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"The Legend of Bhagat Singh''

THIS IS probably something for the youth, politicians of today and those who wish well for this country — more for its contents than for the quality of filmmaking. Forget the fact that there are too many films dealing with the same subject, that rhetoric and theatrics are something we have to live with in most Hindi films and that patriotism sells. Tips Films' "The Legend Of Bhagat Singh" reminds you (notwithstanding the cinematic licence) of all the sacrifices, losses, courage and selflessness that today seems a wasted exercise — considering how communal carnage, hate propaganda, fundamentalist ideals are making a mockery of what the freedom fighters fought for.

Who is Bhagat Singh, we may well ask. History does not seem to accord undue space to this martyr from Punjab other than the fact that he died at the age of 23 for the ideal of a free India. But it takes a well-marketed film to tell us in a dramatic fashion, about this revolutionary, whose ideals could turn a turbulent nation today towards true equality, secularism and rationality.

He was someone who had foreseen the dangers of fundamentalism, of allowing religion to be used as a political tool. He felt if it were brought into politics, it would tear a secular society to fragments! The film has its excellent moments. And some flaws which you may want to overlook considering the fact that it is not easy to hold the emotional interest of the audience for close to three hours.

The emotional upheaval for the audience begins when 12-year-old Bhagat visits Jalian Wallah Bagh and visualises the horror of the senseless murder of innocent people. It goes on to show how he grows up with hatred in his heart for the British, how he befriends Sukhdev Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad in Cawnpore (now Kanpur) and Rajguru from Maharashtra; and how his ideals of a free country shaped his philosophy and work.

The detailing of the events that led to his eventual martyrdom is narrated rather interestingly with images and visuals that remain long in the memory.

The entire ambience of the era — the British Raj at its peak, the Congress Party led anti-British struggle, the joining of the Hindustan Republican Army by Bhagat Singh and its evolution into the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army, the spirit and motivation to defy the British at any cost, the use of the court room to propagate his fiery call to the nation, and the use of violence as self-defence, and of course his fast-unto-death (till jail inmates are given better food and hygienic conditions) which brings the British Government to its knees! You need to see it to feel its effectiveness.

Asks Anjum Rajabali, who writes the script and screenplay, ``Why do I need to participate in yet another film that could be dominated by filmy patriotism?'' But adds, ``when I started reading K. K. Khullar's biography of Bhagat Singh and the recent book by Kuldip Nayar, I was hooked. And I realised I was not the only one. When Bhagat went to jail for the Assembly bomb explosion on April 8, 1929, no one apart from his comrades and family knew of him. But just two and a half months later, Bhagat Singh Day was being observed throughout the country. The official history of the Indian National Congress by Pattabhi Seetaramiah admits, that there was a time (1929-30) when his popularity was equal to that of Mahatma Gandhi!'' An element the film shows with great glee.

In fact the Mahatma appears in rather poor light — a man who does not really agree with Bhagat Singh's methods of repelling the British, and makes little effort to secure pardon for the three condemned men — Bhagat, Sukhdev and Rajguru. And yes, a Britisher wouldhate to see the film for its depiction of their rulers and their policies then! Almost entirely in sepia and brown tones, the film to some extent has created the period feel (art direction by Nitin Chandrakant Desai) effectively. Raj Kumar Santoshi, the director, and K. V. Anand (camera) capture the essence of the locations to show the bleakness and the darkness of those times. Agra with the Taj Mahal in the background, Lahore and Calcutta are some of the places that figure.

Raj Kumar, perhaps for the first time, shows some restraint in handling the narrative despite the obvious fire and brimstone. Often the characters shout and yell, but one supposes with passions running high and patriotism at its raw best, this must have been the case.

Probably there could not have been anyone more sensitive than A. R. Rahman to add to this mood. The songs (with lyrics by Sameer), rooted in Punjabi folk, serve more as the background than as separate elements except on one occasion. They create a sense of melancholy sweeping the viewers through its flourishes, chords and notes. "Sarfaroz Ki Tammana", the slow version, begins ballad-like and moves to a faster pace with cellos and other string instruments, providing a piercing tone of sadness. It is not brilliant music, but it moves you.

After "Company", this is Ajay Devgan's other stupendous performance. His interpretation of Bhagat Singh is powerful, without being strident. And we are discovering how talented this actor really is. Sushant Singh as Sukhdev is suitably volatile and D. Santosh as Rajguru is lovable for his deep and unquestioning friendship and loyalty to Bhagat and the other comrades.

There is a host of other talented artistes who make this a film to remember — Akhilendra Mishra as Chandrashekhar Azad, Raj Babbar as Kishen Singh, Bhagat's father (does a very poignant scene when he meets his son in jail), Farida Jalal as his mother, excels especially when she bids goodbye to her condemned son and Amrita Rao as the girl who wants to marry him — though one does not know if the romantic angle did really exist!

CHITRA MAHESH

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