7 June 2002. A sea of films flooded the Indian cinema, based on Bhagat Singh exactly two decades ago. Each had many stakes to claim. Probably that is why none of these films even managed to cross even average figures. Yes, those were the days when even brilliant films flopped due to weird factors, and mostly due to the distaste of Indian audience, one such film being ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’.
However, in an industry where facts went for a toss, in an industry where films like ‘Samrat Prithviraj’, ‘Bajirao Mastani’ are given leeway, in an industry where actors shamelessly proclaim that Lal of Lal-Bal-Pal was not Lala Lajpat Rai but Lal Bahadur Shastri, ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ was nothing but a heavenly bliss.
However, we forget who created this masterpiece. If the director at the helm of affairs is Rajkumar Santoshi, who has films like ‘Ghayal’, ‘Damini’, ‘Andaz Apna Apna’, ‘Ghatak’, ‘Pukaar’ etc. to his credit, how could he not create a film that would ultimately become a cult classic with proper research and dedicated folks?
Fun fact – The man of the moment, Ajay Devgn, was not even the first choice for the film. He was chosen after the Deols [both Bobby and Sunny] walked out, but he made his film his own, as if nobody could portray Bhagat Singh better than him. Now when Akshay Kumar is trolled heavily for his unenthusiastic portrayal of “Samrat Prithviraj”, several folks compared him to various actors who transformed seamlessly into the historical characters allotted to them, and as such Ajay Devgn’s rendition of Bhagat Singh had to be one such inclusion.
Now it isn’t that nobody ever attempted a film before Ajay Devgn on Sardar Bhagat Singh, or tried to portray him better on screen. Everyone knows the sincere attempt of Manoj Kumar in ‘Shaheed’, the first popular portrayal of Bhagat Singh, released in 1965, and written by Bhagat’s ‘brother – in – arms’, Batukeshwar Dutt. However, it was Ajay Devgn who made Bhagat Singh a household name with his portrayal of the same. Some naïve folks do attempt to compare Vicky Kaushal’s rendition of ‘Sardar Udham’ with that of Ajay Devgn, but it certainly pales when push comes to shove.
However, the The Legend of Bhagat Singh film was not just limited to Ajay Devgn. The film was designed to sing paeans about Marxism and Communism. After all, the script was penned by Anjum Rajabali. However, what Kay Kay Menon did with ‘Shaurya’, was what Ajay Devgn did with ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’, giving the iconic revolutionary his real dues, instead of restricting him to the confines of communism. Show me one other movie that has the revolutionary proudly proclaiming to the British judge, “Jab tumhare baap dada bolna nahin jante the, yahan ka Bachcha Bachcha Geeta Ramayan Ka Paath Padhta Tha!”
[When Your fathers didn’t even know to speak, our kids knew Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana by heart]
Interestingly, every other actor was as invested in this movie as Ajay was. No matter how left-leaning Sushant Singh was, there can be no doubt on his acting credentials, when he brilliantly essayed the role of Sukhdev Thapar, as if he was tailor-made for it. For D Santosh and Akhilendra Mishra, it looked as if they were not even there, rather it were mirror images of Rajguru and Chandra Shekhar Azad fighting onscreen for the independence of Bharat.
Sometimes, I wonder if ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ released at the wrong time, far too ahead of itself. The music still makes our eyes well up with tears, the dialogues make us thump our chests with pride. Just think, if this movie was released at the time of ‘Shershaah’, or even ‘URI’.