In the first few minutes of Veer-Zaara (2004), you may think you are going to be watching a happy-go-lucky movie about boy and a girl who fall in love and live happily ever after. But that changes when the opening song is cut off suddenly with a gunshot.
The film is set against the backdrop of ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan. Since the partition of British India in 1947 and creation of India and Pakistan, the two have been involved in multiple wars as well as many border skirmishes and military stand-offs.
In the film, Zaara Haayat Khan (Preity Zinta), a Pakistani woman hailing from a rich political family of Lahore, travels to Kiratpur Sahib in India to fulfill the final wishes of her grandmother. She meets Indian Air Force pilot, Squadron Leader Veer Pratap Singh (Shah Rukh Khan). They fall in love, but she is engaged to marry and it taken back to Pakistan by her fiancé. Twenty-two years later, Saamiya Siddiqui (Rani Mukerji), an idealistic Pakistani lawyer, learns about Prisoner Number 786, who was jailed as Indian Intelligence RAW agent Rajesh Rathore but is actually Veer Pratap Singh. She meets with him to hear his story in an effort to get him freed.
The ongoing conflicts between Pakistan and India are difficult to understand on a personal level for someone who lives in the United States. But what stood out for me in Veer-Zaara - and is apparent in most Bollywood movies I've watched so far - is the pride of country and culture.
In the song "Aisa Desh Hai Mera" ("This is how my country is") Veer highlights all the wonderful things about his country - a sort of musical travelogue of the Indian landscape. Zaara eventually chimes in to say her country has many of the same features. The song concludes with a recognition that their countries may be more alike than different.
Near the end of the film, Veer delivers a speech which reflects these commonalities:
From the soil of this land comes the fragrance of my father's fields.
This burning sun reminds me of my Maati's cool buttermilk.
This rain brings along with it the swings of my seasons.
This winter fills me with the warmth of the fires of my Lohri
They say this is not your country then why does it feel like mine?
He says I am not like him, then why does he look like me?
The actual speech Veer delivers is longer and grander than this, but you get the drift (and should definitely watch the film!). At the conclusion of the trial, lawyer Zakir Ahmed (Anupam Kher) says to Saamiya:
I always thought that a country’s progress is measured by its judicial system. But now, I understand that the future of both these countries is in the hands of youngsters like you who do not measure humans as big-small, man-woman, Hindu-Muslim … Who don’t rake up bitter war memories of 1947-1965 and 1999 on every pretext. Who wish to address the future with the truth and only the truth. And there’s no stopping a country where truth prevails.
Here is "Aisa Desh Hai Mera".
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