The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002)
Director: Rajkumar Santoshi.
Starring: Ajay Devgn (Bhagat K. Singh), Sushant Singh (Sukhdev), D. Santosh (Shiviram Hari Rajguru), Akhilendra Mishra (Chandrashekhar Azad), Raj Babbar (Kishan Singh), Farida Jalal (Vidyavati K. Singh), Amrita Rao (Mannewali), Mukesh Tiwari (Jailor), Surendra Rajan (Mohandas Karamchand 'Mahatma' Gandhi), Saurabh Dubey (Jawaharlal M. Nehru), Swaroop Kumar (Motilal Nehru), Arun Patwardhan (Madan Mohan Malviya), Keneth Desai (Subhash Chandra Bose), Sitaram Panchal (Lala Lajpat Rai), Bhaswar Chatterjee (B. K. Dutt).
celebrated martyr of Indian independence movement; hanged by British March 23, 1931
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
March 23, 1931. Lahore Central Jail.
Troops break a hole in the jail wall and carry out three bodies wrapped in white linen. Outside the main gate Indians pound on the door. They shout: "Long live Bhagat Singh" and "Long live Sukhdev".
A guard opens a small window in the main gate. An older man says: "Iím Kishen Singh, the father of Bhagat Singh." He wants to talk to the superintendent or the jailer. But the guard says that both men are not in. He closes the window in the face of the father.
A truck takes the three bodies down by the river. They put the bodies on the ground. An officer gives the order to chop the bodies up with axes. A large crowed of men with lit torches approach the site. The officer tells the soldiers to hurry. Gasoline is poured over the bodies and ignited. Then the officer has the men throw the burning pieces in the river. As the crowd gets larger, the command is given: let's get out of here.
A messenger comes to Kishen Singh to tell him: "The Britishers have burned some corpses at the river side." He takes them down to the river. A man lifts up the shroud over Bhagat Singh's body and mother screams, recoiling in shock and horror.
An Indian group throws stones at a building marked H. W. Emerson ,Home Member. Other Indians fight the police and burn cars.
March 24, 1931. Malir Statilon, Karachi. A crowd chants: We welcome Mahatma Gandhi to the Karachi Session of the Congress Party!. A much smaller groups shouts: "Go back Gandhi!" Gandhi's host wants Gandhi to stay away from these trouble-makers. But Gandhi wants to talk with their spokesman. He goes over to the angry men. The spokesperson gives Gandhi some black flowers. He tells Gandhi that he could have saved Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. Gandhi says that he would have given his own life to save them, but they themselves didn't want to live. "Lies!" is the response. Gandhi says he tried his best to save them. "History will never forgive you!" is the response. Gandhi starts walking off. They follow him shouting their slogans.
The father of Bhagat Singh watches as they walk away. He remembers back to the old days when his son was just a small boy. At an early age Bhagat saw the British commanding that Indian men be flogged with whips. Then they made the men crawl along the dirt road while still being hit with whips. It left a lasting impression on him.
April 13, 1919. Jallianwalla Baug, Amritsar. A large crowd gathers for the Spring Festival. A British officer prepares his men to open fire. He gives the order and men, women and children are shot to death. Mass panic spreads through the crowd. A messenger runs to Bhagat's father to say that General Dyer opened fire on a crowd of Indians and thousands are dead. Bhagat imagines that he is there. He sees the mothers with babies being killed. He sees men and women throwing themselves into a well to get away from the bullets. Bhagat cries.
November 20, 1920. Calcutta. Congress Session. Gandhi tells the crowe that they will fight, of course they will, but non-violently. He calls for a total non-cooperation movement. There will no cooperation with the British government. Bhagat gets caught up in the excitement of the new movement. For instance, he takes part in the burning of British textiles. Gandhi tells the people if they do what he asks they will have their independence in a year.
