23rd March 1931: Shaheed (2002)
Director: Guddu Dhanoa.
Starring: Bobby Deol (Bhagat Singh), Sunny Deol (Chandrashekhar Azad), Amrita Singh (Vidya, Bhagat's mom), Rahul Dev (Sukhdev), Vicky Ahuja (Rajguru), Suresh Oberoi (Gaoler Chaddha), Shakti Kapoor (Chattar Singh), Divya Dutta, Akshay Anand, Aishwarya Rai (Special Appearance in a song).
Bhagat Singh; celebrated martyr of Indian independence movement; hanged by British March 23, 1931
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
A train comes into a station. Part of a sign says Layall. A delegation and a band are waiting to welcome the new governor of Punjab, Sir Densel Ebetson. He is with his wife Sarah who has a headache. She tells him to not take too long, but he tells her he has a bigger headache here and he has to sort it out before they leave.
He turns to Dilbagh Singh. He says the report of the home department says that the Arjan Singh family, especially his son Ajit Singh, has become very dangerous for the government. Densel knows that Ajit is Dilbagh's cousin, but he still wants to know why Dilbagh has not taken any action against him?. Dilbagh defends himself by saying the investigation will begin as soon as he gets the order from the governor general. This exasperates Densel.
Ajit is at home talking with his sister-in-law. She asks him to come with them. It is Bhagatís first Lodi (harvest festival) of their grandson. But Ajit says no because Dilbagh Singh has become a puppet of the British government.
A contractor wants a man to pay his debt to him. He tells the man to go talk to the newly arrived British official and ask him to let him not pay his taxes this time because he has no money. The man goes to speak with Densel. Ajit and his brother Kishan want to know why the contractor sent the man to see the British official? They will flay the man just so the contractor can get his money. Ajit says if they are slaves of the English it is because of thieves like the contractor. His brother tells Ajit that there is no time now to teach the contractor a lesson.
The poor man goes to see Densel who is watching the festival. The Brit is not pleased at the interruption of his enjoyment. He kicks the manís turban away from him. Ajit picks up the turban and tells the poor man to maintain his self-respect. The police arrive and Densel gives the order to arrest Ajit.
At home Ajitís nephew asks his mother why uncle was arrested? She says because the people are slaves to the English rule of the country. The boy wants to know the story of the English rule and mother starts with the English first coming as traders. They got permission from the Mughal emperor Jahangir to trade. The British made friends with all the kings, emperors and ministers of India. But after the death of Aurangzeb and the shattering of the Mughal empire, the British pitied the various rulers of the country against one another. With the help of their army, they put their own people on the various thrones. Soon they were controlling the whole country and the people were made the slaves of the British. The British consider them as just animals and freely kill them if it is in their interest.
A Mr. Mehta comes to see Kishan Singh. He meets first Arjan Singh who asks the man what is the news from Lahore? He asks about Lala Lajpat Rai. Mehta says he is fine and it is he who sent him to speak with Kishan. Arjan tells Kishan to go to the fields to talk, because there are spies all around. The boy Bhagat, Kishanís son, tags along after them. Lala sends the message that he will soon start the movement in Punjab similar to that which Bipin Chandra pal did in Bengal and Bal Ganga Dhar Tilak in Maharashtra. Kishan gives some money to Mehta for Lala. Kishan himself will soon be taking his family to Lahore on insurance business.
Suddenly Kishan realizes that Bhagat is not with them. They start searching the fields that are covered with very tall plants. They find Bhagat "planting" guns. Mehta asks that if he plants guns he will reap bullets and who will eat them?. The English, says Bhagat. Mehta and Kishan both laugh.
At night Ajit comes home. He explains that he escaped from prison. He says he has to get out of India or the British will kill him as they did their brother Swaran Singh. Their father did not know his son had died. The brothers kept it from him. The British so neglected Swaran in prison that he became sick and died. Ajit says he will go abroad and collect donations and come back ready for the fight against the English. Then Arjan tells dad that he is leaving and for the same reason. This upsets his wife, Harnaam, who cries and runs. Her husband consoles her and she says he should definitely go.
Lala speaks to a group of men saying that the aim of the Gadar party is to foment violent revolt to establish Indian independence. The money will come from Indians living in the USA and Canada. Ajit Singh is working on this project. Bhagat comes to the meeting. He is welcomed by Lala.
Lala says that representatives of the Gadar party will go to the villages and get the villagers on their side. They eventually will take possession of the post offices, police stations and other government offices. With the villages in their control the cities will come around to their cause. Kartar Singh Saravar will lead the Gadar movement. The men look skeptical because the fellow is so young, but Lala vouches for the young manís abilities.
