While many fine movies have addressed the disruptive forces of Partition, M.S. Sathyu's Garm hava ("hot wind") is almost unique in its focus on the experiences of Muslims. It is not by any stretch a cheery film - but there are some heartrending stories that nevertheless need to be told.
The Mirza family is divided in the aftermath of Partition. Though they have long made their home in Agra, the prospects for Muslims in post-Partition India are not encouraging, and some of the family want to start anew across the border in Pakistan. Halim Mirza (Dinanath Zutshi), once a political leader fiercely determined to preserve a Muslim presence in India, has finally given up and fled. This leaves his brother Salim (Balraj Sahni) as head of the household, looking after the family's shoemaking business and the haveli in which they live. The business is struggling - many of the workers have left India, and some Hindus refuse to do business with Salim. He cannot secure financing - lending to Salim is too risky, the bankers say, because other Muslims haven taken loans and disappeared across the border. Soon the family loses the haveli as well - its deed is in Halim's name, and because of his emigration the government claims the haveli as abandoned property.
As time goes on, the family's lot only worsens. Unwilling to join a shoemakers' demonstration in favor of a lucrative government tender, Salim is locked out of the tender when it is granted. Meanwhile, Salim's daughter Amina (Geeta Siddharth) nurses a heart broken by Partition. She is in love with Halim's son Kazim (Jamal Hashmi), who is arrested when he crosses the border back into India to marry her. Salim's son Sikandar (Farooq Shaikh), a recent graduate, cannot find work because of both anti-Muslim prejudice and the unstable economy, and becomes increasingly involved in politically radical activities. As the hardships mount, Salim and his wife (Shaukat Kaifi) consider joining Halim in Pakistan, but Agra is their home, and they are determined to stay as long as the dire circumstances will allow.
The repercussions of Partition through the Mirza family are like fault lines, cracks in firm earth resonating outward from a single point of thunderous impact. Though Garm hava traces each of these lines, it places the burden of all of them on Salim, and they are beautifully rendered in the sad creases of Balraj Sahni's face.
The Hindus who impede the Mirza family's efforts to right their economic ship are, for the most part, disembodied voices. A banker who refuses to lend, a landlord offering exorbitant and discriminatory rental terms, an employer advising Sikander to go find work in Pakistan "among your own kind" - all these are dehumanized forces denying the Mirza family an honorable livelihood. One of the few Hindus who is given a face, and some depth, is the wealthy businessman Ajmani (A.K. Hangal). Ajmani certainly takes advantage of the Mirza family's straits - he buys the haveli on the cheap after the government confiscates it - but he also shows ambivalence about doing so, and attempts to support the family in other ways. His personal kindness to them, however, does not outweigh the demands of business. The message may be that even Hindus who wish to extend a cordial hand to Muslims are constrained by the broader post-Partition climate. As a voice-over announces in the beginning of the film, "No one heeds the Gita; no one heeds the Koran" - and yet, the difference between these two texts both drives and limits the conduct of everyone in the new nation.
The visual style of the film is arresting - artfully framed scenes full of contrast and visual symbolism reminiscent of Satyajit Ray. Some of these scenes make use of the fine slits and shadows of the haveli's old purdah, which only the family's frail, aged matriarch still sits behind - the other women of the family move about the house freely among the men. The purdah itself represents the sharp line between the old and the new - the matriarch, too weak to leave the haveli much less flee India, cannot (or refuses to) fully fathom the depth of the changes wrought by Partition; on the other side of the curtain, the rest of the family struggles to adapt to them.
Garm hava also makes exquisite use of the beautiful monuments in and near Agra that were built by Muslims, such as the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri. The explicit citation of these Muslim contributions to Indian pride and history is unsubtle, and the film acknowledges it explicitly in one of Halim's fiery political speeches shown in flashback early in the film. But it does conjure a pointed image - the possibility of India completely empty of Muslims, with these grand, breathtaking monuments standing in mute or even mocking testimony to the memory of an erased people. The conclusion, in stark apposition to that image, must be that Muslims are too tightly woven into the fabric of India's history and greatness for there to be any sense or justice in driving them all out.