Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose is one of the Indian freedom struggle movement&’s true charismatic characters. “Give me blood and I will give you freedom,” was his motto and he was diametrically opposed to Mahatma Gandhi&’s ideology of non-violence. The spirit of Bose still inspires Indian youth and his life is still considered an ideal subject to be filmed.
In 1962, tax practitioner AK Banerjee decided to diversity into film production. The life and times of Subhash Chandra Bose fascinated him. Viewing Dada Thakur (a biopic on Sarat Pundit) and Bhogini Nivedita (a biopic on Sister Nivedita) he was determined to experiment with film medium. Banerjee came across director Pijush Bose, who also shared the same views, and they started working together to make a memorable film on Subhash Chandra Bose. Pijush Bose was not only well educated, he was also dynamic and committed to his work. Banerjee, as producer, gave his director ample independence to write the script and shoot the way Bose wanted to. It was a difficult task to get the ideal actor to perform Subhash Chandra Bose, and no one knew better than Pijush Bose that one slip would ruin the film.
Theatre personality Samar Kumar was finally selected to portray Subhash Chandra Bose. He was well built, agile and his face resembled the iconic revolutionary. With limited finances, Banerjee, and Samar Kumar set out on their cinematic venture. Kumar conducted ample study and research on the character he was to perform.
Shot in studios and outdoor locations in Kolkata, Subhash Chandra was realistic and inspirational in nature. The film never portrayed Subhash Chandra Bose as a super human being. Kumar underplayed his character with confidence, finesse and honesty. No one will forget him lip synching the immortal number, “Banga Amar Janani Amar” (O Mother Bengal) penned by DL Roy. The scene, shot in broad daylight. had a huge number of followers walking with Samar Kumar.
A highlight of the film was Lata Mangeshkar&’s haunting rendition of the number, kbar Biday De Ma (O Mother Bid Me Adieu). Written by an unknown poet,it was tuned by Aparesh Lahiri. The nightingale wept during recording the song and considered her best Bengali number. It was the swansong of Khudiram Bose prior to being hanged. In natural light,a young Subhash Chandra Bose sat in a pensive mood listening to the song. He was duly inspired by his illustrious predecessor.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was a well made film. It had its flaws also. For example, there was no need for he sequence in which an NRI Sikh urges Subhash Chandra Bose to consume alcohol. The later retorts sharply. The scenes in London created within the sets were not convincing. That Pijush Bose had to end the film abruptly without showing how Chandra Bose escaped was not his fault. He never received ample finance or scope to shoot such a crucial sequence. The Azad Hind Fauz scenes were also not prominently shot.
But the film was a superhit in Bengal. Two decades later, when Sir Richard Attenborough made his magnum opus Gandhi, he never showed Gandhi&’s differences or association with Subhash Chandra Bose. These lacunae received staunch criticism.
Shyam Benegal tried desperately to recreate Subhash Chandra Bose&’s magic in The Forgotten Hero. Mounted on a lavish scale, it had Sachin Khedkar performing as the main protagonist. He tried hard but his efforts showed up badly on screen. Benegal&’s attempt is best forgotten. It was superficial and lacked the depth of the earlier Bengali version. Even today, a properly scripted and well-directed film on the icon would attract a lot of attention.