The British break up a Gadar speech to the villagers. They capture Kartar after shooting him in the leg. On the radio the news is that the police fired at the Jallianwala Baug in Amritsar. Brigadier General Regenard Dire tried to stop the mass meeting but the situation got out of control and they fired into the crowd. Kishan returns to say that the news report is wrong. The crowd gathered to protest the Rowlett Act. (Judge Rowlett issued the emergency decree saying that those people suspected of committing political crimes could be sentenced without trial.) The General fired into the crowd for revenge. He didnít even spare the women, children and old men. There were piles of bodies everywhere.
Bhagat has not returned from school and his mother and aunt are worried. He walked to the scene of the political violence. He felt e could feel what happened there. When he gets home his mother asks him whereís he been. He shows her his bottle filled with soil and blood from Jallianwala Baug.
Bhagat is big now. He wakes up late and has to rush over to the college because today is the annual day function and Lala will be presiding. Bhagat sings the lead in a musical performance. It is a resistance song written by Kartar Singh Saravar. After the performance Lala congratulates him. Bhagat introduces his friends, Sukhdev, Jai Gopal and Yashpal, Bhagwati Bai and his wife Durga.
Meanwhile, at home a marriage of Bhagat to a young woman is being arranged. Bhagat writes a letter to his father saying this is not the time for marriage. His country is calling him, he writes. He is leaving Lahore to join Chandra Shekhar Azad in the freedom struggle.
English rule is baffled by civil non-cooperation and so now they are paying the deadliest goons to fight the people of the Congress party. Motilal Nehru talks to a man who he thinks can stop these actions by the police: Azad, who is a huge man.
There is a demonstration where a man calls out: "Whatever the English will make. . . " and the people respond with ". . . we will burn them." The toughs are dropped off by the police right in front of the demonstrators. When the leader of the toughs pulls down a banner, standing right behind it is the man hired to stop the toughs. He grabs the guy and squeezes him so tight the man yells out in pain. The strong man says: "This is the embrace of Chandra Shekhar Azad." The other toughs are so scared that they run away.
Azad returns to his meeting place and is introduced to Bhagat. When Azad asks why donít these new guys just join the non-violence movement, Bhagat immediately says, because "complete freedom will come by revolt. . . . blood is required." Azad warns the newcomers that they are waging a fierce fight "whose victory lies in our death." Bhagat says death would be preferable to a life of slavery. To prove his sincerity, Bhagat sticks his hand into a fire. Azad forces his hand out of the fire.
Bhagat busily speaks to crowds about the freedom struggle. An informer tells the police that men are distributing anti-government flyers. Bhagat sees the police coming his way. He fires a pistol shot into the base of a tall figurine and it goes up in flames and falls in the direction of the police. Everyone starts to scatter.
Bhagat receives a letter from his father saying that his mother is very ill. Bhagat goes home and sees his parents. He also sees a beautiful young woman and starts to wonder whatís up? The women come to Bhagat and sing and dance around him. He goes to his mother to ask why she has done this when she knows he has dedicated his life to the movement? As a mother she couldnít help herself, says mom.
Bhagat goes back to the Azad and the movement. The decision to attack the train going from Hardoi to Lucknow has been made in order to get desperately needed funds. They will attack the train at the Kakori station.
The plan is carried out and a great deal of money (7,900 rupees) is taken from the train. The British, however, find a shawl of one of the train robbers. They trace the laundry mark on it to the launderer and he goes through his records and tells them the shawl belongs to Ram Prasad Bismil. The British bring the train robber in and start torturing him. They want to know where is Azad? A messenger informs the British that they found out the names of three more of the train robbers.
Azad is at a loss as to how the British caught four of their men so quickly. And now Hyder is caught. The men say they will free the five captured men this very night. They free Hyder and he shows them the way to the other four. But they run right into arriving police and Hyder is shot in the back. The fire fight is a stand-off so the gang has to leave with only the wounded Hyder. But then Hyder dies. So they gain nothing.
A message comes for Azad and his followers. Lala has all called them to Lahore immediately. Azad tells Bhagat to go and meet Lala. Lala asks Bhagat what are he and his fellows trying to do? This country canít win freedom by the use of guns and bombs. All you revolutionaries are very irresponsible youths, he says. The Simon Commission has come to India. A few Englishmen will decide just how much freedom India shall have. When the commission arrives at the Lahore station he wants Bhagat to join him and the others in revolt against the party, but it must be non-violent. Bhagat agrees it will be non-violent.
When the Simon Commission arrives there is a huge protest underway saying Simon Commission go back! The police with the Simon Commission push back the crowd. Then a squad of policemen on horseback comes out to attack the crowd. Lala is hit on the head numerous times but still stands up shouting. Bhagat forces his way to the front, grabs hold of Lala and pulls him back into the crowd away from the policemen.
