Today is 23rd March. 88 years back also, the same date had arrived, i.e., 23rd March, 1931 – the date of martyrdom of three young bravehearts who fearlessly laid down their lives for the cause of freeing their motherland from the slavery of the British. I express my heartfelt gratitude to my dear friend Jayan Menon (Krishom) for inspiring me to pen a review of a movie made on the martyrdom of Shaheed Sardaar Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar and Shivram Rajguru whose title is 23rd March, 1931 – Shaheed which was released in the year 2002.The story is nothing but the biography of Bhagat Singh, the son of Sardaar Kishan Singh and nephew of Sardaar Ajeet Singh who devoted their entire lives to make their motherland, i.e., India free from the shackles of slavery. Bhagat Singh (Bobby Deol) joined the organization of the like-minded (believing in violent means) patriot youths – Hindustan Socialist Republican Association led by Chandra Shekhar Aazaad (Sunny Deol). The movie has portrayed the looting of the Govt. treasury at Kakori by these revolutionaries (famous in history as the Kakori Conspiracy) and connected events in detail. After some time, the death of Lala Laajpat Rai due to getting beaten by sticks while opposing the Simon Commission, sparked the feelings in the hearts of Bhagat Singh and others to seek vengeance from the responsible British officer – Malcom Scott. Mistakenly they killed another officer – Saunders. Bhagat Singh’s views regarding independence and social justice got refined and moulded with time and he got himself arrested alongwith Batukeshwar Dutt after exploding a harmless bomb in the national assembly. The remaining part of the movie is devoted to the prolonged trial of the revolutionaries, their epic fast in jail and finally embracement of gallows by Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru with smiles on their faces.Shaheed Bhagat Singh was a great visionary (despite his tender age) and perhaps the first ever Indian socialist in the true sense. He had understood the futility of the path of violence within a short while only and had intentionally got himself arrested because he wanted to propagate his views throughout the nation by using the court-room as an appropriate platform. He had made up his mind to die also because he knew in his heart that his death will stir millions of Indian hearts like anything and they will stand up to act relentlessly and fearlessly for the freedom of their motherland. And his predictions came true. Being an atheist, he believed in man’s willpower and purity of heart only and not some unknown and invisible supreme power. He is still an icon of patriotism and sacrifice for the patriots all over the world.While deciding to make this movie, producer – Sunny Deol committed two blunders – firstly, he chose his brother-in-law – Guddu Dhanoa to direct this movie and secondly, he cast himself in the role of Chandra Shekhar Aazaad. Skilled in directing masala action-thrillers only, director Guddu Dhanoa could not grasp the sensitivity of the plot and the movie could not do justice to the personality of the great revolutionary and his invaluable sacrifice. Besides, both Sunny and Guddu conveniently forgot that at the time of his martyrdom, Shaheed Chandra Shekhar Aazaad was barely 25-26 years old and a forty-plus Sunny was completely miscast for that role. Besides, to encash Sunny’s popularity as an action-hero, the director has portrayed him as a larger-than-life typical Bollywood hero and unduly inserted long action-sequences which might have attracted the front-benchers but spoiled the naturalness and gravity of the movie. Due to the prolonged role of Sunny as Aazaad, Bhagat Singh’s presence is not properly felt in the first one hour of the movie which is a clear weakness of the script. To be frank, Sunny-Guddu duo has reduced the movie to a regular masala flick only.
However the movie impresses in the first half due to the sequences pertaining to Sardaar Ajeet Singh and Shaheed Kartaar Singh Sarabha. Despite the moving of the storyline in a typical action-thriller style, the movie scores at places. Good songs also help the cause. However in the post-interval session, the script-writer has lifted the screenplay of Manoj Kumar starrer classic movie – Shaheed (1965) for the court-room drama and other episodes. And when compared with the classic B & W movie, this movie comes a cropper and does not impress the audience. Had the script-writer applied own mind wisely for the second half also, perhaps it would have been better. The roles of Sukhdev and Rajguru (with the other revolutionaries too) have not been given any importance and the movie appears to be an all Deol show only.
On the plus side, firstly, it’s Bobby Deol who has played the role of his lifetime and infused life into the role of the immortal revolutionary. Amrita Singh as his mother, Divya Dutta as Durga Bhabhi, Raja Bundela as Lala Laaj Pat Rai and Suresh Oberai as the jailor have done well. Sunny has concentrated on action and (over the top) fist-fights only. Aishwarya Rai as the fiancee of Bhagat Singh is another disappointment. But the actor who won my heart is T.V. actor Imran Khan who brought Shaheed Kartaar Singh Sarabha to life through his amazing cameo. The most impressive song of this movie – Desnu Challo, Desh Maangta Hai Qurbaniyaan has been filmed on him only. In addition to this song, the other songs are also quite impressive (including the immortal songs of the revolutionaries themselves, viz. Pagadi Sambhal Jatta, Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna and Mera Rang De Basanti Chola) whose credit goes to the music director – Anand Raj Anand and the lyricist – Dev Kohli.
Technologically and production-value wise, the movie is good but I would have been happier had the director paid proper attention to the sensitivity and depth of the plot which is a golden chapter of India’s struggle for independence.Ajay Devgan starrer movie – The Legend of Bhagat Singh was released simultaneously and that movie is far superior to this one. Still I recommend this movie to all the Indians who love their country and put a premium upon the independence we are enjoying due to the invaluable sacrifices of those great martyrs only. Despite its flaws, this movie is watchable for its patriotic value. I end my review with the slogan which was very dear to Bhagat Singh -‘Inqlaab Zindabaad’ (long live the revolution).
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