Gadar starts with a shot of an empty and broad road. It is 1947, and a bond has been signed that divides India into India and Pakistan. The road seems to symbolize an uncertain, but not necessarily limited future. Perhaps the countries and their people have similar paths ahead, and share the same road all together.
The rest of the first two reels of the film are very intense and full of brutal violence. There is a scene in Pakistan of Muslims attacking Hindis on a train with machetes. It evokes the same feelings as a film like Schindler's List or Hotel Rawanda. Its realism makes you quiver, even if you didn't know these events actually happened. When the train, full of bloody dead bodies, pulls into the station in India, it is a very sad and intense moment. This is very effective filmmaking.
Next, we meet Sakina's family, wealthy Muslims trying to escape from a revengeful Hindi mob. While Sakina is being separated from her family, the shrieking and crying, coupled with the loud and intense music, is hard to watch. The angst and pain that was surely felt during these historic events is captured very well within these first scenes of Gadar. The first fifteen minutes are relentlessly suspenseful. After the film's title finally runs, Sakina, with her face covered in blood, pulls herself out from under the lifeless bodies at the train station. This is the first bit of relief from the devastation that has made up the film so far. From here forward, though, the film takes a decidedly different turn.
“Directed by Anil Sharma” dramatically flashes across the screen, and the film takes viewers back to a much simpler time. At first, it is a bit unclear that the film has even made this transition into the past, but before too long, you pick up on it. Tara, a Hindi, and Sakina meet at the university and this glimpse of the past takes on a light-heartedness quite different from the film's beginning. This part of the film is often visually arresting and gorgeous, such as the scene with everyone singing and spinning around on the small ferris wheel. The colorful garments and nature make for some beautiful imagery in these happy times, before the Partition of India.
The viewer is then brought back to 1947, still a time of turmoil. There are more very effective and sad scenes, such as when Tara is catching up with Sakina, and tells her “that jovial Tara who had everything” has been left with nothing. He has seen his parents murdered and cremated in front of him, and has lost his sisters. These conversations are very powerful, with intense close-up shots that really make you feel for the characters. Another scene that makes a viewer sympathize with these characters' intense pain is when Sakina finds her father's bloody watch amongst the belongings of the deceased at the train station. The film flashes back to Sakina and her family playing the piano and singing, and the shot zooms into her face. As her, her mother, father, and siblings sing the phrase “what will be will be” and her father plays with the watch, the scene is juxtaposed with her at the train station. The editing and acting really do a great job of instilling a sense of loss and devastation in the viewer. The next scene, in which Sakina tries to run and jump in front of the train, is also extremely well-edited and intense. These moments of powerful emotion that the film is able to provoke are its strong points.
Tara, a and Sakina then begin to fall in love again. In what seems like a flash, they get married and have a son. Sakina comes to find out that her family is still alive, and upon returning to visit them, they do not want her to be with her Hindi family and they attempt to keep her with them. The rest of the film finds Tara and Sakina desperately trying to reunite, by any means necessary.
I am very critical of this film, but it is because I felt like it had the potential to be a masterpiece. The beginning was brilliant, and there are great moments throughout. But I felt that there were glaring faults and contradictions that kept Gadar from reaching its true potential.
The film was too long. It included many scenes that did not contribute to the narrative and several actually detracted from it. Immediately following the opening scene, which was so full of arresting and realistic violence, Tara pulls up to the university, and finds that his friend has been sleeping in the back of the truck with the hens. In trying to explain himself, his friend begins hitting his arms up against the roof of the truck while over-the-top sound effects play. It is certainly a bit off-putting for the tone of the film to change so dramatically to this slapstick humor. Perhaps it is designed to make the viewer feel how dramatically different life was before the division. Nonetheless, the cheap humor does not fit, especially so soon after such somber scenes.
During another early scene, in which Tara is first being introduced to the viewer, he has the following conversation with a woman:
Tara asks, “Greetings. What's the matter, you are looking dull?”
“I am ill.”
“Are you all right now?”
“Get me a glass of water and take the things out of the truck.”
“Should I unload first or get you water?”
“Have you no brains? It will take you two hours to unload. Should I remain thirsty till then? Go get water first.”
Perhaps something is being lost in translation, but this seems a poor introduction to the film's protagonist. He comes off as rude, selfish, and lazy in this scene but this is not how he is portrayed throughout the rest of the film.
Tara and Sakina's relationship often symbolizes the commonality of all the people of India and Pakistan, regardless of religion. “Come home, oh foreigner, for your life and my life are one” is the chorus of the song that is repeated throughout the film. As characters, Tara and Sakina encapsulate this oneness pretty well. They even seem to share memories at certain parts. But as a film, the unity that Gadar wants to represent is clouded by its obvious biases. In the beginning scenes, the viewer is seeing atrocities committed against Muslims and Hindis and Sikhs. The point of putting these scenes side by side would seem to be to portray the similarities of the people's hardships. However, before showing the plight of Sakina's Muslim family, the narrator says “And even those who caused this communal violence couldn't escape from it.” The father, and the Pakistanis in general, are portrayed negatively throughout. For a film attempting to show how everyone is equal, it certainly is hard on Muslims.
My biggest criticism of the film has to be the gratuitous use of stylized violence after a perfectly realistic beginning. The fight scenes become very over-the-top. Tara can be seen, on a few occasions, launching multiple men in different directions, across rooms and into cows. There are chase scenes with cars being rammed into and exploding high into the air. Helicopters crash into trains. One particularly climactic moment, when Sakina's father is trying to get Tara to denounce his religion, is perfect for a powerful speech. Instead, Tara pulls a sink out of the ground, beats everyone with it, stabs one guy with it, and then just walks away. Such scenes belong in a worse film. Indeed, Gadar feels like a brilliant and thoughtful film, with a cheesy action film interspersed throughout. A family member of Sakina's quotes Ghandi at the end of Gadar, “Nonviolence is the greatest religion. Non-violence is the greatest religion.” This line seems out of place following such glorified bloodshed, but perhaps this juxtaposition was purposeful. Regardless, the final line would have been more effective had the silly action not been so prolonged. Gadar could be edited into a truly great film.