At the hospital a huge crowd learns that Lala has died. At the funeral Bhagat swears that Lalaís death will be avenged. A man named Scott is to be killed in revenge. Azad, Bhagat and their men are in on it. Bhagat realizes that the man spotted on the day of the assassination attempt is Saunders and not Scott. With pistols drawn Bhagat and another man run in front of Saunders riding on a motor scooter. Saunders stops and the two men open up on him shooting him several times.
The assassins run through the city streets chased by Indian police. Azad shoots one of the police who was farthest ahead of the others. The assassins run into a building and the police run past them. The activists then grab posters and start putting them up around the city. Now they all must get out of Lahore.
The police start searching every house in Lahore. Sukhdev, one of the assassins, goes to his sister-in-law Durgaís house and she lets him in. He tells her that by tomorrow everyone will know the assassination was done by the youth of the Indian Socialist Republican Army. They have to get Bhagat out of the city and he wants his sister-in-law to play the part of Bhagatís wife. At first she refuses. Bhagat Singh shows up dressed in his disguise. The sister-in-law agrees and off they go to the train as a middle-class Indian family. Bhagat gets on the train.
Bhagat is back together with the members of his group. They tell him that they will have to leave Calcutta and go to Agra. Azad has called for a meeting at the new office in the asafetida market in Agra. The British are going to pass a public safety bill and a trade dispute bill, both acts which are like the Rowlett Act.
A meeting is held at Assembly Hall on the new bills. The decision on the bills is going to be announced. Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt stand up. Bhagat throws two bombs that only make noise. There is no shrapnel. Then they throw flyers onto the floor of the assembly and shout Inquilab zindabad! (Long live the revolution!). The assemblymen scatter and head for the exits. The two men give themselves up willingly to the police.
Azad is shown a newspaper with the headline about the assault on the imperial assembly. Bhagatís mother and father come to visit him at the jail house. But they wonít let them see their son. Dad shouts that he will get his lawyer and heíll get to see his son. So the police decide it is best to move the two men to Delhi.
Mom and dad have to go to Delhi to see their son. Bhagat assures them itís no big deal because they just threw bombs that made noise. At the trial the two come in denouncing British imperialism. The charge facing the men is that they tried to kill Sir George Shauster and Sir George Simon by throwing bombs and firing pistols. The two men shout: "Inquilab zindabad!"
Delhi police Sgt. Terry gives false testimony that the men fired two shots at Sir George and then tried to escape. Then a man named Hakim Khan is called to the stand and he also lies.
The lawyer Asif Ali comes to the jail to see Dutt. He says he was there in the Assembly Hall on the day in question and he knows what happened. Asif wants to represent the men for free. But Dutt says no. They want to use the court to get their anti-imperialism beliefs out to the people of India. Asif counters that the government will throw them both into jail forever and they will thereby be silenced forever. Then he asks Dutt why did he say he threw one of the bombs when he (the lawyer) knows the truth to be otherwise. Dutt knows that only Bhagat threw the bombs, but he says that he could not leave his friend by himself in jail. Asif thinks that answer is very noble.
In court Asif Ali proves that Hakim Khan and Sgt Terry both lied under oath. But the judge sustains all the objections of the prosecutor. Asif gets so carried away with shouting out his defense of the two accused men that he shouts: "Inquilab zindabad!"
June 12, 1930. The two defendants are sentenced to life in prison. Meanwhile in Lahore, the police surround a group of the convicted menís colleagues and arrest them. They are taken to the Lahore Central Jail where they are tortured.
There is a great fear among the British authorities that Bhagat will appeal and be released. They agree to send him back to Lahore immediately. Sir Densel Ebetson tells the Lahore jailer Mr. Chadda not to worry about Bhagat and another trial. Judge Hilton is in the room and he agrees that he will not find in favor of Bhagat Singh.
In the Lahore jail Bhagat and Dutt are warmly welcomed by the other prisoners. Chadda observes that in the prisonersí unity is their strength. The decision is made to try to break the trust of Bhagat Singh in his mates. They grab Sukhdev and take him to be tortured.
In court the prosecutor brings in Sukhdev as a government witness. But when Sukhdev sees that Bhagat is still in the dock he breaks his agreement with the government. He shouts that the government assured him that Bhagat had already become a government witness. Now Sukhdev denounces the government and their tactics. Sukhdev and the defendants shout: "Inquilab zindabad!"
So the government sets about torturing others until they get another government witness. They grab and threaten to torture Jai Gopal. He is so scared that he literally shakes before Mr. Chadda. He offers to cooperate.
In court, Jai Gopal is brought forward. And he drops a bombshell! He testifies not on the bombing but on the assassination of Saunders. One of the defendants charges Jai and hits him several times before the police pull him off the witness. Jai is upset about having to testify and cries.
