India@70

There are more movies about Subhash Chandra Bose than ever before

Rajkummar Rao is the latest actor to portray the freedom fighter in the web series ‘Bose: Dead/Alive’.

The filmmaker who sets out to make a nationalistic movie about the Indian independence movement does not quite know what to make of Subhash Chandra Bose. A political maverick whose ideology and methods were at odds with the Congress Party-led freedom struggle, Bose has been fleetingly represented in cinema – until 2017. The Indian National Army, comprising former Indian prisoners of war and steered by Bose, features in the year’s releases Rangoon and Raag Desh. The mystery surrounding Bose’s death in 1945 is the subject of the upcoming mini-series Bose: Dead/Alive, starring Rajkummar Rao.

There have been two full-fledged biopics on Bose: the Bengali Subhas Chandra (1966) and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2004). A greater number of films feature the leader as a source of inspiration, and focus on the army that he galvanised with the help of Japanese support in the early 1940s. Bose shows up as a totemic presence in Ami Subhash Bolchi (2011), a remake of the Marathi film Me Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy (2009) and in Raag Desh (2017), about the trials of three INA soldiers in 1944.

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Ami Subhash Bolchi (2011).

In Ami Subhas Bolchi, Bose comes to the rescue of Debabrata Bose (Mithun Chakraborty), a middle-class Bengali man in Kolkata who hates himself because he is a “Damn Bengali”. Debabrata Bose finds himself unable to keep up with the city’s non-Bengali nouveau riche, who shame him for his genteel ways. After a drunken fight, he goes on a tirade against his kind in a dream before Netaji arrives and rescues him with pep talk on the merits of the Bengali race.

Raag Desh focuses on the 1944 Red Fort trials, in which three INA soldiers were accused of treason. Bose, played by Assamese director Kenny Basumatary, briefly appears to inspire his troops. The fighting force also features in Shankar’s vigilante thriller Indian (1996). Kamal Haasan’s Senapathy character is a former INA soldier.

One of the earliest films to be made on the army is Samadhi (1950), starring Ashok Kumar as Shekhar, an INA officer who is at loggerheads with his brother Suresh (Shyam), a soldier in the British Army. The drama is complicated with the brothers’ lovers, Dolly (Kuldip Kaur) and Lily (Nalini Jaywant), acting as British spies. In the end, Shekhar dies on the battlefield.

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Samadhi (1950).

The two biopics on Bose vastly differ in length and treatment. While Piyush Bose’s Subhas Chandra (1966) is a briskly narrated, coming-of-age film, Shyam Benegal’s 210-minute Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2004) tracks Bose’s life after his split with Mahatma Gandhi and his departure from the Congress Party in 1939.

Subhas Chandra is more of a bildungsroman about the intellectual transformation of Bose from an inquisitive boy to a firebrand leader than a patriotic film. Bose (Ashish Ghosh) grows up in a wealthy household in Cuttack in Orissa. He is enrolled in a school in which students wear dhotis to class and the teachers are natives. Having been educated in a European school, Bose is shamed by his classmates and teacher for knowing little Bengali or Sanskrit. He begins to question his upbringing and beliefs, and under the tutelage of patriotic headmaster Benimadhab Bas, becomes interested in the works of Vivekananda and Rama Tirtha.

The life of Khudiram Bose captures Bose’s attention after he hears a girl singing Ekbar Biday De Ma Ghure Ashi (Bid me goodbye, mother), an elegy for the militant revolutionary who was hanged in 1908 at the age of 18.

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Ekbar Biday De Ma Ghure Ashi (Subhas Chandra, 1966).

As he grows older, Bose (now played by Amar Dutta) becomes increasingly interested in Hindu philosophy, but he is repelled by his experiences of Brahmin practices and casteism. In one scene, Bose and a fellow ascetic are refused meals in Hardwar because they are Bengalis and eat fish. They are asked to eat at a distance from the Brahmins at the Arya Samaj’s gurukul. Disillusioned, Bose realises, “Without freeing the country, we cannot free people’s hearts.”

Bose (now played by Samar Chatterjee) begins to study at the Presidency College, where he earns street cred as a youth leader. After repeated altercations with the college’s British administration, he is expelled. Bose goes on to pass the Indian Civil Services examination, only to refuse a government job, and instead, opting to join the growing nationalist movement in Kolkata. The film ends with Bose getting arrested by the police for the first time in his life.

Subhas Chandra (1966).
Subhas Chandra (1966).

Benegal’s biopic, in contrast, is a far more expansive – and thus plodding – account of Bose’s political journey. The story begins with Bose (Sachin Khedekar) falling out with Gandhi and continues with his incarceration, house arrest followed by a daring escape, his travels to Afghanistan and Germany in 1941, and finally Japan in 1943, and his leadership of the Indian National Army.

The movie is painstakingly detailed and boasts of great production values (art director Samir Chanda, cinematographer Rajan Kothari and editor A Sreekar Prasad) and music (AR Rahman). Bose is shown as being obsessed with his cause of freeing the nation from the British.

Benegal also includes an aspect of Bose’s colourful life that usually escapes more hagiographical accounts: his relationship with and secret marriage to Emilie Schenkl in Berlin in 1937. Protests by the All India Forward Bloc, the party founded by Bose in 1939, over the inclusion of this episode from Bose’s life forced Benegal to cancel the movie’s premiere in Kolkata.

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Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2004).

Some scenes undermine the realism typical of Benegal’s films, resulting in unintended mirth, such as the moment when Bose walks into a prisoners of war camp in Germany and wins over a group of hostile soldiers within minutes because he is, well, Bose. Or when Bose’s colleague Abid Hasan (Rajit Kapur) shouts “Vande Mataram” right after a group of German officials gives the Nazi salute at the start of a meeting. When Hasan explains what Vande Mataram means, the Nazi superior nods in approval.

Bhutanese actor Kelly Dorji is miscast as Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, and he attempts a stereotypical accent that many would call racist. In one hero moment, Bose tells Adolf Hitler that the latter’s decision to send troops to Russia in the winter is wrong. But nothing tops Benegal’s decision to use Ghum Parani Mashi Pishi, a popular Bengali lullaby, in a scene to underline Bose’s longing as he leaves home forever to escape the country and gather the support of the Axis powers for his war against the British.

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Ghum Parani (Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero, 2004).

Benegal’s film shows Bose as a character who was willing to compromise with Gandhi’s non-violence policy for the sake of gaining freedom. Hitler, for one, was not particularly kind to the cause of Indian independence. He would “rather see India under British rule than under any other”, as he wrote in Mein Kampf. Despite that, Bose did not hesitate to approach Germany and Japan (Nehru called them “brutish, reactionary forces” and said that they should “go to hell”), seeking help to raise an army and snatch freedom through violent means.

Bose’s complicated ideological position, perhaps, makes him a difficult person to revere on celluloid. Throughout his life, he opposed the moderate methods of the party that was not only instrumental in getting India freedom but also was a part of independent India’s central government for 49 years. With the present government being contemptuous of the Congress years, filmmakers are now revisiting Bose’s story with renewed zeal and ensuring that he is far from being forgotten.

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Bose: Dead/Alive (2017).
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.