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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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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.