Hope Dies Last in War



Pusan International Film Festival

BUSAN, South Korea -- Supriyo Sen's POW documentary "Hope Dies Last in War" focuses on a single, incredible fact: The two-week Indo-Pakistani conflict of 1971 left dozens of Indian prisoners of war unaccounted for and presumed to be in Pakistani detention. This intermittently eye-opening, personal film revolves around a group of POWs that are often overlooked, if not outright forgotten, overshadowed by more high-profile or current soldiers in the same situation.

There's a narrow market for this film beyond documentary and human rights festivals. In addition, the film lacks the visual flair that could lift it beyond its public broadcasting tone.

When the dust settled in late 1971, Bangladesh gained independence and India captured upward of 100,000 military personnel and civilians at the time of Pakistan's surrender. These were eventually released, but their Indian counterparts -- 51 to be exact -- remain in custody to this day.

"Hope" follows the families of several officers as they continually lobby the Pakistani and Indian governments for the release of their loved ones. Among the families in the film are Vipul, son of flight lieutenant Manohar Purohit; Dolly, daughter of first lieutenant R.M. Advani; and Damayanti, wife of officer Vijay Vasant Tambay, to whom she was married only a year before the war.

They and scores of others wait at the border, sign petitions, then repeat the process. Each tells his or her story without overwhelming sentiment, as if the sheer amount of time passed has dulled the pain caused by the absence of fathers, brothers, and husbands. Particularly moving is Damayanti's story. A virtual newlywed when her husband Vijay disappeared, she has been living in limbo for 30 years, with absolutely no closure.

"Hope's" biggest problem is its lack of opposing views: The Pakistani side of the story is never truly addressed. That's consistent, however, with the film's overall apolitical tone with little mentions of war's major players, Indira Gandhi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Yahya Khan, or even the background to that conflict. Sen's point is to illuminate how the POWs' families have dealt with their absences and the lack of answers for more than three decades. Although the film may be pedestrian in its presentation, there is something to be said for its utter lack of flash.

Hope Dies Last in War
A Perspective production
Screenwriter-director: Supriyo Sen
Producer: Supriyo Sen
Executive producer: Rajasri Mukhpadhyay
Director of photography: Supriyo Sen
Editor: Saikat S. Ray
Running time -- 80 minutes
No MPAA rating