Unlike most Bollywood war movies, “1971” is not about valour and heroics in the battlefield. It rather centres round a group of Indian PoWs' deep yearning to escape to their homeland from Pakistan.
The low-budget flick made in 2007 takes us to Chaklala prison camp back in 1977, six years after dozens of Indian military personnel were captured in Pakistan territory during the 1971 war. As one of them, Major Suraj Singh (played by Manoj Bajpai) is taken to a Pak army officer's chamber for grilling on a failed escape attempt, you can clearly see the grief and frustration in his tear-filled eyes. For refusing to disclose the names of his aides, Suraj is sent to barrack-6 as punishment. Moments later, a dejected Suraj is seen sitting on the floor, as other inmates -- all of whom have lost their sanity –- do crazy things inside the barrack.
The next day, more Indian prisoners of war are brought in to the camp from various Pak prisons – a dubious step Gen Ziaul Haque-led govt takes to make sure that the representatives of Red Cross and human rights bodies don't find any of the prisoners of war.
It didn't take much long for Suraj and his five fellow prisoners to find out the reason behind their relocation to the camp from Pak prisons. Sensing that they are close to the Indian border, they decide to make an escape attempt, even if it costs them their lives.
The next segment of the film involves their arduous preparation for the escape on the Pakistan's Independence Day, when everyone will be busy in celebration.
But things don't go the way they plan, and leave Subedar Ahmed with no other choice but to sacrifice his life to help his five fellow prisoners escape the camp. He locks himself inside the ammunition room. He primes a grenade and thinks of his old mother, wife and daughter, whom he had not seen. The room goes up in flames.
From then on, you embark on a thrilling journey that eventually ends in tragedy. One by one, all five escapees perish in their desperate attempts to make it to the Indian border.
Once you get to the end of the movie, you will probably feel a sense of sadness for “1971” doesn't have a happy ending like most Bollywood films. It leaves you numb with some moving scenes –take for example the one in which flight lieutenant Ram, being shot by Pak soldiers, rams his jeep into colonel Shakoor's vehicle and then blows up the jeep with a grenade to prevent the Pak soldiers from locating Suraj and Gurtu.
Another moving shot was Pak soldiers dragging the body of Suraj into the Pak territory from the Line of Control.
Director Amrit Sagar chose a very thorny subject that most would avoid for making a debut in Bollywood. But his gamble paid off and the film won National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi in 2007.
For those who are still trying to figure out what happened to the missing Indian soldiers, this movie deals with only a few pieces of the puzzle, leaving most questions unanswered.