The British are worried again. The case is getting more difficult. And now there is a lot of international pressure on Britain to release Bhagat. So the decision is made to get Bhagat to confess and say he is guilty. So Bhagat is tortured. He is lashed repeatedly and then salt is forced into his wounds. Bhagat will not give in. So they lash him some more until he becomes unconscious. When his mother comes to see him, he wraps his body in a blanket so she wonít see any of his wounds.
An old prisoner dies because of the mistreatment he receives in the jail. The men decide to go on a hunger strike. They demand decent food, decent treatment and books and newspapers. Chadda comes out to see what is going on and Bhagat tells him that they are POWs waging war against the state and there are international rules for the treatment of prisoners of war. So they are going on a hunger strike.
The men are on their tenth day without food. One of the men starts to break and demands to have food. Bhagat goes over to him and tells him to just go and get his food. The man, feeling shamed, refuses to go.
The authorities are still worried. July 21st has been set as Bhagat Singh Day. Governor-general Densel tells Chadda to break the hunger strike. So Chadda replaces the prisonersí water with milk. But there is open revolt with the men throwing the pots of milk smashing into the bars and the milk going out into the halls.
Some men start passing out from lack of water. Chada tells a guard sympathetic to the men to get some water for prisoner Jatin who is in danger of dying. But when the water comes, the jailer just pours it onto the ground.
Azad says they will bomb the jail and get Bhagat Singh and Dutt out. Bhagwati and Raj go at night with a bomb to throw at the outside wall of the Lahore jail. Bhagwati throws the bomb. It falls short of the wall in the leaves and does not go off. So Bhagwati goes to find it and gets blown up. Raj runs to Durga for help. Durga and Azad come out to see her husband Bhagwati. But he is already dead.
Prisoner Jatin dies. Soon Chadda has to give in to the hunger strikers. The government grants them all their demands.
Bhagat informs Chadda that he wonít go to court. Itís all just a sham anyway. In court there are only the necessary people in attendance. The defendants arenít there and neither is the Indian courtroom audience. But there is a huge crowd of people outside the jail and courtroom.
On October 7, 1930 the decision is read that three men will be hanged. The men are: Rajguru, Bhagat and Sukhdev. They are put on a kind of death row. Chadda tells guard Akbar to make sure the condemned have no problems.
Azad, armed with a pistol, is going to Alfred Park to meet with Raj. The two men meet, but a spy sees them and runs to the police station. Azad says that almost all the members of their party are now in jail. He also tells Raj that he will prevent the hanging of Bhagat. The police get into position in the park and open fire on the two men. Azad is hit in the leg. He and Raj jump behind a huge tree in the park. They return fire. Azad is a good shot and he hits a number of policemen. He tells Raj to get out of the park. He wants Raj free to make sure the movement goes on. Raj leaves.
When Azad has to reload the police start creeping up on him. But when he finishes reloading, he shoots a lot more police. He now has to reload his clip one by one with bullets. The police creep toward him, he finishes and shoots more of the police. With one bullet left Azad shoots himself in the head. Under the huge tree, the police pose for photographs with the corpse.
Durga tells Bhagat that Azad is dead. Bhagat finds it hard to believe. Kamal Nehru has made all the arrangements for his funeral. The British cut down the tree in Alfred Park because so many Indians were coming to the park to pay their respects. Durga says she personally planted a small tree on the spot of the old one. Then dad, followed separately by mom, visit Bhagat. One of her wishes is to hear the shout "Inquilab zindabad!" again from Bhagat and all the prisoners. Her wish is granted.
March 23, 1931. Densel tells Chadda that they have to hang the three condemned men today. The government cannot have a national mourning over Bhagat Singhís body. Itís too dangerous. This time Chadda is upset. He tells the guard who is very sympathetic to the condemned men that he must prepare for the men to be hanged today instead of tomorrow and the man becomes very angry and indignant. He curses the British and their government and is arrested.
The men are brought out to be hanged. They are granted a last wish. Their hands are released and they are allowed to hug each other. Then they shout: "Inquilab zindabad!" Their hands are retied behind their backs and hoods are put over their heads. They are hanged.
Mom and dad arrive to see their son, but they are denied entry. The authorities decide to get rid of the bodies immediately. Someone arrives who knows what has happened. He shouts out to the crowd that the three men have already been hanged and now they are taking the bodies out down by the lake to burn them and throw the ashes into the lake.
The immense crowd gets very angry and then starts running down to the lake at Firozpur. The bodies are already being burnt. The crowd swarms down and around the fires. Some of the prison personnel on the detail are set afire.
Bhagatís mother looks at the fire where her sonís body burns. She says: "My Bhagat is not dead. My Bhagat is someone among you! Who is that?"
This is my third film I've seen about Bhagat Singh. I enjoyed all of them. I'm not going to choose which is best. They seem very similar to me. (But the color is not as good in this one, but certainly satisfactory.)
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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