The history streak continues!!!! This time, focused on that early 1900s era right before independence. And I am pretty sure I can come up with a whole other 10 films. Also, prepare yourself for a whole lot of versions of “Rang De Basanti” (yes, according to contemporary accounts, Bhagat Singh did sing it while preparing to be hung) and “Vande Mataram”.
This is a movie that attempts to be an international level historical film and fails. Although it does give a very clear exposition of the life of Bhagat Singh and, in a greater sense, India in the 1920s and 30s. The confusion, the variety of groups working towards independence, the questions as to the best methods, the conflict with family loyalty versus loyalty to country, it is all shown very clearly here. And it also has some quite terrible White People Acting moments, and some semi-questionable costume choices. But the first 5 minutes are amazingly powerful, nothing can take that away.
Rang De Basanti
My favorite Bhagat Singh film! Set mostly in the present day, but with present day characters who embody the spirit of what Bhagat and his group were fighting for and against. It may not have the clear exposition and explanation of The Legend of Bhagat Singh, but it captures the feelings. Also, the White People are considerably better actors.
I very much do not like this film, and I also think it is just poorly made. The characters are more characterizations than real people, and mostly the stories of the past seem to treat the past as a beautiful place to visit, not anything “real”. HOWEVER, there is one small sequence that shows the story of the INR (Indian National Army, allied with Japan and Germany against Britain) through the eyes of an average recruit and it is powerful and shows the brutality of the Japanese, the heartlessness of the British officers, and the saving grace of being invited to join something real.
I also very much do not like this film. But most people really really do. It’s another INR movie, set mostly in the present day but with a flashback to the 1940s that shows both the fight at home in India and then the fighting overseas. I think it is a completely ridiculous and ahistorical version of reality, but sometimes it is important to see what ahistory looks like. For a nice cleansing burst of what history really is, you can check out the brilliant take down of this film and others like it, Kammara Sambhavam
Now this movie, I like!!!!! It deals with the darkness and horror of the colonial era, the way inhumanity was allowed to rule, and then gives us a satisfying ending when good triumphs (more or less). And it has a fascinating combination of characters, a returning British Navy vet and son of a wealthy landowner, a forgotten love child of a British colonizer, and a group of dalit/adivasi rebels. Believe me when I say that the first half is very very dark, but it gets better. Also believe me when I saw that Fahad Fazil is not just attractive, but downright heroic and dark and dangerous.
1942: A Love Story
Ah 1942!!!! It takes some real issues, the combination of violent and non-violent protests, the increasing inhumanity of the British officers left behind in India instead of sent to active duty, the conflicts of the loyal British Indian army officers and the ugliness of the local wealthy collaberators, and then it tosses an a FREAKISH amount of romance and beauty. The cool thing is, the movie knows it is doing this, for instance having a love song be interrupted by a protest march. Oh, and Manisha Koirala is so beautiful you can’t look away. Anil is Anil.
This is such an interesting movie, and such a different take on the Independence movement. The story of someone who wasn’t on the frontlines, who was thinking more about “what happens next”. It’s a sports film, but a sports film that goes from 1939 to 1947 and follows a group of athletes and coaches as they make their way through the fight for independence and then the adjustments as it finally comes.
Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey
I haven’t seen this movie yet, I will some day, but it is worth including because first, it has a new AR Rahman version of “Vande Mataram”. And second, it is a fascinating forgotten story. In Chittagong in Bengal, a group of high school teachers secretly trained their students and then successfully attack and take over an army base. Oh, and two of the ringleaders were women. They failed in the long run of course, the army took back the base and killed most of them, but it is still a remarkable story. And it has Abhishek and Deepika and is directed by Ashutosh Gowariker.
Another one I haven’t seen, and another unusual one. While the freedom movement went on and on, rebel leaders and suspected rebels were rounded up sent to remote prisons. This tells the story of what happened in those prisons, the forgotten lost men who tried to keep each other going and hold on to their spirit of rebellion under inhuman conditions. A very Malayalam take on the freedom movement, no big famous gestures, just forgotten sadness and loss. Oh, and Mohanlal and Amrish Puri co-star! How often do you see that? Guess which is the saintly prisoner and which is the sadistic jailer?
The classic! Manoj Kumar plays Bhagat Singh just 3 decades after Bhagat’s death. It has a black and white classic cast, everyone from Pran to Durga Khote, and it created the basic template for the revolutionary martyr film that all the others listed here follow.