'It looks at who is Indian or Indian enough,' says Kabir Khan about 'The Forgotten Army'

The filmmaker's maiden web series celebrates the unheralded achievements of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj

Kabir Khan is all set to go back to the future. At the very start of his career, way back in 1999, he had made a much celebrated documentary, called The Forgotten Army, on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA), also known as Azad Hind Fauj, that had played a key role in India's fight for independence from British colonialism. “I was 25 then. It’s a story that never left me. It made me want to become a filmmaker,” he says.

He had always nursed the desire to turn it into a feature film to cover the subject with more depth and in its rightful magnitude and to take INA’s untold stories to the masses. Producer Aditya Chopra was the natural ally but even he was overwhelmed and intimidated by the sheer size and scope of the enterprise.

Fighting for ideals

Now Khan has turned it into a five-part original web series for Amazon Prime Video, called The Forgotten Army — Azaadi Ke Liye that premieres today. It celebrates the contribution of Indian soldiers who quit their jobs in the British Indian Army during World War II, to free their motherland from the British. According to Khan, their contributions went unrecognised in the light of Mahatma Gandhi’s popular non-violent movement and also for its controversial association with the Imperial Japan Army. The bit we know about the INA also has to do more with Netaji. “We don’t have the foggiest idea about the 55,000 foot soldiers. The series sees the times through their eyes. It’s about their trials and tribulations,” says Khan, of his first foray into the web space.

In retrospect, he is happy for it to have taken the original series rather than the movie route. “Mainstream cinema demands oversimplification to reach out to the lowest common denominator,” Khan thinks. How? Like the insistence that every character speak in Hindi. He was able to do away with that but retained the smattering of languages represented by the INA’s diverse set of soldiers.

True to history

It took him six months to rewrite the original film script and break it into the five episode structure. Much of the series has been shot on location, in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and India. But elements like the City Hall of 1942 Singapore had to be recreated on a big scale. “Sometimes the scale itself is the story,” he says, explaining that if it were not for the scale we would continue buying the rather dismissive British narrative of the INA being just a “ragtag bunch of rebels”. “In fact, it was a proper, structured army,” he asserts.

The extensive research done on the documentary, all those years ago ensured that Khan had internalised the details well into his system. He has remained a “slave to history” here as well, in the sense that the events portrayed are true. Where Khan has taken liberty is in merging the stories, say of three real dramatis personae into one character on screen. The series has the love story of two soldiers — Sodhi and Maya — at the heart of it.

The INA, incidentally was the founder of world’s first and only woman infantry regiment, the Jhansi Ki Rani regiment. The show, also raises several questions about identity, cost of independence and the idea of motherland. Set in two different eras and generations, it has a contemporary resonance to it, especially in the way it examines the idea of patriotism that has become unduly contentious, and moves away from the toxic tone it has acquired of late. “It looks at who is Indian or Indian enough,” says Khan. The theme of nationalism gets carried forward in his forthcoming sports film 83 as well with Ranveer Singh playing Kapil Dev, the captain of the Indian cricket team that had lifted the World Cup in 1983. Says Khan: “In a way it’s also about showing love for your country through sports, about loving your country without hating the other.”

The Forgotten Army: Azaadi Ke Liye premières today on Amazon Prime Video

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2020 1:26:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/its-a-story-that-never-left-me/article30636193.ece

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