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Sankalp Reddy: Handful of people knew, fewer talked about it

Updated on: 04 May,2023 08:08 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Mohar Basu |

IB 71 director on how year-long research, meetings with former agents led to the making of film, which depicts India’s master plan behind 1971 Indian Airlines hijack

Sankalp Reddy: Handful of people knew, fewer talked about it

Vidyut Jammwal

In 2021, when Vidyut Jammwal announced turning producer with IB 71, he had said that the film would be based on an episode from the 1971 India-Pakistan war. Two years on, a look at the trailer tells you that Sankalp Reddy’s directorial venture offers a retelling of the 1971 Indian Airlines hijack. “It was a pivotal moment in Indian history, but not many people knew about it,” says Reddy.

The 1971 incident, also referred to as the Ganga hijack, has been a contentious topic between the two countries. On January 30, 1971, Hashim Qureshi and Ashraf Qureshi — two Kashmiri separatists allegedly belonging to the National Liberation Front (NLF) — hijacked a Fokker F27 named Ganga that was flying from Srinagar and diverted it to Lahore airport. The two then demanded the release of 36 members of the NLF from Indian custody, and a meeting with Pakistani minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in lieu of the abducted passengers. While the Indian government refused to comply, the All India Radio reportedly made a broadcast stating that Pakistan was behind the hijack. After Hashim and Ashraf’s meeting with Bhutto and amid rising international pressure, all passengers were sent back to India. 

Sankalp ReddySankalp Reddy

Reddy’s spy thriller, also starring Anupam Kher and Vishal Jethwa, focuses on a lesser-known aspect of the episode. The film depicts how Rameshwar Nath Kao, the then-chief of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), had knowledge of the impending hijacking since early January of 1971. He devised a master plan and used the hijack to strengthen Indian government’s claims of Pakistan’s ill intentions. After the hijack, the government banned all Pakistan International Airlines flights from its airspace. This, in turn, had a significant impact on troop movement into East Pakistan and gave India an upper hand in the Bangladesh Liberation War in December that year.  

Also Read: Sankalp Reddy: Only Vidyut could do justice to a part that is steeped in patriotism

Reddy says year-long research went into putting the story together. Since it was a covert operation, he admits that sourcing information was a daunting task. “Many details about the intelligence agency’s strategy were kept under wraps. Only a handful of people knew of the incident, and even fewer were willing to talk about it. It was important to portray the events accurately. Through meticulous research, we created a film that does justice to the bravery of our agents.” Jammwal adds, “IB 71 talks about people who sacrifice everything for the nation.” 

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