Bhagat's father talks with a friend of his. The news is that the National Boycott is working. The British industrialists are panicking. Their loaded ships are heading back to England. Bhagat himself is very optimistic in step with Gandhi. He paraphrases Gandhi saying that there will be freedom in a couple of months. Dad's friend says: "In all of Lyallpur, your son is most prominent in the movement." But mother is very worried about her son. She tells her husband: "Don't you see how obsessed he is with his country? At this age!"
News arrives that Gandhi has called off the Non-Cooperation Movement. The police opened fire on a peaceful procession at Chauri Chaura. The public responded by setting a police station on fire. Twenty-two policemen were killed. Gandhi now says the country isn't ready for independence yet. Listening to the news, Bhagat runs out of the house shouting: "No! No!"
The National College. Radical student Sukhdev, accompanied by other radicals, goes around campus asking students about their knowledge of recent Indian political history. He asks who was Mangal Pandey's father? And what is the full name of Mandan Mohan Malviya? (Trick question because he already gave the full name.) The students can't answer these questions. But a student quickly answers the question: Who took over from Robert Clive? Warren Hastings, October 20, 1774. The students know the history of British politics, but not Indian history. The British don't want Indian history taught in the schools. Sukhdev tells the students that they must show up at the next meeting of their organization. His "secretary" takes down their names.
One student, however, tells Sukhdev that he can't make it. He has to participate in a show to be given for the Lt. Governor. Sukhdev gets very angry and tells his secretary to make sure they have lots of tomatoes and eggs for the performance. He wants to know who organized the show? Bhagat Singh, that tall Sikh who is a real bookworm.
At the show itself Sukhdev and his supporters ready themselves to start tossing things at the stage. But as they listen to the show, they realize it has an anti-colonial message. The performers sing "don't take your turban off" and "break the shackles of slavery". Now Sukhdev and company start dancing along with the music. Soon almost all the audience is on its feet jumping up and down excitedly. A few people leave.
Bhagat wrestles for fun with another fellow with a crowd gathered around. He wins the match. News comes that Lajput Rai is supporting the Hindu Council because the Congress has sidelined him. That means the Hindus will assert their identity in the independence struggle. It also means that the Muslim leaders will be forced to react. Bhagat regrets these religious divisions. He himself is an atheist. As they talk, a cricket ball hits one of them in the back. The white fellows are playing cricket nearby. Sukhdev becomes very angry. He confronts the ball players saying that he told the whites not to hit the ball in their direction. And he told them he would not return the ball next time. So he doesn't return it. The Brits prepare to fight the Indians. They have their cricket sticks ready. The Indians grab larger wooden sticks. Luckily for the Brits, one of their number calls it off. He says: "Let's go! We'll get them another day!"
Khairu, a friend of the radicals, goes to the movies. He is so enthralled by a kissing scene as he comes in that he wanders innocently into the A section, the whites only section. (There is a sign on one side of the theatre saying: "Dog and Indians are not allowed.") The cricket players beat the heck out of him. A German shepherd is used to bite the poor fellow. The cricket players force Khairu out of the movies.
The radical students get together. The new Hindustan Republican Association has come out with a HRA pamphlet. Mr. Sanyal drafted it. Their goal is an Independent India. The students start having a debate over methods. There is some disappointment with the Congress. It has survived for thirty years largely because it has been so conservative. Lala Lajuput Rai had set up the National Congress. The discussion becomes so heated that Sukhdev threatens to bash the head in of one of the student's with a soda bottle. Another student stops Sukhdev. And then the appearance of one of their professors breaks up the group entirely.
Bhagat sees Khairu and asks him what the hell happened to him? Another student says Khairu wandered into the A section and the cricket fellows mauled him. At night Bhaghat and Sukhdev lay an ambush for the cricket players. Six of them are returning home in a car. The Indians push a cart in the way of the car, the driver swerves and crashes into a tree. Then the pair of radicals lay into the fellows beating them. Bhagat is so focused on the beatings he's giving that he doesn't even notice the police coming. Sukhdev has to pull him off one of the guys so they can escape the police. The police chase them. They run off the road. The police ask the professor which way did two guys go and he points them in the wrong direction. Bhagat and Sukhdev from their hiding place see what the professor did for them.
