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Celluloid tribute to a national hero

THE ROLE OF A LIFETIME: Sachin Khedekar infuses life into the role of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in Shyam Benegal's "Bose - The Forgotten Hero".

Bose - The Forgotten Hero
Genre: Historical
The cast: Sachin Khedekar, Ila Arun, Kulbhushan
Kharbanda, Rajit Kapoor and Rajpal Yadav.
The director: Shyam Benegal
The storyline: Netaji's life
The bottomline: Finally, a neglected patriot remembered

He has seldom, if ever, got his due from a nation of hero worshippers.

But more than two decades after cinemagoers paid celluloid obeisance to Mahatma Gandhi, and many summers after we all got more familiar with the greatness of the likes of Sardar Patel and Dr Ambedkar, here comes a much-awaited, long delayed tribute to one of the knights of our freedom struggle.

Credit to Shyam Benegal for putting together this story of a man who gave it all for the motherland, and in return has got only token remembrance, partial, even hesitant recognition, of his greatness.

It is Benegal's biggest film. And among his very best. The canvas is vast, the scale impressive - he apparently researched for three years, auditioned 24 actors for the lead role, had to create some sets in Uzbekistan to lend that touch of authenticity. He has been successful.

He may not have put together an epic to challenge the lasting greatness of "Gandhi," Richard Attenborough's tribute to our Father of the Nation. But nor has he had the advantage of such resources.

Intellectual honesty

Where Benegal deserves credit is not in the canvas of his work but the intellectual honesty he has brought to the film. He refrains from either diluting or distorting history to serve his ends.

He projects Netaji as a human being without at any time chipping away at his greatness. In the film, Netaji seems one of us without ever condescending to the level of mere mortals. That is the greatness of Benegal in this film. He has dared to talk of Netaji's marital status, his daughter, his meeting with Hitler - all his human traits, including the fear of cats!

One only wishes, he had explained a couple of things better. For instance, the INA slogan "Jai Hind".

Many believe it to have been coined by Netaji. It was actually given by one of his comrades, Abid Hussein - played with understated elegance by Rajit Kapoor.

Benegal is not able to clarify that, losing out to the editor's scissors!

But that is a small error. As indeed is the somewhat abrupt end to the three-and-a-half-hour long saga. There are certain cuts which leave you wondering, how come!

But these are merely small blemishes that do not dilute either the purpose. Or the film.

Good support

It is a film where intent and content prevail upon entertainment. And in Sachin Khedekar, it has got a guy who looks like Netaji Subash Chandra Bose must have been at his peak. Not too many people of post-Independence India would be aware of the way Netaji used to talk, the way he used to walk — of course some of the plucky INA survivors would though. But what Khedekar lays stock on is the virtue, the soul of the man, not his mannerism; his substance, not his style.

And the message — despite the controversy over his marital status — is not diluted one bit. It is a showcase Khedekar would like to carry around for a lifetime, a treasure trove he would dip into any time he is low on confidence. And come back richer for the experience. He may not win too many international awards for portraying Netaji but accolades at home should come in thick and fast. Before "Bose... ," he was known as the male chauvinistic pig of "Astitva." Now, he has made himself a new, more endearing, passport with posterity.

Khedekar gets good support from Ila Arun, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Rajit Kapoor, all of them play their small but important roles with dignity and sincerity.

However, Rajpal Yadav as Bhagatram Talwar, the man who enabled Bose to flee from India, cross Afghanistan and go on to Europe, is not quite there. He tries valiantly but this is one case of reputation preceding the man.

Watch the film for all of them - Benegal, the master craftsman, Khedekar, the skilful practitioner, Kharbanda, etc, the willing companions in a long and lofty journey. But watch it actually for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the man often denied his place in the pantheon of our heroes because of differences with Gandhiji and others.

Incidentally, it is in the fitness of things that Netaji on his INA mission in Rangoon, went to the grave of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the man who did not get two yards of land for burial in his beloved country.

Watching this film is part of the debt posterity owes to one of the greatest sons of the soil. Time for reunion with the wandering hero. Time for repayment.


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