The Legend of Bhagat Singh:
Cast: Ajay Devgan, Sushant, Amritha Rao
Director: Raj Kumar Santoshi
23 march 1931 Shaheed:
Cast: Bobby Deol, Aishwarya Rai
Director: Guddu Dhanoa
One of the paradoxes of Indian history writing has been
an obsession with individuals with a certain political
preference. As a result, children in second know everything
about the foundation of the Congress in 1885, Mahatma
Gandhi's comeback from South Africa, the Non-Cooperation
and Civil Disobedience Movements and even the Khilafat
and Quit India agitation. They are familiar with the
names of Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and
Sardar Vallabhai Patel. The same children in the same
chapters in the same class are also told, almost perfunctorily
though, that besides the moderates of Congress who wanted
freedom with non-violent agitation, there were others.
They had taken the path of violence. They were extremists.
Or revolutionary terrorists. Thus we come across terms
like Kakori Train Robbery or Dacoity for the soul-stirring
deeds of men like Ramprasad Bismil and Ashfaqullah.
We are also told that the likes of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev,
Rajguru, Jatin Das and countless others were revolutionary
this light, the two films on Bhagat Singh, which were
released this week, should go some way in restoring
the balance. Unfortunately, neither Rajkumar Santoshi's
The Legend of Bhagat Singh nor Guddu Dhanoa's Shaheed
comes even close to being memorable. Worse, both directors
have taken liberties with the life and times of one
of the greatest heroes of our Independence movement.
Agreed both the films are dramatized versions but facts,
unlike subjective opinions, are sacrosanct. The errors
which have crept into both the productions in the rush
to out-do the other to the box office are unpardonable.
For instance, in Santoshi's film when Bhagat Singh and
his comrades set out to exact revenge, they kill Scotts
instead of Saunders! Similarly, in Dhanoa's Shaheed
at the end.
Singh is almost passed off as a believer in a subtle
manner. Asked before going to the guillotine to read
Guru Granth Sahib for once, he refuses but says, "God
lives in the heart!" Bhagat Singh, needless to
reiterate, was not a believer. Not till his last breath.
Chandrashekhar Azad died fighting the British. He did
not fall prey to their bullets. Also, Bhagat Singh's
constant slogan in life was Inquilaab Zindabad. However,
if you were to watch Shaheed, for long stretches, the
director would have us believe, that it was Vande Mataram.
Yet film to film, Santoshi's is the better film with
clearly etched out characters of Sukhdev and Rajguru
besides Jatin Das and Batukeshvar Dutt. Not to forget
Ajay Devagan gives a restrained and credible performance
as Bhagat Singh. Gone is the swagger one associate with
him. Gone too is the sulking lover-boy look. Instead,
we get a largely finished performance from him. Again,
he scores over Bobby Deol in a parallel role in Shaheed.
are a couple of surprise packets in The Legend of Bhagat
Singh. The first one is Sushant Singh. The man has a
fine screen presence, good timing and an ability to
hold his own in front of more celebrated actors. As
Sukhdev, he does not lose out much in comparison with
Devagan's Bhagat Singh. Also, watch out for Amrita Rao.
Converted from head-to-toe as the revolutionary's never-to-be
grace and understated elegance to her walk-on role.
Shaheed, on the other hand, would have us believe, that
Bhagat Singh either operated in isolation or his worthy
comrades like Sukhdev an Rajguru were mere acolytes.
That is neither true to history not to the followers
of these brave men. Not even of Bhagat Singh. He not
needs bonus points from history to exalt him. Glorifying
Bhagat Singh while belittling others of no mean stature
is a travesty.
Yes, history, at times, maybe a prisoner to posterity's
ideological predilections. But it is no mistress to
a man's whims. Dhanoa and his comrades should realize
that. In their zeal to cater to the commercial cinema
Bhagat Singh almost to an action film hero mouthing
loud dialogues, speaking in high decibel level and breaking
into a song whenever faced with adversity.
Short of dancing, Bobby's Bhagat Singh does everything
that Bobby would have done in countless other films.