Later the professor speaks with the pair and another radical. He asks them if they really think a thrashing will make the British fellows mend their ways. The radicals think he is talking about the non-violent way of Gandhi, but the professor says that Gandhi is not the only alternative. They should organize the masses. And the HRA is an organization that believes in direct action. He asks them if they will join and all three jump up to say yes.
Bhagat and some of the fellows go to his house. Something is happening at the house and he doesn't know what. He soon learns. He is getting married. His father arranged it. Bhagat doesn't want to get married. Dad goes to his two buddies and tells them that if Bhagat does not get married he will beat both of them like a pair of mules. Bhagat goes directly to the woman who he is to marry. She is very pretty and pleasant, but he tells her frankly: "I can't get married." She says she will bear all the hardships and sorrows that come with him. Bhagat does not relent.
At night Bhagat writes a letter to his father basically telling him that he has completely devoted his life to the revolution and that means he will not marry. He asks for his father to forgive him and heads off.
Bhagat gets on a train for Cawnpore, the revolutionary capital of India. He will meet leader Bismil of the local HRA organization there. The next day he goes to meet Ram Prasad Bismil. The fellow is planning a train robbery where they will grab the treasury chest. They need money to carrying out their various projects. After the meeting is over, Bhagat talks with Bismil. Bismil is not impressed with him and tells him to go home, boy. The movement demands blood. Bhagat suddenly grabs the spearhead of a spear nearby and holds it tight causing him to bleed. He says: "Spilling blood is no big deal, sir, be it one's own or another's." Kartsar Singh, the martyr, is his ideal. Blood spills from his right hand as he still clutches the spearhead. Bismel is impressed. He introduces Bhagat to the group and refers to him as "our new comrade".
August 9, 1925. The HRA fellows on the train pull the emergency brake making the train come to a halt. They have guns and brandish them. They overpower or shoot the guards and grab the treasury chest. Using force they open a hole in the chest and grab the money inside. They run for it.
The British are really angry and they quickly retaliate. They start picking up the culprits, like Roshan Singh and Bismil. Bhagat tells his fellow students that all of them have been captured, except Pandit. The police may even find their hide-out. They decide to move it. Everyone starts grabbing things to move.
A fellow cuts a hole into the roof and slides down a rope to the floor. He opens a hiding place in the floor and takes out a gun and some money. Bhagat hears the noise and comes out with his pistol. The two men start fighting. Finally, the other comrades arrive and tell the fighting pair to stop it. They tell Bhagat that the man he is fighting with is none other than Pandit. The two men stop fighting. The students want confirmation from Pandit that everyone has been arrested. He says: "Yes, it's all over. The labor of years . . . destroyed in one stroke. . . . Now there will be life-sentences, hangings . . . The party's finished." But Bhagat disagrees. "They can imprison our bodies, not our cause," he says. Let's take the revolution to the masses. Everyone seems to like the idea.
The members receive training in pistol firing. They get beaten when they protest. Sukhdev gets slapped by a policeman. He slaps him back and then starts pummeling him. The other radicals follow suit. They feed poor children and put on plays for the people.
H.W. Emerson, Home Member, His Majesty's Government of India. Emerson wants to know the name of the leader of the radical group causing all this trouble. His name is Bhagat Singh. He lectures on Hindu-Muslim unity. Emerson says: "Arrest him. He's a dangerous man."
The radicals (?) bomb a crowd. Police capture Bhagat Singh. At the police station they beat him and urge him to confess. Bhagat says that it was the police themselves who did the bombing in order to blame him. He says: "Tell these British to run away now or they will be kicked out." His father raises enough money to pay the very high bail. He returns home. Bhagat talks with his two brothers, sister and the rest of the family. His father says that he will have to work at the family dairy in order to pay back the 60,000 Rupees for the bail.
