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122 years of ‘Netaji’: How the celluloid has kept Subhas Chandra Bose alive in the nation’s memory

Any filmmaker who sets out to make a nationalistic movie about the Indian independence movement is left baffled when it comes to Subhas Chandra Bose. Bose was a political maverick whose ideology and methods were at unconventional and different than the mainstream freedom struggle.

From Ashok Kumar-starrer Samadhi to Sahara India-produced Bose: The Forgotten Hero, the life of the firebrand leader has been put to cinematic justice by only a handful of directors-producers. On the occasion of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s 122nd birth anniversary today, let’s take a look on how the celluloid has kept Bose and his Indian National Army (INA) alive in the nation’s memory over the years:

Samadhi (1950)

Samadhi is one of the earliest films to be made touching the theme of Netaji and INA. The film stars Ashok Kumar as Shekhar, an INA officer who is at loggerheads with his brother Suresh (Shyam), a soldier in the British Army. Samadhi treats the underlying theme of nationalism and patriotism in a typical Bollywood-esque style, by combining it with family drama.

Subhas Chandra (1966)

The Bengali classic Subhas Chandra is a bildungsroman about the intellectual transformation of Bose from a curious boy to a radical leader. The central character of Subhas Chandra Bose is played by Ashish Ghosh (childhood), Amar Dutta (young adult) and Samar Chatterjee (adult).

The movie explores various aspects of Bose’s life that made him the person he was – from his wealthy upbringing and education in a European school, to his interest in Hindu philosophy, to his altercations with the British administration at the Presidency College. Subhas Chandra ends with Bose joining the mainstream of Indian freedom struggle and getting arrested for the first timein his life.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2004)

Like its predecessor, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero was also a biopic on Netaji. However, the film differed in its treatment of Bose’s life story. Produced by Subrata Roy’s Sahara India Motion Pictures and directed by the legendary filmmaker Shyam Benegal – Bose: The Forgotten Hero is a painstakingly detailed account of Netaji’s political journey.

The story begins with Bose (played by Sachin Khedekar) falling out with Gandhi and continues with his incarceration and house arrest, followed by a daring escape, his travels in 1941 to Afghanistan and Germany, and finally to Japan in 1943, as well as his leadership of the Indian National Army.

Sahara Motion Pictures’ version of Bose’s story also includes an aspect of Bose’s life that is usually neglected in hagiographical accounts: his relationship and secret marriage to Emilie Schenkl in Berlin in 1937. Under Shyam Benegal’s direction, the film portrays Bose as a character who was willing to compromise with Gandhi’s non-violence policy for the sake of gaining freedom for his motherland.

Ami Subhash Bolchi (2011)

Mithun Chakraborty-starrer comedy Ami Subhash Bolchi, depicts Bose coming to the rescue of Debabrata Bose (Chakraborty), a middle-class Bengali man in Kolkata who hates himself. Debabrata finds himself unable to keep up with the city’s non-Bengali nouveau riche, who shame him for his genteel ways. After a drunken fight, he goes on a tirade against his kind in a dream before Netaji arrives and rescues him by elaborating the merits of the Bengali race.

Raag Desh (2017)

Raag Desh doesn’t portray a slice of Bose’s life; it instead focuses on the 1944 Red Fort trials, where three INA soldiers were accused of treason. Played by Assamese director Kenny Basumatary, Bose briefly appears to inspire his troops. Directed by the talented Tigmanshu Dhulia, Raag Desh stars Kunal Kapoor, Amit Sadh, Mohit Marwah and Mrudula Murali

Special mention – Bose:  Dead/Alive (2017)

Based on the book India’s Biggest Cover-up by activist Anuj Dhar, Bose: Dead/Alive is a 2017 web television miniseries starring Rajkummar Rao. Though the project was not created for a cinematic release, it did make an impact on the mind of the Indian audience through its treatment of the mystery that surrounds Subhas Chandra Bose’s death.

Subhas Chandra Bose has been an enigma for the Indian silver screen. On the occasion of his 122nd birth anniversary, we remember the national hero for his perseverance, intelligence and contribution to the cause of independence.

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