If you are clueless about the 1971 war, here's a quick history lesson. In 1971, the Indian Army had overrun the erstwhile East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and taken 93,000 POWs (Prisoners-Of-War). In 1972, Indira Gandhi signed the Simla accord with then Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and released the Pakistani POWs. So did Pakistan, but the families of Indian soldiers claim that Pakistan did not release all the Indian soldiers. Juxtapose this against the grim reality of the Pakistani government denying the very existence of these PoWs, and you have 1971.
The story: The Pakistani Army shoves all Indian PoWs into various Pakistani jails and then transfers them to a secret location in the mountainous terrain of Pakistan to tackle international pressure. The Indian POWs, after having confronted trench warfare, and hellish agony, must face the reality that no one even knows they are still alive.
There is a considerable improvement in the living conditions of the prisoner camp. This raises hope in the minds of some, but six of them, led by Major Suraj Singh (Manoj Bajpai), are convinced that some kind of diabolic design is at work.
They chalk out the most daring escape from the camp to reach the Indian borders to alert the Indian authorities of their findings. What ensues is a mind-boggling chase in the hilly terrains and the snow-capped mountains, where these men brave out inhuman weather and the constant threat of the Pakistani officials.
An atmosphere of logical irrationality pervades the entire description of the life of the POWs, and, indeed, the entire film. The combination of brute force, sound stratagem, undying patriotism and counter espionage is the film’s primary motif. Among other things, 1971 is a critique of bureaucratic operation and reasoning.
The salient trait of the movie is the attention to the mise en scene. From the army uniforms, the grenades, guns and bullets, and the ID cards, to the haggard and careworn look of the POWs, details like what films were playing at that time, and the court martial drama as counter espionage by these six men; everything is perfect and veridical. There's this one shot where Lt.Ram takes off the projecting shrapnel of a hand grenade before he dies. The camera tilts just a touch, leaving the viewer with a wonderfully framed scene.
Manoj Bajpai delivers, and delivers in style. And can Ravi Kishan act! Kumud Mishra is glorious. Manav Kaul, as Flight Lt. Ram, stands out in a sterling job too, but the real revelation is Deepak Dobriyal, who, as Flight Lt. Gurtu, deserves all the hype. And the shrewd Pakistani Major in blue uniform with his facile dialogue delivery seems to portray one of the Pakistani leaders of the present generation.
The film has its bits of lighter moments, too. Sample this:
Flight Lt. Gurtu: “Pakistan mein Sikh Mussalmaan Punjabi sab rehthe hain tho Pakistan bana hi kyun?”
Flight Lt. Ram: “Teekh hai, aage se nahi banaaenge.”
This one subtly brings out a debate on the creation of Pakistan itself. Undoubtedly, history has left behind an indelible scar, and the perpetual danger of a hostile neighbourhood.
The music sticks to the realistic element of the film, with the background score being very detailed and perpetual. The action sequences and chases look quite real, helped in no small measure by the top-notch performances. And the build-up to the climax is wonderful. The story, however, is the real winner.
1971 resembles no other war film ever made. As a testimony to the patriotic fervor and sacrifice of our fauji, it is almost a classic.