When Bhagat puts on a fresh shirt his mother sees his many red welts from the batons. She is very upset. Mother wants him to stay home and work at the dairy and never leave her.
A lot of the radicals work at the dairy now in order to be around Bhagat. One day they see a group of young women walking by. Sukhdev spots the young woman from Manawale, Bhagat's bride to-be. They invite the women over for refreshments from the dairy. The bride to-be doesn't want to join them. The group walks away from the two people. In a song she flirts with Bhagat and refers to him as my love. He sings that their paths are too different.
Bhagat's lawyer resolved the case so that Bhagat doesn't have to work a lifetime at the dairy to earn the 60,000 Rupees. They catch a spy. He says Pandit sent him. His name is Chandrashekhar Azad. (His real name is Rajguru.) He was just on his way to Mozang House. Sukhdev says that this is Mozang House. The "spy" has a letter for Bhagat.
September 9, 1928,. Ferozsham Kotla Ruins, Delhi. Bhagat holds a big unity meeting of the radicals. He tells the attendees: "Comrades, freedom is just the first step.. The aim is to build a nation which guarantees equal rights to all in society." Their aim is a socialist society. He wants the HRA to be changed to the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). We will fight the British. Their first target is to drive back the Simon Commission. They will fight beside Lala Lajpat Rai.
October 30, 1928. Lahore Railway Station. Bhagat's group shouts: "Simon , go back!" The police start attacking. The British single out Lala, the leader. They beat him to death.
November 17, 1928. The funeral for Lala. At a political gathering later, Bhagat says that Scott the policeman has to be killed. Sukhdev says they must strike terror in their hearts. Jaigopal has reservations. He doesn't like the idea of murder.
Calcutta. The group agrees that hardly anyone knows of their radical organization. There is a woman radical named Bhabhi. By most they are seen by the masses as just what the British say they are: terrorists. Even the Congress calls them terrorists. Pandit says their group will become known. They will bomb. A professor in Calcutta knows how to make bombs by name of Jatin Das. He is anti-violence but maybe if Bhagat speaks to him he will help them. But the professor tells them that he wants no part of it. He suggests working with Congress. Bhagat is contemptuous of this idea. Gandhi has just asked for dominion status. "With their way, nothing will change," he says. Bhagat says that what his group does is not violence. It's mere self-defense. The professor finally gives up and says o.k. take me to my death. The guys make their bombs.
Bombay Textile Mill. For 45 days the workers have been on strike. The employers call in the police on horseback. They attack the workers. Other employer forces beat the workers with long sticks. Bhagat says that last year there were 200 strikes in India. The government works to declare all strikes illegal. On April 8 we will explode our bombs at the Assembly to stop passage of the various bills involved And Bhagat wants the bomb throwers to court arrest. This will show that their actions were deliberate, not acts of random terrorism. This act will put us in the public eye and the masses will learns about us is the thought. At the trial journalists will quote their statements. Commander-in-Chief Pandit tells Bhagat that he will not be one of the bombers.
Sukhdev insists to Bhagat that he has to be one of the bombers. Nobody else is as brilliant as he in presenting the arguments of the group. Bhagat and Sukhdev speak to Pandit again and he finally agrees to let Bhagat do the bombing. Bhagat says he will take Batukeshwar Dutt with him. Bhagat writes his father saying that he may never see him again. His only thought is about the revolution and freedom for the Indian people.
April 8, 1929. National Assembly, Delhi. The two bombers go in as gentlemen. The Assembly passes the Safety Bill and the Trade Bill. Bhagat throws two bombs. They drop their leaflets onto the Assembly floor. They shout: "Long live the revolution! Down with Imperialism! "
Lord Irwin, Viceroy of India, says: "Thank God no one was hurt." Emerson says this was all deliberate. They threw the bombs at the empty benches and handed their pistol over to the arresting police.
Gandhi says of the incident: " Irresponsible young men! They have maligned the freedom struggle." Another leader says: "Regrettable! Freedom is even more difficult now."
