Which Bhagat Singh do we choose?
Five films on the revolutionary this summer.
Subhash K Jha
Look what little known director Rajen Johri has started.
In a recent neglected film called Ansh, Om Puri, Ashutosh Rana and southern star Abbas played neo avatars of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his two associates Sukhdev and Raj Guru.
A male star rightly said, "All my colleagues seem to be playing Bhagat Singh except me. Bechaare ke peeche haath dho ke pad gaye hain. Agar woh zinda hote to phir shaheed ho jaane ko jee karta [They're after the poor man --- Bhagat Singh. If he were alive, he would have wanted to be a martyr now]."
Exaggeration? Not really, if you think about the number of projects about this freedom fighter being readied for near-simultaneous release. Both Raj Kumar Santoshi and Guddu Dhanoa are racing ahead with their biopics, determined to get to the theatres simultaneously, if not before the other.
The television promos of both the prestigious historical epics have begun in earnest. In one we see Ajay Devgan as the legendary revolutionary. In the other Bobby Deol dons the pencil-thin moustache, the rakish felt hat and a look of patriotism.
As things stand June 21 is the day of reckoning for both Bhagat Singh projects. Last year there was a similar jugalbandi of interests between Sunny Deol and Aamir Khan when Gadar and Lagaan hit theatres simultaneously. This time it is Sunny Deol versus Ajay Devgan playing the same historical character on the same Friday.
According to the Tips Cassettes top man Kumar Taurani, Sunny had been repeatedly requested to merge his Bhagat Singh with the other project. But Sunny wanted Bobby Deol to play the title role. Raj Kumar Santoshi baulked at the idea. He wanted none but Devgan as the fiery freedom fighter.
Sunny said, "Fine, you make yours and I'll make mine." And he launched his own version of the legendary Bhagat Singh's life story, reportedly based on same script as Shaheed, featuring Manoj Kumar as Bhagat Singh which was released almost four decades ago.
How does the average viewer decide which version of Bhagat Singh to see on June 21? The most obvious step into the elimination process is to pick the director/ star you fancy. If you like Santoshi's hardhitting style of storytelling combined with technique and good performances; if you have seen the layers of subtle performing skills Ajay Devgan brought into his role of the Dawood Ibrahim-inspired underworld don in [Ram Gopal Varma's] Company, I suggest you go with Santoshi's The Legend Of Bhagat Singh.
On the other hand if you are hooked to the Deol school kitsch-me-if-you-can action in family friend Guddu Dhanoa's earlier films, you might be more taken up with 23 March 1931 -- Shaheed where kid brother Bobby plays the romantic desh-bhakt, and effectively too, if we are to take the word of actress Divya Dutta who plays key backup roles in Dhanoa's films.
Both films are being rushed for a June 21 release. If rumours are to be believed, Tips is further fast-forwarding the flush of competition by releasing their premium product at least a week ahead of schedule to beat the Deol-Dhanoa film into the theatres.
Why the rush? More to the point, why is Bhagat Singh suddenly such a hot subject among moviemakers in Mumbai? True, he was a huge romantic figure in Indian history whose contribution to the Indian Freedom Movement has been largely downsized in textbooks. But then there are so many others who contributed immensely to the end of British rule, too.
For now audiences might as well brace themselves for impromptu history lessons not just in Raj Kumar Santoshi and Guddu Dhanoas films but two other projects which are ready for release. Shaheed Bhagat Singh, directed by Tarun Wadhwaa has Bhangra pop singer Harbhajan Mann in the title role. Not only does Mann play Bhagat Singh he also gets to sing Mera rang de basanti chola in his own voice. This small film has its own ambitious plans of beating the two Bhagat biggies by hitting the theatres on June 7.
Then there is the project produced by one Iqbal Dhillon featuring model Sonu as Bhagat Singh.
Wait, that is not all. Raj Kanwar's latest film Ab Ke Baras, which opens on May 10, Raj Babbar's son Arya goes back to a previous life to play a long-haired mutinous loveboy modelled on --- you guessed it --- Bhagat Singh!
The makers of these films all seem to exude the same confidence in their product. Kumar Taurani tells you about A R Rahman's fabulous desh-bhakti songs in The Legend Of Bhagat Singh. Sunny Deol is equally confident about Anand Raaj Anand's pacy patriotic tunes and director Guddu Dhanoa's abilities to do justice to the historic theme.