition (in which far more people died and were rendered homeless than during the Hiroshima holocaust), and I decided to set the story of India’s epic 'Ramayan' in that era. Ravan, the king of Lanka, abducts Sita deceitfully, and Ram goes to Lanka to get her back.”
Explains Sharma: “In my film, Ram’s son would tell his father to get back his mother. After the Kargil conflict, what better Lanka would I find than Pakistan? And that’s the reason why, at interval point, Amrish uses a ruse to take Sakina, played by Amisha, to Pakistan! The film was a modern depiction of an epic story that is deeply embedded in every Indian. It had to connect!”
Writer Shaktimaan, aka Jagdeep Raj Talwar, gives another take: “My parents as well as in-laws have been migrants during the trauma of the Partition. I wrote the film from deep inside my heart, as they have all told me so much about those times. Classic complete films are written as per the needs of the plot and sequences that arise naturally. We cannot be tied down by length. At 191 minutes running time, our interval point came almost at 115 minutes, but no one found a loose moment. Today, there are 115-minute films that cannot hold the audience!”
Revealing a point about the fiery lines in the film, the writer says that none of the dialogues were written to play to the gallery: “The lines flowed out of the situations — natural reflections of emotions within the characters’ hearts. Naturally such lines connect instantly with the audience, like Sunny’s line on being refused his visa, ‘Ek kagaz pe mohar nahin lagegi to kya Tara Singh Pakistan nahin jayega (If a paper is not stamped, will that prevent Tara Singh from going to Pakistan?’).”
Both Sharma and Shaktimaan had Deol and Puri as the first and only choices.
Says Deol: “Such was the force of Amrish-ji’s performance that he seemed to be Pakistan himself! When Anil narrated the subject, I found it very endearing. We set out to make a good film like anyone else and made a great one! I interpreted it as a romantic film, almost like Cinderella in its story. The action sequences in the climax and the larger-than-life aura had to be there, as cinema has to have that quality at the end of the day.”
“Gadar” was one of the earliest films to be made in a corporate fashion — even the spot-boy was paid by check! Composer Uttam Singh and lyricist Anand Bakshi went with the story’s needs to create moving tunes.
Says Deol, “That does not happen now in period films, and the music itself alienates us!”
Puri, Bakshi and Vivek Shauq are three key members who are not around today.
“Their absence has diluted our joy!” declares Sharma.