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SHAHEED-E-AZAM SARDAR BHAGAT SINGH & Bollywood's more than 50 years of fascination with the beloved martyr. (An Overview by Bobby Sing)

02 May, 2012 | Articles on Cinema

Post Independence there have been several films made by the Hindi Film Industry on patriotic theme and characters. But the makers have always been fascinated by this one Revolutionary Indian martyr who can be easily crowned as the second most popular Freedom Fighter of Indian Independence Movement after Mahatma Gandhi. However, in the northern part of the country surrounding Punjab, he is widely considered as the Real Martyr respected more than even the Father of the Nation.
Prem Adib played Bhagat Singh in 19541954
The above mentioned fact gets proved as the first Bollywood film on the life of Bhagat Singh was made in 1954, just after 7 years of our independence and way before any project was made on Gandhi. It was a clear acceptance of the point that the whole nation considered Bhagat Singh as the Pioneer Indian Youth Icon whose life deserved to be adapted for the silver screen before anyone else. The film was titled Shadeed-E-Azam Bhagat Singh (in Black & White) with Prem Adib in the lead, who is still remembered as the first Ram of Indian Cinema and a true inspiration for all the subsequent actors portraying the Lord on screen. Produced by Poonam Productions and directed by Jagdish Gautam, it had music by Lachhiram and lyrics by Sahir Chandpuri, Shaukat Pardesi and Ramprasad Bismil. Prem Adib, Jairaj, Smriti, Ashita Majumdar, Cuckoo, Amirbai Karnataki & Johny Walker were the key actors in the film, which is sadly not available on Home Video at present.
Bhagat Singh -19631963
In 1963 K. N. Production came with another movie called Shaheed Bhagat Singh (B&W), starring Shammi Kapoor in the lead role. Credited with direction by K. N. Bansal, it was reportedly ghost-directed by Vishram Bedekar, had music by Husnlal Bhagatram and lyrics by Qamar Jalalabadi & Ram Prasad Bismil. The film had patriotic songs such as “Mera Rang De Basanti Chola” and “Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna” sung by the legendary Mohd. Rafi, which can be seen on Youtube today with a different Shammi Kapoor performing on the screen. And the film at present is probably available on Home Video at a few selected websites too.
The above-mentioned movies were not successful at the box office, which might have been the reason why the team of Manoj Kumar (in the lead), Kewal P. Kashyap (producer) and S. Ram Sharma (director) decided to make their own fresh version on the inspiring life of Bhagat Singh only 2 years after the last release on the same theme. Bhagat Singh - 1965Evidently they had a much superior version of the subject as compared to both the previous attempts since their Shaheed (1965, B&W) still remains the best film made on the martyr even after almost 50 years of its release.
Shaheed had Manoj Kumar, Prem Chopra, Pran, Kamini Kaushal, Nirupa Roy, Madan Puri, Asit Sen & Anwar Hussain in the key roles and it was the first in the series of incomparable patriotic movies made by Manoj Kumar, who later was popularly known as Bharat Kumar. The film perfectly captured the essence of its revolutionary theme giving it a fine emotional angle. But a major credit for its huge success and cult status goes to the fabulous music in it composed by Prem Dhawan which can easily be included in the list of best patriotic film soundtracks from Hindi Film Industry till date. With tracks such as “Aye Watan Aye Watan”, “Pagrhi Sambhal Jatta”, “Mera Rang De Basanti Chola”, “Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna” & “Jogi Hum To Lut Gaye Tere Pyar Mein” sung by Mohd. Rafi, Manna Dey, Mukesh, Mahendra Kapoor, Rajendra Mehta & Lata Mangeshkar, it unarguably deserves all the respect and love showered upon the film in the last five decades. Though the same songs were sung by Mohd. Rafi in the 1963 version too, but Prem Dhawan’s musical notes had certain timeless magic which still continues to impress even the keen listeners from the current generation.
Bhagat Singh -19741974
After this epic movie from Manoj Kumar, there was another lesser known film made on the life of Bhagat Singh in 1974. It was a Punjabi (Colour) film presented by Ram Gopal Chitramandir, directed by Omi Bedi and had music by Surender Kohli. Originally made in Punjabi, titled Shaheed-e-Azam Sardar Bhagat Singh, it was later dubbed in Hindi and called Amar Shaheed Bhagat Singh. The actors in it were Som Dutt (as Bhagat Singh), Dara Singh, Dev Kumar, Achla Rajni Bala, Lata Arora, Aroon, Pratap Sharma & Kamal Kapoor. Mohd. Rafi was once again the common factor singing two of its songs, including “Mera Rang De Basanti Chola” & “Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna”. The film was not a great take on the martyr’s life but it once again proved that Bhagat Singh lived in people’s hearts and they wanted to see his character again and again on the big screen. At present both its Punjabi & Hindi versions are available on Home Video at some selected websites.
