The Partition has long since been a subject for passionate film-making. But very few films can actually claim to have captured the horror objectively and well.
Gadar - Ek Prem Katha, for it's part, comes as a surprise -- because it is a fine mix of beautifully capturing what happened in 1947 in the first half, and completely blowing it out of proportion in the second.
The story begins with a united India, where Sakeena (Amisha Patel), a girl from a genteel, rich Muslim family, is studying at a convent school in Shimla. Tara Singh (Sunny Deol) is a truck driver who fetches supplies to the school. After a silly prank, a friendship develops between the two.
Then comes Partition. And Sakeena's family, headed by Ashraf Ali (Amrish Puri), departs amidst the riots for Lahore.
Sakeena gets left behind in the melee, and is found and sheltered by Tara. She goes on to change her religion and marries him. The couple have a son together and are happy.
After a good seven-odd years, Sakeena chances upon a picture of her father in the newspaper and realises that her family is alive and well.
This is the movie pre-intermission.
Since the film is so clearly divided into two, it deserves a review divided into two as well. So far, the story is amazingly realistic. The riots are portrayed objectively and without romanticising.
In fantastically constructed sets, we go back to an era most of us in time present can only imagine.
Just as Sakeena seemingly loses her family, declared killed on a train to Pakistan, Tara's family is also shown brutally massacred on a train that came from Pakistan.
Sakeena, as a lost child, totally shattered and bewildered with the goings-on, has strong colours of conviction. As does her gradual love for Tara, who loves her with all his heart, but still sees her as Madamji. There isn't a hint of typical filmi exaggeration so far.
The plot begins to shudder and shake with ominuous sounds when Ashraf Ali's plans for Sakeena are revealed -- that her marriage is something best forgotten, and that she ought to studiously concentrate on a political career, since his only heir, his son, was killed in the post-Partition riots.
Sakeena, of course, wants no part of it. She simply wants to go home to her husband and son. But her father tries to force her into a 'respectable' marriage with a Muslim. At this point, her husband arrives like an avenging angel to save her.
The climax is long drawn out, violently bloody, and totally unrealistic. While the family, along with Tara's faithful stooge Darmiyan Singh, are escaping on a train to Rajasthan, Ashraf Ali calls in the armed forces to stop them. How the mayor of Lahore could have had the powers to call out the Army and Air Force is anybody's guess.
And all forces combined cannot stop the train, which keeps running, it appears, on the sheer strength of Tara's determination. The outcome, as usual, is hunky-dory.
The film, however, has all the makings of every kind of appeal. Amisha Patel is simply brilliant in a tragic role that gets converted to a child-woman who has found her home with Tara. Her ability to emote, also her strong point in her one and only earlier film, Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai, have been given wider berth here, and she does it full justice.
Sunny Deol as the daft Jat is very convincing. But his tendency to portray himself as someone who is violent enough to kill with his blood-curdling yell is a bit much. All he does, at one point, is yell at a battalion of armed Pakistani soldiers, and they turn tail and run. Really!
Amrish Puri as a Pakistani India-hating fanatic is excellent, as usual.
There is enough front bench appeal in the second half of the film with Sunny Deol's anti-Pakistan, pro-Hindustan speeches for this film to sail smoothly in theatres across the country.
After Partition-based debacles like 1947 - Earth, Gadar - Ek Prem Katha comes close to being fantastic, even though it is overheated in bits. Not to miss, this.
The Story in Pictures
Gadar: Mutiny on the melody
Listen to the songs of Gadar
All you wanted to know about Gadar: Ek Prem Katha