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Hollywood Film “Lost Command” And Kashmir



“Lost Command”

Lessons From Hollywood Movie

Z. G. Muhammad


‘The Colonisers or the Occupiers how so big military powers they may be cannot stand before the people’s might. They are bound to meet their Waterloo.’ That was the first lesson; I learnt as a teenager, not from the books on history but a Hollywood film.

I was a   film buff. In the mid-sixties and seventies, there was a hardly a Hollywood film on the Second World War, Vietnam War and about struggling Africans that I might not have watched in cinemas and learnt a lesson that no tutor or leader was able to teach me.  Some of the films on the Vietnam War in the seventies like ‘Coming Home’ and ‘The Dear Hunter’ that broadly said that United States involvement in the Vietnam was unjustified. There were many films that offered insight into the war from a domestic perspective and explained as beautifully as done by Franz Fanon, what colonization means to people. To quote Fanon, “There is not the occupation of territory on the one hand and independence of persons on the other. It is the country as a whole, its history, its daily pulsation that is contested, disfigured, in the hope of a final destruction. Under these conditions, the individual’s breathing is an observed, an occupied breathing. It is a combat breathing.”

It was my second year in college every student except the most bookish boys talked about an English movie screened for four shows in the ‘Neelam Cinema’ one of the dingiest movie theatre of the city. Students in large numbers missed the class to watch it.   It was not ‘Do-Badan’ a romantic film with Manoj Kumar and Asha Parekh, screened some months earlier in the same cinema that had made a large number of girl students and some boys to play truant at colleges. But it was a film on wars of liberations and military operations by the colonizers that had generated a major buzz in youth and students. Huge crowds of boys outside the cinema hall even buying tickets for    ‘Lost Command’ in black spoke volumes about a paradigm shift in the thinking of the student community after the 1965 student agitation and the after developments.

The best-selling 1960 novel the ‘Centurions’ written by a French Journalist Jean Lartéguy provided the story line for the film.   Lartéguy had been a former soldier. Most of the characters in the novel were real life characters. The defeat of French in Vietnam and loss of colonies in Indo-China breathed a new life the Algeria’s war of Independence; it sparked a new revolution in the country that sent tremors to Paris.

The film Lost Command started in Vietnam, but it was the Algerian war for independence that provided context to it.  Top most Hollywood actor Anthony Quin,   who for his lead role in Mustapha Akkad films Message and the Lion of Desert playing the role of Omar Mukhtar, later on, had become a household name in Kashmir, was the protagonist of the Lost Command. In this film, he performed the role of the garrison commander, Basque Lt. Col. Pierre-Noel Raspeguy. As a French commander, in Vietnam despite receiving reinforcement of Paratroopers from his country in the film he bites the dust and is defeated by the Viet Minh troops.

Lt. Col. Pierre-Noel Raspeguy, (Anthony Quinn) and all other surviving officers including Lt Ben Mahdi, an Algerian-born paratrooper are taken as prisoners by the Viet Minh. The captured French officers are after three months released under an agreement, and they return to the country.

Lt Ben Mahdi, (George Segal) return to his native place. In his homeland, he is disgusted at the crimes and atrocities committed by the occupying French army against his people. His heart bleeds on seeing his teenage brother sprayed with bullets from a machine gun for spraying graffiti in support of the Independence of Algeria. He deserts the army and joins the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) and become a guerrilla leader. It is a period when Algerian War of Independence had set in war fatigue by the soldiers and given a sense of defeat to the army command system of the French army in the Algeria and mobilized the Intellectuals in Paris to raise their voice against the occupation of Algeria by France.

The story has many important turns and characters that tell us how the determined people are ready to offer sacrifices for achieving their and how even the conscientious occupying soldiers turn supporters of the occupied people.

For his defeat in Vietnam Anthony Quin is demoted and told by his seniors that for saving his career Algeria is his last chance. ‘In the Lost Command, the His Division attempts to suppress opposition “pacify” population using increasing brutal tactics. The French soldiers with Anthony Quin in the lead are bound to get defeated but for their deceptive tactics of fitting the Red Cross helicopters with guns and violating the rules of war,they outflank Algerian Freedom fighters.

In fact, it was the final scene of the film that left an indelible impact on my mind and made me realize that no military power can suppress the urge for independence in freedom loving people. In this scene, for his ‘breaking rules of war and violating human laws Anthony Quinn is decorated and made a general. Many in his team awarded for bravery. And when   Alain Delon, who plays the role of Captain Phillipe Es Clavier in the film, leaves the ceremony, he sees a group of French soldiers washing away pro-independence slogans on a nearby wall. And at the turn of the road sees a young Algerian boy scrabbling same slogan “Free Algeria” on another stone wall.  In the words of film historian Jermy M Devine, “The irony and what it bodes for future are unmistakable.”

The victory of the Occupying soldiers of France within a year turned out to be the victory of the people of Algeria. People of France ultimately supported De Gaulle to free Algeria.

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