Post the mid-seventies which was a period of political tension in the country, Punjabi Cinema and movies based on the related themes got a massive setback after the 1984 black era and it took more than a decade for the region to regain its famous spirit again. Hindi films restarted mentioning Punjab and its culture in the mid 90s and then in the new millennium, some unexpected patriotic movies became the major blockbusters both in India and abroad. Mega success of projects such as Border (1997), Lagaan (2001), Gadar (2001) and the recent Kargil War once again reminded the nation of its Iconic Revolutionary Hero, Bhagat Singh and suddenly there were more than four films on floor in 2001-02 which probably was a world record of sorts in the movie industry around the globe.
Bhagat Singh 2002 - 32002-(1)
Shaheed-E-Azam was the first of this new lot of films made around the famous patriot to be released in 2002. Produced by Iqbal Dhillon, who earlier made Shaheed-E-Mohabbat Boota Singh, the film was directed by Sukumar Nair. It was launched in Lahore, Pakistan and reportedly was shot inside the cell at Ferozepur Central Jail, where Bhagat Singh was imprisoned. Featuring Sonu Sood and Raj Zutshi in the lead, its soundtrack had a song based on traditional lyrics by Bulle Shah along with the famous patriotic songs under the music of Maqbool Khan, Sabar Ali and Sardool Sikandar. Among the singers, it had veterans such as Sadhna Sargam, Sardool Sikandar, Naseebo Lala, Udit Narayan, Sonu Nigam, Jaspinder Narula, Roopkumar Rathod and Kavita Krishnamurthy.
Bhagat Singh in 2002 - 22002-(2)
Second movie released in 2002 was 23rd March 1931 Shaheed, produced by Dharmendra, featuring Bobby Deol as Bhagat Singh and Sunny Deol as Chandarshekhar Azad along with Amrita Singh, Rahul Dev, Vicky Ahuja, Suresh Oberoi, Shakti Kapoor, Divya Dutta and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. The film was directed by Guddu Dhanoa and had music by Anand Raj Anand. Its soundtrack retained the songs Mera Rang De Basanti Chola, Pagrhi Sambhal and Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna, plus a few other tracks written by Dev Kohli and sung by Udit Narayan, Alka Yagnik, Hans Raj Hans, Bhupinder Singh, Mohammed Salamat and Veer Rajinder. The project began with a clash between the producers and director Raj Kumar Santoshi which eventually resulted in Santoshi making another movie on the same subject at the same time for a different producer to be released together.
Bhagat Singh in 2002 - 12002-(3)
This other film was The Legend Of Bhagat Singh produced by Taurani’s of Tips Music and directed by Raj Kumar Santoshi, featuring Ajay Devgan in the lead role. It had music by A. R. Rahman which was not as great as expected from the maestro with lyrics written by Sameer. The soundtrack had songs Pagrhi Sambhal Jatta by Sukhwinder, Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna by Sonu Nigam, Hariharan and more by A. R. Rahman, Alka Yagnik, Udit Narayan & Manmohan Waris. Apart from Ajay Devgan playing Bhagat Singh, the film had Sushant Singh, D. Santosh, Amrita Rao, Raj Babbar and Amitabh Bhattacharjee in the lead roles. Though the film was considered the best of the lot, winning some awards too but still it was quite weird to see people dancing or performing Bhangra on the track "Pagrhi Sambhal Jatta", which clearly revealed the actual seriousness and commercial nature of the product.
Bhagat Singh 2002 - 4 2002-(4)
Fourth in the row was Shaheed Bhagat Singh produced by Poonam Jaju and Ved R. Gandhi. This film directed by Tarun Khanna was supposed to be made with famous Punjabi pop singer Harbhajan Mann playing the lead. But things didn’t work out with him and the role went to Tarun Khanna. This relatively smaller film, whose soundtrack was the first to hit the music shops, could not reach the screens in the theater because of some internal issues between the producers. However, it had some better tracks in its music album composed by Jaidev Kumar and written by Naqsh Layallpuri, who interestingly hailed from Bhagat Singh’s birthplace – Lyallpur. It had Harbhajan Mann, Roopkumar Rathod and Mohammed Salamat singing Mera Rang De Basanti Chola. Mann also rendered Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna in a slow compositon. Sardool Sikandar sang Pagrhi Sambhal Jatta and Simran-Tripat Aao Ni Behno which was to be used in the final sequence of the film quite thoughtfully. Veterans Kavita Krishnamurhty and Sadhna Sargam also featured in its fine soundtrack singing two songs.
