June 4, 2002 
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The law and the martyr
The Bhagat Singh controversy rages on

Onkar Singh in New Delhi

The saga continues. Days before the multi-starrers based on the life and times of Shaheed Bhagat Singh hit theaters across India, the controversy about factual misrepresentation in these films rages on. And the cancellation of the June 2 special screening of 23rd March 1931 -- Shaheed by Union Home Minister L K Advani, at the last minute, has only added to the complications.

Four films on the martyr - Bobby Deol's 23rd March 1931 -- Shaheed, Ajay Devgan's The Legend Of Bhagat Singh, Tarun Khanna's Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Sonu Sood's Shaheed-E-Azam - are the highlight this summer.

While Sood's film released May 31 in India, 23rd March 1931 -- Shaheed and The Legend Of Bhagat Singh are slated for a June 7 release.

Several members of parliament and eminent personalities had been invited to attend a preview of the Bobby Deol starrer. But ministry sources said something important came up and the screening of 23rd March 1931 -- Shaheed had to be cancelled.

"The Home Minister was told that the relatives of Bhagat Singh had expressed their displeasure about the on-screen portrayal of Shaheed Bhagat Singh. The matter is also pending before the Punjab and Haryana high court Advani was told. This probably led him to change his mind and cancel the preview," said a confidential source.

Paramjit Kaur, daughter of Rajinder Singh, the youngest brother of Bhagat Singh, had moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court on May 29 seeking a stay order on the screening of the films based on the martyr's life.

Sandeep Bansal, who filed the petition on behalf of Kaur, said the films presented distorted versions of the life of the great Indian martyr. "While one film showed Bhagat Singh singing a song with his beloved, the other one went on to show he had even worn wedding garlands. Both these incidents are untrue and amount to distortion of historical facts. Bhagat Singh had no time for such things," he argued.

Ajay Devgan plays the title role in The Legend of Bhagat Singh The authenticity of the films has also been questioned by a Delhi-based non-governmental organization, Article51 A Forum. "The films are being shot without any research and devotion. The filmmakers are using all the tricks of the film trade to produce films based on imaginary episodes. The introduction of female characters is totally inconceivable," said Ravinder Kumar and Narendra Bhalla, president and general secretary of the forum.

"What is unfortunate is that filmmakers are trying to cash in on the name of Bhagat Singh by using him as a brand name," J Malhotra, convenor of the forum said.

Earlier, Bhalla citing an example of departure from facts drew attention to the proms (on Indian television) of 23rd March 1931 - Shaheed. The film shows Chandrashekar Azad being shot by a fellow revolutionary in Allahabad's Alfred Park. "This is wrong. The fact is that Azad shot himself," he said.

The filmmakers claim the facts depicted in their respective films are based on documented evidence. Producer Iqbal Singh Dhillon [Shaheed-e-Azam] said he had shown the film to the Bhagat Singh Memorial Trust committee to seek their sanction. "They wanted minor changes made and we complied. If they want us to stop screening the film, I will respect their wishes and withdraw the film from the theaters," he said.

Guddu Dhanoa, director of 23rd March 1931 - Shaheed said though his film showed Bhagat Singh and a girl together in a song, it was only part of a dream sequence. "The song is part of Aishwarya Rai's imagination. It is represented as fantasy, not fact. Bobby (who plays Bhagat Singh) refuses to marry her and we have shown it in the film. I do not see a reason why the family should object to 23rd March 1931 - Shaheed."

Raju Hingorani, COO, Tips Films, producers of The Legend Of Bhagat Singh, is also confident that his version on the life of the martyr is authentic. "Kultar Singh, Bhagat Singh's brother, has authenticated our film. With his backing, why must we be afraid of other allegations?" he asks.

It was reported that Kultar Singh, stayed with the film unit in Pune, Maharashtra, for seven days during the making of the film and offered valuable insights into Bhagat Singh's life, which were duly weaved into the film.

While both films, slated for release June 7, have already opened their bookings, Article51 A Forum threatens that if its mild form protest does not yield the desired results, a public interest litigation to stay the release of the films will be filed. "We would hold the demonstrations either a day before the release on the film or on Friday June 7," Ravinder Kumar president of the forum said on Monday night.

The million-dollar question is whether all this is just so much water under the bridge.

With inputs from Vivek Fernandes in Bombay


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