It is 1948. A little outpost on the newly formed India-Pakistan border is the site of the action in ‘Kya Dilli Kya Lahore. Samarth (Manu Rishi) is a cook attached to an Indian battalion. Rehmat (Vijay Raaz) is a Pakistani jawaan. They tangle and circle around each other tempers and voices are raised, Samarth is wounded. As the day and night wears on, the two men discover that they have more in common with each other than they thought. Kya Dilli, indeed, and kya Lahore.
There’s something about the film that reminds you of the Bosnian Oscar winner ‘No Man’s Land’, which was a poignant reminder of the futility of war, and the tragic waste of human lives. ‘Kya Dilli Kya Lahore’ had the potential to be as powerful, maybe more, because it is our story. So many people still remember Partition as if it was yesterday, and so many people have still have such strong familial connections on either side of the border.
Old-timers will also remember the crazy rumour that swept the two countries, still bloodied by the violence of Partition: that there was a ‘surang’ (tunnel) being dug between Delhi and Lahore, for attack on Pakistan. Rehmat’s senior officer dispatches him to find the blue-prints of the ‘surang’, and that’s how he arrives at the Indian post. Samarth used to live in Lahore, and moved to Delhi; Rehmat made the journey in reverse: both have shared memories of places they lived in, and the people they lived with.
There could be no better person than Gulzar to present this film, and many of the dialogues are lovely. But the film doesn’t make as much of its subject as it could have. It is static, and goes around in a loop. There is far too much talking that goes on between the two foes-turned-friends, and the background music is used far too much. There’s one little stretch where there is complete silence, and that’s when we feel the pain of the two men most intensely. But then they start jabbering and the mood dissipates.
Zutshi and Pradhan are ciphers but they are on briefly. Most of the screen time is split between Raaz and Rishi. They are both watchable, but single-tone. And that’s because the plot is so thin. This film could have been more.