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The myth of Bhagat Singh in Hindi film



1 Film analysis: The Myth of Bhagat Singh in The Legend of Bhagat Singh
1.1 Content structure and formal structure
1.2 Film and historical template
1.2.1 Figures
1.2.2 Events
1.3 Genre conventions and specifics of the narrative style
1.3.1 The opening credits and the closing credits
1.3.2 Songs and emotions
1.3.3 Relation to reality and historical claim
1.4 The Myth: Legendary Elements in Film
1.4.1 The woman in Bhagat's life
1.4.2 Escape in disguise
1.4.3 The role of Gandhi

2 Bhagat Singh in other Hindi films
2.1 Similarities between the films
2.2 Differences between the films

3 Summary

List of abbreviations

List of figures

Appendix A.



Bhagat Singh’s fearlessness and sacrifice electrified the political atmosphere at a time lethargy had set in. The cry 'Long Live Revolution' was popularized by him. He raised it in a British court of law, and the echoes are heard today, everyday in every Indian street. Though Bhagat Singh is dead, when people cry or hear 'Long Live revolution', the other cry, 'Long Live Bhagat Singh' is ever implied therein. (Yadav 2006: 110)

Even today, over 75 years later, people in India associate the battle cry

“Inquilab Zindabad - Long live the revolution!” This young man, who was hanged by the British at the age of 23 for shooting a British policeman in 1928 in the fight for Indian independence. The epoch between the two world wars saw many Indians willing to sacrifice in India who were ready to die for their country and its independence1. Just like in March 1931 in Lahore, when Bhagat Singh died on the gallows together with Sukhdev and Rajguru, two other revolutionaries.

They may have resembled Mahatma Gandhi or Subhash Chandra Bose in their pursuit of independence from the British Empire, but their methods were vastly different, as were their political views and plans for a free India. Gandhi's propaganda of non-violence and non-cooperation aimed at a peaceful, but also long-term process, while Bose primarily hoped for help from abroad and his ideas about the state bore fascist features. Bhagat Singh, on the other hand, was a communist through and through, who dreamed of a classless society and did not shy away from trying to enforce his views by force. However, he never achieved the India-wide popularity of a Gandhi and has remained almost unknown in our latitudes. In India, on the other hand, almost every child knows the heroic story of Bhagat Singh and his two friends Rajguru and Sukhdev, who fought with him and eventually died with him.

Great heroic tales often form the basis for the development of myths and legends, so it is not surprising that many Indians today glorify Bhagat Singh and would like to give him a bigger role than he could actually play. Since he went down in the history of the Indian subcontinent as a martyr at the age of 23, all sorts of legends and conspiracy theories surround the revolutionary aspirations and ultimately the execution of this young man. It is therefore not particularly surprising that in addition to literature, above all the Indian film industry has tried to interpret and portray such a short but eventful life. Correctly it has to be added that these are film productions from Mumbai, so so-called Bollywood films, which represent only part of the Indian film industry, albeit the largest.

There are elements in the films that have a strong recognition potential, be it because they are part of Indian history or because they appear particularly spectacular, which form the basic framework for the myth of Bhagat Singh. They are presented particularly clearly and chronologically in the Hindi film The Legend of Bhagat Singh by Rajkumar Santoshi, which is why the main focus should be on this film. The basis for this is a new DVD release from Madhu Entertainment, the image quality of which is unfortunately significantly worse than that of the original DVD from TIPS Films from 2002, which is however sold out. The understanding of the film, as well as any quotes from it, refer exclusively to the English subtitles and not to the original dialogues in Hindi.

Most of the secondary literature on Bhagat Singh comes from India and should be treated with caution because it has been shown that many of the explanations and anecdotes on Bhagat Singh were often subject to glorification and propagandistic coloring. In order to be able to assess the effect of the film in India, this work also relies to a not inconsiderable extent on film reviews and news from various German, American and Indian online platforms and online newspapers. Based on this, it should be examined how and whether The Legend of Bhagat Singh it manages to present the myth of Bhagat Singh according to historical traditions and yet to find its own approaches. It should become clear what makes the revolutionary condemned to death so unique and how this is implemented in the medium of film.

The film analysis itself is divided into four major sub-items. In the first part, a content analysis of the film takes place in order to examine its narrative structures and to give an overview of the course of action. With the help of a sequence listing, important structural elements such as plot points,

Midpoints or high points recorded within the film. The work is based on the introductions to the script structure of Syd Field2. The theories by Helmut Korte were also used for the systematic analysis of the film3 and Nils Borstnar et al.4 consulted. This is followed by an analysis of the characters and important events with regard to the historical models in order to see how the film uses them to construct the myth and possibly develop it further. Special features of the narrative style are also discussed, such as the use of song sequences, the special implementation of the opening and closing credits, as well as various means of creating authenticity. Finally, legendary elements in the film are examined, which either belong to the general canon around Bhagat Singh, which are specifically expressed in this film or which are dealt with specifically here. In doing so, the question of what characterizes the term myth today and how one can classify the legend of Bhagat Singh in the existing myth concept in the absence of a uniform definition will also be investigated.

