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August 1, 1998


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The Rediff Interview/Kabir Khan

'The INA had no illusions about capturing Delhi with just 50,000 badly equipped men against the mighty British'

Amberish K Diwanji in Delhi

The turning point in the INA’s life came when Bose took command and gave his first address to the fledgling INA at Cathay Cinema, which stands till today. “When we were at Cathay Cinema, Colonels Dhillon and Lakshmi were really caught up with the moment. Colonel Dhillon pointed to the spot where he had sat while Bose was speaking, Colonel Lakshmi too did the same,” said Khan.

From there the movie begins to trace the march. The film is shot in the present, with Colonels Dhillon and Lakshmi, and in flashback. Khan has used archival material from the Films Division, Bombay, and the Imperial War Museum, London, to recreate some famous scenes and shots.

Khan is dismayed by the fact that India has done little for these brave men who did so much for their motherland. “They were not given the Freedom Fighters pension until the mid 1960s, by which time many of them were dead,” he laments, “we found some INA veterans actually living in slums in Burma.”

As Khan points out, besides the soldiers, many Indian civilians living in Malaysia and Singapore, descendants of the indentured labourers who had been sent by the British to work on plantations, also joined the fight to liberate their motherland. “These were poor and ordinary people, mostly South Indians, who had never seen India, only heard about it from their elders. Yet they gave up everything on Netaji’s call, just to fight for the country of their origin,” said Khan, clearly in awe by all that he has learnt from his research.

What came out most clearly during the shooting was the immense awe in which the INA held Bose. “He was akin to a virtual god for the INA people. They would remember small things like he had looked at them, or just nodded at them. Of course, if he spoke to anyone, it was manna from heaven,” Khan said, “There is no doubt that he had a tremendous personality, something one can make out from old films and footage, but alive, he must have been incredible!”

Ditto for the INA, whose valiant struggle was blacked out by the British during World War II, leaving most of India ignorant about it. “The INA saga burst on the public consciousness only when the British put up Colonels P K Sehgal, Shah Nawaz and Dhillon for trial at the Red Fort,” said Khan, “And this was a big mistake, because they had chosen three of the best officers, men of honour and integrity. Colonel Shah Nawaz had won the Sword of Honour at the Indian Military Academy, Colonels Sehgal (Colonel Lakshmi's husband) and Dhillon were highly-respected officers. The British could have easily chosen some of the lumpen elements who had joined the INA.”

Bose’s decision to ally with Germany and Japan has been criticised by many over the years. Khan is at pain to point out that his film makes no value judgement. “This film is just about the 50,000 persons who made up the INA. In fact, the film clearly states, ‘This is the story of those who returned.’ They are part of our history and I just want to tell their story,” he stressed, adding, “It is also not a definitive history of the INA.”

The last bit is quite a bother for Khan who has been receiving calls from various quarters asking why so-and-so has not been shown in the film or why some aspect was left out. “How can I show everybody or everything?” he asks, “I keep telling them that this is just a story as seen through Colonels Lakshmi Sehgal and Dhillon.”

An unresolved debate is whether the INA made any contribution to the Freedom Struggle. Khan is convinced that the INA did make a difference, even if it amounts to just two per cent of the entire movement. “The INA had no illusions about capturing Delhi with just 50,000 badly equipped men against the mighty British armed forces,” said Khan. “Their aim was to reach Assam and once there, they were sure that the whole of India would rise up against the British. And the fact that that this rag-tag army reached Imphal, just a few miles short of Assam, speaks volumes for their courage and conviction.”

While what would have happened had the INA crossed Imphal into Assam cannot be answered, Khan points to the famous Naval Mutiny in 1946, partly inspired by the INA and the Red Fort trial. “All these events must have scared the British and forced them out even faster,” he said.

In Burma, Indian troops also fought in the British army against the Japanese, and the INA. Did the two Indian forces face each other? “There is one instance when an Indian regiment under the British was fighting and they heard the other side cry out Chalo Dilli! So the Indian troops began to wonder about their enemy speaking in Hindi. This, in turn, forced their British officer to use the Lancashire Regiment, which had no Indians in it, against the INA the next time round,” said Khan.

The film is now due for Calcutta, and Khan is quite excited about the screening in Bose's native state. “So far my film has received no negative complaints, but I think some is likely from Bengal!” But negative or positive, it is a film worth watching, if only to remember those brave men and the thousand women of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, commanded by Lakshmi Sehgal, whose only aim was to see their homeland free.

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