June 6, 1929. Sessions Court, Delhi. The judge will pass sentence. The defendants' lawyer asks the court to let his clients state their reasons for throwing the bombs, but the judge says the act was so dastardly, that the Court isn't interested in their reasons or motives. Bhagat gets the judge to let them speak. He says their motive was not to kill, but to make themselves heard. The bombs were thrown to tell the British that their time is over. They have to go. The Judge announces the sentences: Transportation for life for both of the accused.
The police raid the bomb factory. Sukhdev is arrested along with many others. The policeman beats them. They want to know who are their accomplices. They are thrown in prison. Here they all get a chance to see Bhagat again. One of the guys says that the Saunders case has been reopened. The police have them all line up. They bring four men out to identify them. The first guy says he can't. The second guy starts naming everyone of them. But when he reaches Sukhdev he grows silent. Sukhdev shouts out his own name and then attacks the man who identified him. Everyone else joins in the fray and the police have to try to pull them all off the man doing the identification. Sukhdev cries to Bhagat that it is all over. When even their friends turn on them, how can anyone else believe in them?
The Viceroy and Emerson congratulate each other on the elimination of the threat represented by Bhagat.
In jail Bhagat Singh starts complaining about the conditions. The white prisoners are treated very well, while they are treated like animals. He starts a hunger strike until they are treated like human beings. One of the Indian jailers tries to give him food from his own home, but Bhagat won't accept it. The man says that the government won't change. Bhagat says then he will die of starvation. The man then tells him that Batukeshwar Dutt is also on a hunger strike. And news of the hunger strike has already been in the newspapers.
They try to force feed Bhagat, but he fights with all his might against it, while a guard beats him in the stomach with a baton. They whip him while in chains. The sadistic guard says he will do anything it takes to break the hunger strike.
Poonch House. Court of Special Magistrate, Lahore. They bring Bhagat to court. Sukhdev and the others are there to greet him. Sukhdev begs him to stop the hunger strike. Outside Poonch House there are a great many demonstrators shouting "Bhagat Singh, keep going! We are with you!" They walk together into the court. They are in high spirits. The government brings in one of the guys who helped make the bombs. The fellows say they do not know the witness. So the guy gives all the ingredients of bomb-making. All the journalists there take down the ingredients. Then the fellows say they are proud of him. The judge is disgusted. He says now every kid in India will know how to make bombs!
Now none of the group in prison will eat. Twenty-six days without food, the papers report. Emerson tries to tell the Viceroy that the strike is for sympathy. The Viceroy thinks it's just a publicity stunt. No one cares if Bhagat eats or not. They go back to forced feeding while delivering beatings. The British then deny them water. Bhagat shouts out for water for the men. They give them a jar of milk, not water. The guy who ate chili peppers to swell his throat to prevent forced feeding starts to drink it, but throws it to the ground. (There are many demonstrations for Bhagat Singh and the other hunger strikers.)
The British throw still another ball. The talk is of Bhagat Singh and the hunger strike. An Indian server says that the men have not eaten for 55 days. Some of the women are shocked and a bit upset. Emerson tells the Viceroy that he warned him that Bhagat Singh was dangerous. Now they are even talking about him here. Bhagat's popularity now rivals that of Gandhi himself. We should bring the strike to an end. The Viceroy says: "What are their demands!" There is celebration in the Indian communities. The demands have been met.
September 13, 1929. Lahore Central Jail. One of the physicians is exasperated. Jatin-da has had no food for 63 days. He refuses to take medicine. Bhagat comes in to tell him that they won. They agreed to their demands. But the hunger striker still refuses. And so he dies. They hold a cremation for the hunger striker. Thousands of mourners in white gather around the funeral pyre.
Even Gandhi says: "Even I mourn the death of this boy." But he disagrees with their methods. It will destroy society, not create a new one, he says. The film then draws a contrast between what Gandhi says about various issues regarding the British and what Bhagat Singh says. Nehru now says that the youth of the Congress Party speak Bhagat Singh's language of total independence.
