War is a universal, though weary subject. But, if that war concerns India and Pakistan with frequent throwbacks to the scars left behind by Partition, then it lends itself to a story anytime in any genre. Add to that a first-time director known for his sensitive portrayals as an actor and it gets even more promising. However, sensitivity is a horse every artist wants to ride. Unfortunately, for director-actor Vijay Raaz, the ride turns out to be laborious, albeit for no fault of his own.
But, the good first. In a film driven by a love-hate relationship between past countrymen-turned-enemies, it would have been very easy to go overboard with the hyperbole and the decibel (think the Sunny Deol-starrer Gadar). Kya Dilli Kya Lahore scores superbly on that count.
Rehmat Ali (Raaz) and Samarth Shastri (Manu Rishi) are soldiers on opposite sides of the fence. The year is 1948 and the memory of Partition is still very fresh. Ali is forced by his superior officer to sneak across the border to the Indian checkpost to get the map of the tunnel that India was digging from Delhi to Lahore. Abstruse as that may sound today, it was a very real fear during the time.
Across the border, Ali finds the Indian outpost being manned by a lone Indian soldier — a bawarchi at that — and so starts a series of exchanges. First, verbal volleys are traded, then bullets, then both, and when the two men run out of swear words and ammo, tehzeeb and concern take over. Who lives where now and where did they live before the lines were drawn? As it turns out, Ali, now a Lahore resident, used to stay in the Chandni Chowk area of old Delhi. Ironically, Samarth used to stay in Lahore and is now a Delhi resident, post 1947.
As barbs turn into polite words, the sheer tragedy of it all unfolds. No decision taken for the “greater good” can compensate for uprooting someone and placing them somewhere else. A house is a physical construct, but the moon and the smells are not. Most of all, the trust is gone. Throughout the film, all four actors realise this at one point or the other, if only for bitterness and anger to override these emotions.
Raaz brings out the pathos beautifully in his role of Ali, the Pakistani soldier. At the same time, he also seems to direct himself best, yet unsure of directing others with the same conviction. In time, one suspects, that will go away and others will respond beautifully to his director’s vision. For this film, he relies on others — all equally adept actors — to deliver.
Rishi as the Indian soldier Samarth, is good, but sheds one tear too many. It is nice to see a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, but not someone who hollers at every given opportunity. Some would call it an emotional performance, others, like me, would call it plain overacting. Raj Zutshi as Barfi Singh and Vishwajeet Pradhan as the Pakistani captain too get their lines, but are somehow drowned out by the meaningless and misplaced background score.
Sandesh Shandilya, the man responsible for the music of Kya Dilli Kya Lahore — one can’t help but feel this — was trying his own narrative technique, one that went against the film. All the scenes where music plays a part would have worked much better without any music. In fact, some scenes would have even worked better without dialogues.
This is perhaps where Raaz went a little offtrack: the music and the unnecessary dialogues. Still, for a first-time director and a poignant story, Kya Dilli Kya Lahore deserves to be lauded for its sincerity and for Raaz’s understated acting.