Cinema

Shaheed (1965)

A poster of the film.   | Photo Credit: Email

Starring Manoj Kumar, Prem Chopra, Pran, Kamini Kaushal

If there is one patriot who inspires universal admiration and loyalty in Indian conscience even decades after his martyrdom, it is none other than Bhagat Singh. Embracing death with a smile, the legendary freedom fighter not only shook the foundations of the British Empire but inspired millions with his audacious courage of convictions. Therefore, despite Indian cinema's seeming reluctance to produce films about its freedom fighters or war soldiers, it isn't a surprise that the life story of Bhagat Singh motivated several versions though the best biographical sketch was carved by Kewal Kashyap's black and white classic “Shaheed.”

While credits acknowledge S. Ram Sharma as director, old timers say Manoj Kumar wielded the megaphone but didn't lend his name as a failure could hinder his acting career. But as it turned out, the film based on story and screenplay written by the actor was a smashing box office success.

Raw authenticity

Unlike most Indian patriotic films where actions and emotions are contrived and hackneyed, “Shaheed” had a raw authenticity, probably because screenplay inputs were provided by Bhagat Singh's close aide Battukeshwar Dutt . Devoid of mumbo-jumbo of unnatural dialogues, which plagued Manoj's later films, “Shaheed” captured cultural nuances and patriotic fervour of pre-independent Punjab with flawless accuracy. Devoid of caste and religious jingoism, it became a guidebook about Shaheed-e-Azam's exemplary revolt along with Rajguru and Sukhdev.

The writer in Manoj Kumar detailed such fine sketches of leading characters with distinctive traits, that they created instant empathy with the public. If Kamini Kaushal was dignified as Bhagat Singh's mother, Pran stood out with his ruffian act of a reckless, condemned criminal who is finally moved by the martyrs' struggle. Scenes like Pran's Punjabi oriented dialogues spelling his life philosophy, his final handshake with Bhagat Singh, prisoners' mutiny and Bhagat's resolve to join the revolutionary party are candid examples of an exemplary screenplay.

Even minor roles like the hardened jail warden (Madan Puri), the sympathetic Sikh jail worker (Anwar Hussain) or Chandra Shekhar Azad (Manmohan) are arresting as they lend human face to historic incidents of the momentous era. The three main roles by Manoj Kumar, Prem Chopra and an unknown Anant Kumar are marked by serene restraint, giving solemn dignity to the martyrs' persona. Despite his limited acting prowess, Manoj Kumar gave one of the finest performances of his career, moving Bhagat Singh's mother to concede that his film persona was akin to her son...a great compliment indeed!

Although several current film-makers have made their own versions of Bhagat Singh's life story, they couldn't capture the realistic depiction of the era like “Shaheed”. Lacking passion, the latter day creations were also devoid of the magnetic music and lyrics created by Prem Dhawan, who ignited patriotic fever through several rousing songs and couplets by immortal singer Mohammed Rafi. From “Aye Watan Humko Teri Kasam”, “Pagdi Sambhaal Jatta”, “Sarfroshi ki Tamanna” to several passages of poetry expressing anguish, passion, rage and hope, Dhawan used Rafi's depth and range to create eternal milestones. During the Indo-Pak war of 1965, Rafi's “Aye Watan” became a clarion call for national integration along with the historic “Mera Rang De Basanti Chola” by Mahendra Kapoor and company.

Combining subtle interplay of light and shade, cameraman Ranjodh Thakur brought alive delicate Rafi couplets like “Jab Shaheedon kee Arthee Uthe Dhoom Se” (when martyrs' bodies are taken for cremation) or “Tu Naa Ro Maa ke Tu Hai Bhagat Singh Ki Maa” (Do not cry for thou art Bhagat Singh's mother) as poetical images which give you goose bumps even today after four decades. This was no mean feat considering the fact that due to a limited budget, Thakur captured most scenes with actual street lights and it is said that Pran was so besotted with Bhagat's story that he helped with over three lakh rupees to complete the film!


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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 10:23:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Shaheed-1965/article16364879.ece

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