Stars: Faisal Khan, Aditya Pancholi, Priya Gill, Akshaye Khanna, Dara Singh, and Mink Singh
Director: Yogesh Bharadwaj
Border Hindustan Ka [The Border of India] furnishes a very good example of everything that has gone wrong with the Hindi film. There isn’t a truly captivating moment in the film, not even an iota of an idea that one could describe as faintly interesting much less compelling or original. The title is sufficiently indicative of the themes treated in the film: cross-border terrorism, nationalism, the partition of India, the dispute over Kashmir, and the manner in which Pakistan and India have drifted apart from each other over the course of the last six decades. In Hindi films, wherever there is the border, there is also the transgression of it, invariably through that thing called “love”.
One could, if one were charitably disposed, also describe Border Hindustan Ka as a film about life in the Indian army, though army life couldn’t be nearly as dull as this film. If one were prepared to be abundantly charitable, one could rescue Border Hindustan Ka as a film about Hindi films, as a wholly conscious spoof of Hindi film moments. But it beggars the imagination to suppose that the director of this pathetic film, which bores with its didacticism and mindless jingoism, could have been self-reflexive about his film. There is an abundant amount of sloganeering and hectoring in the film, with constant declamations about the desirability of loving one’s country and serving it in the spirit of the fauji (soldier). The film begins with discussion of a Pakistani plot to take Kashmir and raise aloft the Pakistani flag. Dilip Tahil plays a Pakistani army officer, Sarfaraz, who is determined to inflict defeat upon India. He breaks the news to his daughter Nargis (Priya Gill) that she will be married to Mubarak (Askshaye Khanna). Nargis’s grandmother, played by Dina Pathak, who was born in India, is keen on returning to her homeland for a visit, but her son will hearing nothing of it. However, now that Nargis is about to be married, she is able to extract from him the fulfillment of a promise he had made to her. Much like Simran (Kajol) in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, who successfully persuades her father to let her travel to Europe before her wedding, Nargis pleads with her father to let her take a trip to India with her grandmother. Having arrived in Delhi, they stay in Jamail Singh’s residence. As luck would have it, Jamail’s two sons, played by Faisal Khan and Aditya Pancholi, serve in the Indian army, but are now back home to take part in the festivities about to commence with their sister’s wedding. When Raj (Fasial Khan) and Nargis come face to face, nearly the entire story can at that moment be anticipated. History, pride, family honor, and nationalist feelings will all conspire — ultimately unsuccessfully — to keep the lovers apart. In Dilwale, Raj swore that he would not elope with Simran; here, too, though Nargis offers to stay back, fearful that her father will never permit her to return to India, Raj insists that his honor demands that he ask for her hand in marriage and that her father willingly comply with this request. Nargis returns to Pakistan; Raj and his brother, meanwhile, are also called to the border — as in the film Border — to resume duty.
A Pakistani jihadi, Jafar, captured by the Indian army is tortured, but he refuses to talk; astonishingly enough, he is then confronted with his twin. The two were apparently separated at birth; one became a Pakistani terrorist, another an Indian patriot. One must puzzle over the fact that the director apparently sees no need to reconcile the realist mode in which much of the film is cast with elements that are nothing short of preposterous. If twins surface in the most unlikely places in Hindi films [see, for example, Mera Saaya], they do so, perhaps, because twins represent the bifurcated halves of one’s self — and one’s other half one always come back to haunt oneself. The most virtuous can go astray, just as those who appear irredeemably evil are capable of becoming paragons of virtue. But back to the plot: posing as Jafar, the twin crosses the border and rejoins his terrorist group. His infiltration is successful, many jihadis are sent to their death; he even stumbles upon an elaborate plan where jihadis, joined by the Pakistani army, will attempt to liberate Kashmir from Indian rule. But in all this work, he has to give the ultimate qurbani (sacrifice) — his very life. He is found out and shot.
Nargis had been promised to Mubarak. When her father finds out that she is in love with a hated enemy, he issues instructions that Raj must be killed; he also attempts to expedite the marriage of Nargis and Mubarak. But Mubarak joins an increasing number of heroes who repudiate patriarchy and consider it chivalrous valor to allow a woman to exercise her choice. Though pained to learn moments before their marriage that Nargis is in love with Raj, Mubarak nonetheless decides that he can only honor his love for her by allowing her the freedom that she desires. He takes it as his task to deliver Nargis safely into Raj’s hands, much like Vanraj (Ajay Devgan) views it as his husbandly task to restore Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) to her beloved Samir (Salman Khan) in Hum Dil De Chukhe Sanam. Mubarak and Nargis flee the wedding and attempt to cross the border with the Pakistani army in hot pursuit of them. At this point, Border Hindustan Ka starts to look in every respect a “remake” of Gadar, another film that displays a similar if more refined sensibility.
With an eminently forgettable cast, the film is a relentless attack upon the cinematic sensibility. Everything in its offends, from Faisal Khan’s dull if not ridiculous acting to its jejune script. But these are not the most alarming features of the film. Border Hindustan Ka reeks of militaristic nationalism, and its easy celebration of army life turns it into an army recruitment film. Some viewers might be inclined to view it as offering a diametrically opposed point of view: the triumph of the love that Raj and Nargis have for each other appears to suggest that borders are porous, indeed that one can love across borders, and other viewers will be impressed by the rigors of army life. But cliches about how love knows no borders are, even as cliches, dull and lifeless. The film can have nothing to say, for instance, about the terrorism inflicted by the state, since it operates on the assumption that “terrorism” and “cross-border terrorism” are self-evident ideas, and that terrorism is perforce operated by extra-state agents. Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs are shown fighting alongside each other against jihadis, a striking testimony to the composite culture of India. This is all well and good. On this vision, however, it is impossible to conceive of the killings in Gujarat. Now is the time, then, to ask questions not only about border hindustan ka, but about the various borders being put up within India.