The main reason for this unparallel cinematic love for Bhagat Singh movies is geographical barrier clubbed with the objective of promoting local heroes through regional cinema
Martyred in the prime of his youth on March 1931, Bhagat Singh was born today in Central Gaol (then in India, now in Lahore) to Sardar Kishan Singh Sandhu and Vidyavati. He was undoubtedly one of the bravest freedom fighters that the country has given birth to and still inspires youngsters.
In turn, Bollywood, deemed as a national cinema by many Indians, has gifted seven Bhagat Singh movies to its audiences. Also, around four days ago, actor Vicky Kaushal had released a poster of his upcoming movie featuring Singh as one of the characters.
But Bollywood’s fandom of Bhagat Singh did not spread much in regional movie industries like Bengali and Malayalam movies. One of the possible reasons could be the geographical boundaries. India is a collection of 29 states. All of them have contributed to the freedom struggle. Thus, the regional industries are more focused on their local freedom fighter.
7 prominent Bhagat Singh movies in Bollywood
As art imitates life, Bollywood has made seven prominent movies on Bhagat Singh and different aspects of his life. Of which, two were released on the same date in 2002. As mentioned above, an upcoming movie will also have Singh as one of its characters.
The first movie was made after 23 years of his death. ‘Shaheed-e-Azad Bhagat Singh’ was released in 1954, featuring Mohammad Rafi’s iconic song ‘Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna Ab Humaare Dil Mein Hai’. Nine years later, KN Bansal directed ‘Shaheed Bhagat Singh’ with Shammi Kapoor as the protagonist.
The most successful in the lot was ‘Shaheed’ in 1965. The then cult actor in portraying patriotic roles, Manoj Kumar had majestically donned the iconic Bhagat Singh’s hat. It was directed by S Ram Sharma and produced by Kewal Kashyap.
At the 13th National Awards, ‘Shaheed’ had won awards for the best feature film in Hindi, and best screenplay (B K Dutt and Din Dayal Sharma). It had also won the Nargis Dutt Award for the best feature film on National Integration. Following this, Bollywood took a breather of over 30 years to revamp the martyr for the youngsters.
In 2002, three movies based on Bhagat Singh were released. Sonu Sood’s ‘Shaheed-E-Azam’ was released in May 2002. On June 7, actor Bobby Deol playing the titular role Bhagat Singh in ‘23rd March 1931: Shaheed’ had hit the screens. The movie showcased him and his brother Sunny Deol as Chandrasekar Azad avenging the death of Lala Lajpat Rai by killing a British police officer.
The Legend of Bhagat Singh: The iconic Bhagat Singh movie for 90s kids
Yes, of the three films released in 2002, it was Ajay Devgn-starrer ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ that revamped the martyr for 90s kids. Stories about the legend featuring the movie poster had become common then. Devgn’s sturdy portrayal of Singh had made the movie a big hit of 2002.
The film began with the scene where British officials attempt to dispose of Singh’s body. It then progresses with the flashback to tell the story. It has won two National Film Awards for Best Feature Film and three Filmfare awards. The Legend of Bhagat Singh tells the martyr’s struggle for Indian independence and his views on the British Raj. Like me, everybody can remember the iconic scene of Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev kissing their ropes minutes before execution.
The next dose of Bolly gigs with Singh set the nation on fire with ‘Rang De Basanti’ in 2006. The movie portrayed Singh’s story in the backdrop of modern India as a British filmmaker reaches Delhi to shoot a documentary on the freedom struggle. The last scene drawing comparison on dissent suppression and execution in both freed and British India shook every audience to the core.
The final as of now was ‘Inqilab’ in 2008, a documentary on Singh by Gauhar Raza. All of them except ‘Rang De Basanti’ is a biography of the legendary freedom fighter. The box-office convenience on patriotic movies can be a possible cause of the array of Singh’s biographies. But on a better note, the universality of the topic has inspired the deemed national cinema makers to make Bhagat Singh biographies.
Bhagat Singh in regional cinemas
It is intriguing to write this—‘This writer did not find prominent movies on Bhagat Singh in the regional cinemas.’ Firstly, this writer has to admit that she did not witness the same intensity of Bollywood likeness towards patriotic films in the regional cinemas. But this should not be confused with the assumption that regional movie-makers do not like making patriotic movies. They do love making patriotic movies but juxtaposed with prominent social struggles during the freedom movement.
In the recent Bengali movie named ‘Rajkahini’, the director highlighted the struggle of the brothel owner in keeping her women safe during the religious riot after the division of India and Pakistan. It is the same with the southern film industry too. Their movies are mostly highlighting the social drama during the freedom struggle.
The geographical barrier
Bhagat Singh was born in the then unified Punjab. India is a country housing people from different communities who speak and relate to multiple dialects. The movie industry is also similarly divided. Every regional movie industries cater to their local audiences.
But Bollywood makes movies in the Hindi language, which is debatably the national language. Therefore, its movies are viewed by people across the nation irrespective of their dialects. But a local Punjabi boy will not watch a Malayalam movie or a Bengali movie as he would not understand the language. It can raise an argument that making a movie on a national subject will attract viewers from across the nation. But in these particular cases, Singh movies are mostly biographies. So the regional movies cannot change the plot except the treatment.
Probable dominance of regional freedom fighters
While changing the treatment, they might stumble upon other characters, which are comparatively more popular in the region. For example, one of the Bhagat Singh aides, Jatindranath Das is more popular in Bengal. A Bengali movie made on him will be more appreciated due to his local popularity.
Similarly, unlike Bolly’s biography of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, a Bose movie in Bengal will focus on his death mystery as every Bengali knows about his life and his contribution to the freedom struggles. In the Malayali movie industry, a movie on K E Mammen will be more popular than Bhagat Singh due to his native link. Also, regional cinema has its specialised content curated from the likes of its viewers. No one will want to disturb that as films are also about loss and profit.