Movie Review 'Kya Dilli Kya Lahore': A moving Manto-esque conversation between two faujis

Published May 3, 2014, 3:35 am IST
Updated Apr 1, 2019, 10:32 am IST
Cast: Vijay Raaz, Manu Rishi, Raj Zutshi, Vishwajeet Pradhan
Direction: Vijay Raaz
Rating: ***1/2
Barring a handful of writers and poets, this county and its neighbour haven’t really grieved the moment and aftermath of Partition. Everybody had to get on, so people picked up what remained of their families, property and willpower, quickly took political positions, stuck to their side of the story and directed loathing at the other, now across the border. Whenever the past was recalled, it was nostalgia about a utopian life where all lived happily together -- Eid-Diwali, Maulana-Pandit. That made the brutality of Partition even more numbing. Screams froze and stayed inside heads and images of busses and trains full of dead bodies didn't let many sleep in their new, cramped quarters. 
Kya Dilli Kya Lahore takes us back to the newly-formed Indo-Pak border in 1948 and lets us have the conversation we should have had then. It lets us grieve the loss and wail against the inhumanity of siyasat that wrenched people from their land and split them on the basis of their religion.
Samarth Pratap (Manu Rishi) is a cook with the Indian Army at a border post, and Rahmat Ali (Vijay Raaz) is a Pakistani soldier, part of a tukdi on a mission to seize the top secret file of a tunnel the Pakistanis think India has dug from Lal Quila to Lahore. Pakistani Army bosses believe the file lies at this pitiable post.
The soldiers at Samarth’s post haven’t returned from their patrol. He fears they may be dead and alerts his bosses through wireless. The Indian Army cook is now the only Indian soldier holding the post. He is a refugee. He moved to India from Lahore.
In a crossfire between the Pakistani and Indian soldiers, only Rahmat Ali and his captain are alive. The wounded captain can’t move. So he first orders, then insults and finally goads Rahmat Ali to go and get the file. Rahmat is a mohajir. He moved to Pakistan from Purani Delhi. 
Rahmat reaches the post and what transpires -- between a reluctant mohajir and a quaking cook -- is the conversation between two people, two nations that never took place. 
It begins with guns pointing at each other, shooting, even hurting the other -- with abuses, accusations, bullets. As tempers cool down, old connections emerge, brothers drop their arms and start taking one step at a time towards the other. Even here expectation is met with deceit, but it’s soon forgiven. Then others intervene, the guardians of the line, and stern positions get taken again. But no man can tear asunder the bond that has formed. 
Kya Dilli Kya Lahore is Vijay Raaz’s directorial debut and it is very impressive. Though the film's idea is borrowed from the Bosnian film No Man's Land, its screenplay has a heavy Hindustani heart. Raaz's direction is consistent and focused, his acting not so much. He begins controlled, in character, but soon his Rahmat Ali breaks into Vijay Raazi-sm where every sentence begins with “Abe” and ends with a rhetorical abuse. Manu Rishi is far superior.
The entire film is a conversation between the two men, with just two more characters appearing. It is beautifully sparse and keeps us more than just interested. We are involved. We begin the viewing cautiously, watching carefully to see if the Indian is a bad guy, or the Pakistani. The film allows our prejudice to take its course and then shows us our own idiocy, through the two other characters who appear.
Manu Rishi’s dialogue are lyrical reminiscences, with colloquium, names of people and places and pleasures we’ve forgotten. They bring alive an emotion, a sentiment that is mostly exploited by jingoistic films. Sample this:
Rahmat: "Ghar ki chaat pe chand aise nikalta tha jaise khaat pe aa girega. Lahore ke chand ne toh kabhi muh hi nahi lagaya." 
Samarth: "Chal, apne-apne chand badal lete hain."
This lilt, this delicate thread of past wrapped in a blank verse is very Gulzar-esque. He opens the film reciting a poem about lakerein (lines, borders). It sets the tone of the film and Raaz’s direction keeps it in that zone. 
We haven’t visited that zone in films. Only Manto’s stories live there. And now, Kya Dilli Kya Lahore.


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