Looking at the end result of all the above four projects made on the subject (where three flopped and one didn’t reach the screen), Ramanand Sagar shelved his project to be released on the small screen and it never saw the light of the day again. As reported in the news then, they had chosen Deepak Datta to play Bhagat Singh in their production of the same name.
After the avoidable embarrassment caused to the martyr’s name by all the mediocre films made in 2002, director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra came up with his brilliant movie in 2006 titled Rang De Basanti, inspired from the famous “Rang De Basanti Chola” song. Though the film was not directly made on the life of Bhagat Singh, but its script did take references from the eventful life of Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh and his co-associates who believed in the violent way of demanding their freedom. Rang De Basanti re-established the enigma around all the patriotic heroes of those times and it deservingly went on to be the biggest hit of 2006, becoming hugely popular, particularly among the youth. It featured Amir Khan, Soha Ali Khan, Madhavan, Kunal Kapoor, Siddarth, Sharman Joshi, Atul Kulkarni, Kiron Kher and Alice Patten in the key roles.
On the occasion of Bhagat Singh’s birth centenary in 2008, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) and Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), a non-profit organisation, co-produced a 40-minute documentary on Bhagat Singh entitled Inqilab, directed by Gauhar Raza. The documentary contained archival footage and original visuals of important locations tracing the evolution of the revolutionary icon of Indian freedom struggle crowned as Shaheed-e-Azam by the people of the nation.
So, after recalling all the films made on the legend, it can easily be concluded that the finest film made on the life of Bhagat Singh unarguably has to be Manoj Kumar’s Shaheed released in 1965. It was, in fact, like a solid foundation laid for the powerful series of visionary Bharat Kumar’s classic patriotic films to be made in his later years. Shaheed also remains the most important film of them all as at that time there wasn’t enough research material available on the subject for the writers, if compared with the present. It was made on the story material compiled with the help of Bhagat Singh’s mother & other members of his family (as mentioned in the film’s credits). It won three national awards wherein Manoj Kumar invited Bhagat Singh’s mother to receive them and the crowd gave her a 15-minute standing ovation, showing their love & respect towards her son. It is said that our former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri loved Shaheed so much that he especially asked Manoj Kumar to make a movie based on his principle of Jai Jawan Jai Kisaan. And Manoj Kumar made Upkaar as his next project with the same emotions for his country.
However, the other side of the truth is that the majority of Bhagat Singh’s admirers are hugely dissatisfied from all these movies made on the legend as they strongly raise questions about several historical and cultural distortions shown in these films adapted for their obvious commercial purposes. Unfortunately, they are right in one sense as none of these movies concentrate on the other spiritual persona of Bhagat Singh and they solely concentrated on his contribution made in the freedom struggle. In other words, all the above-mentioned movies basically revolve around the important and major chapters of Bhagat Singh’s life as a freedom fighter and don’t move into the actual persona of the patriot like a true biography. For instance, no director has ever emphasised on him being an atheist walking towards a transformation towards his end. No director has talked about his love for books and quest for knowing more about the world around. And no director has ever given any account of his several notes and letters written while he was in jail for a long time.
Another imperative aspect of Bhagat Singh’s life was the time when he had to shave off his hair for a bigger cause, sacrificing his religious sentiments. Till date, no director or writer has dared to touch this sensitive subject on screen, portraying the probable reasons and emotions felt by the legend in those tough moments of taking a decision against his own religion. No film-maker has ever tried to tackle this subject in an elaborate manner due to a fear of rejection or conflicts from the community itself. No insightful maker has ever thought of making a movie on the last days of the martyr when he returned to his original appearance with all his due respect towards the Gurus. In short, no one has ever thought of making a film on Bhagat Singh’s journey as a SIKH, which was the other important side of his persona of being a truthful freedom fighter for his country as an INDIAN.   
On a concluding note, I admit loving Manoj Kumar’s Shaheed as a sincere film made on the life of Bhagat Singh with an emotional perspective, well supported by its splendid soundtrack. But I still feel that the real biography of the legend is yet to be made, incorporating both the spiritual and freedom fighter sides of his persona in a broader sense. So until that real film is made, just salute the legendary patriot and do not rely solely on the above-mentioned films to know the phenomenon called Bhagat Singh. The name has a lot more hidden in it which needs to be studied, re-researched and absorbed in its real sense.
- bobbysing

Tags : Shaheed-e-Azam Sardar Bhagat Sngh, Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, Films made on Bhagat Singh n Bollywood, Bhagat Singh Life Story as a film, Bhagat Singh Biography, Articles on Cinema by Bobby Sing at www.bobbytalkscinema.com
02 May 2012 / Comment ( 0 )
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