January 26, 1930. Lahore. Now Nehru speaks about Total Independence! The Viceroy asks what has got into the Congress Party all of a sudden? Emerson tells him that Bhagat Singh has forced the party to act more militantly. Singh is deliberately prolonging the judicial case so he can make his inflammatory comments. Believe me, it is having an effect. You can declare an emergency and change the law with an ordinance.
The radicals discuss the changes. Now the case can proceed even in the absence of the accused. And no appeal is permitted either. One comments: "So, now the British government will commit murder in broad daylight." Another says that was precisely Bhagat's aim -- to provoke the government into showing its true barbaric nature. The British stand exposed. So, now they want to end all this by finishing Bhagat off. Pandit says he will rescue Bhagat from the police. But Bhagat doesn't want this. He says he dreams of his death inspiring the youth of the country to plunge into the battle for freedom.
The government witness against the radicals takes back his testimony. He says the police forced him to sign the document. They bring in another witness who says that the plan to kill Scott was done by Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. One of the radicals throws his shoe at the witness hitting him in the forehead. The judge orders that they all be hand-cuffed. The fight begins with beatings being administered. Bhagat gets really angry and says they won't set foot in the court again. He adds: "You may pronounce your pre-determined sentence, whenever you wish."
The Viceroy says he doesn't care about the courtroom being empty. Just finish the case.
Bhagat scolds his father for having asked the court for mercy. He says he stabbed him in the back. Dad cries and asks what should he have done. Set a good example for other fathers.
October 7, 1930. Many get transportation for life. Rajguru, Sukhdev and Bhagat Singh get death by hanging. They all hug each other with some crying. Take the three away! says the official. They take them to the condemned cells.
An Indian turns on Pundit and instructs the police to catch him in Alfred Park. Pundit is shot in the leg. He hides behind a tree. He shoots an Indian policeman, then a British policeman in the hand and another Indian policeman in the cheek. He in turn gets hit in the shoulder and the right knee. He puts the gun to his head and fires.
The family visits Bhagat, including his bride to-be. They cry for their son, but are proud of him at the same time. Mother asks him if he ever thought of her. He says when he thinks of his country he sees her. She was his inspiration, his strength. This makes her feel better.
In India the cry goes out to commute the hangings. The people sign petitions. Even members of the British Parliament ask the Viceroy to commute the hangings. They have received more than a million appeals. The Viceroy says his only concern is to get Gandhi to sign that pact. Indians come to Gandhi to ask him to speak up to commute the sentences. They also don't want Gandhi to sign the Irwin pact, at least, not until the sentences are commuted.
March 5, 1931. Gandhi meets with the Viceroy. He says that if Bhagat Singh is martyred, the atmosphere in the country could become prejudiced. The Viceroy says he cannot think of anyone as deserving of capital punishment at Bhagat Singh. Gandhi signs the pact.
The jailer gets a call to move up the hangings. They are supposed to occur tomorrow morning, but are being moved up. The jailer tells his aide to prepare the three to be hanged.
March 23, 1931. Lahore Central Jail. The jailer permits the three condemned men not to wear handcuffs. In front of the gallows Bhagat tells the officials that today they will see how true revolutionaries die with a smile. Any last wishes? They wish to embrace one last time. Their hands are untied and they embrace. They shout their revolutionary mantra. Their hands are tied again. Hoods are placed over their heads. The sound of the platform dropping out from under them is heard
Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were just 23 years old when they were hanged. They gave up their lives for their dream of a free, democratic and secular India. And yet, today Indian society is ravaged by the poison of fundamentalism, communal hatred, injustice and corruption.
Have we betrayed their sacrifice?
Good movie. I had never head of Bhagat Singh, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he rivaled Gandhi in national popularity. His aim was to show the whole world how barbaric the British imperialist system was in India. And he certainly accomplished that. Good answer to a lot of the vapid British and American movies about the British in India fighting only against the evil Thugee cult.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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