The last chapter finally gives an overview of other Hindi films that deal thematically with Bhagat Singh and concentrates mainly on differences and similarities The Legend of Bhagat Singh. Comparative films include Guddu Dhanoa's 3 1st March 1931: Shaheed, which was launched in 2002 at the same time as Legend appeared in India, as well as Sukumar Nairs Shaheed-E-Azam from the same year. After all, even by Indian film standards, it is rather unusual that five films on the same subject should be produced in one year.

1 Film analysis: The Myth of Bhagat Singh in The Legend of Bhagat Singh

1.1 Content structure and formal structure

With a length of 155 minutes, this film surely exceeds the normal limit for European film productions, but is in the good midfield by Indian standards. Judging by the content, it is certainly also in the tradition of other period films and so-called biopics, which trace the lives of famous personalities, such as Ben Hur (1959), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) or Richard Attenboroughs Gandhi (1982). Despite its excessive length and a large number of characters and plot elements, the plot can still be relatively clearly divided into twelve larger sections of meaning or sequences. Subordinate to this, there are up to eight smaller units. The following sequence graphic (Fig. 1) also shows the sequence and temporal structure visually.

The Legend of Bhagat Singh traces the life of the Indian freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, who was mainly active in the 1920s and was finally hanged by the British in 1931. We would like to point out three essential features of the film in advance, namely first: The entire film is designed as a kind of flashback, so that the viewer knows the end of the story right from the start. Second: The partly fictionalized life story of Bhagat Singh is criss-crossed with real historical events, which can be looked up in every lexicon, whereby a certain degree of authenticity is achieved. And thirdly: As is usual in commercial Hindi films, some particularly emotional moments are portrayed by songs, which are marked in italics in the graphic.

Figure not included in this excerpt

Figure 1: Sequence graphic THE LEGEND OF BHAGAT SINGH

The film begins with a staccato-like compilation of various scenes from the film, which culminates in the implied death of Bhagat Singh (1.1.). Then three corpses are secretly removed from the central prison in Lahore, while supporters of Bhagat Singh are demonstrating in front of the walls for his release. After it was confirmed that the bodies in question were Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru (1.2.), There is a flashback to Gandhi a few days earlier in Lahore, who is accused of not having saved the three from death. There Kishan Singh, Bhagat's father, remembers the life of his son in another flashback (1.3.).

Already at a young age, this witness had witnessed the brutality of the British, which is made clear in addition to the riots leading to the publication of the Rowland Acts (2.1.), Especially the massacre in Jallianwallah Bagh (2.2.). Even as a young boy, Bhagat became an enthusiastic supporter of Gandhi and his Non-Cooperation Movement and was devastated after its sudden termination (2.3.).

A few years later you can see a group of young men, including Sukhdev and Yashpal, criticizing their fellow students at the National College in Lahore for their dependence on the British (3.1.). Bhagat Singh has now become a handsome young man himself, best known for his college theater performances, and he is now also being introduced in the second song: Singing and dancing for a high-ranking British guest (3.2.), Although he is the British government criticized and thus Sukhdev wins friendship. In the course of the plot there is a conflict between Bhagat and his new friends and a group of British cricketers (3.3.). The latter beat a Muslim together in a cinema that is strictly separated into Indians and British (April 3rd) and are later beaten up by Bhagat and Sukhdev during the night (May 3rd and June 3rd). A professor at the college, Professor Vidyalankar, criticizes these brutal methods and suggests that the young people join the HRA (July 3rd). When Bhagat returned home to his family's farm in the meantime, he found out about his marriage to Mannewali, arranged by his parents (4.1.). However, he vehemently rejects this and finally escapes from his parents' house, leaving a farewell letter (4.2.).

Sent by Professor Vidyalankar, Bhagat went to Kanpur to meet with the HRA. At this very moment she is planning a train robbery in Kakori in order to steal money from the British government for her activities. Bhagat gives an impressive speech and Ram Prasad Bismil welcomes him to the HRA circle (5.1.). After the Kakori train attack (February 5), all those responsible were arrested, tortured and sentenced. One imagines oneself at the end, but Bhagat Singh encourages everyone and can convince even the head of the organization, Chandrashekhar Azad, to continue (5.3.). The protest actions of the newly founded Naujawan Bharat Sabha in Lahore lead to the third song (April 5th). For the first time a British man is seen taking a position: Emerson orders the arrest of Bhagat, which happens after a bogus bomb attack (May 5th). Only thanks to a generous bail from Kishan Singh is he released again (June 5th). Bhagat then returns home again to help with the farm work. He promises his family not to leave and plans further actions with his comrades from there (6.1.). In a fourth song, Mannewali dreams of her unrequited love for Bhagat (6.2.).

In order to be able to coordinate all protest actions even better, a meeting of several underground organizations is planned. In the middle of the preparations, Rajguru brings a message to Azad and from now on belongs to the inner circle of Bhagat Singh (7.1.). The meeting at Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi seals the further path of the HRA: It renames itself to HSRA and henceforth follows Bhagat's future vision of a socialist state (7.2.). The first thing they want to do is make the Simon Commission fail. During a peaceful demonstration, Bhagat's role model, Lala Lajpat Rai, was knocked down by British police officers (March 7th) and eventually died as a result of his injuries. Bhagat and Sukhdev express their respect in a large funeral service (April 7th).

Shaken by Lajpat's death, Azad and Sukhdev condemn the British police and the Indian Congress' incapacity to act. Bhagat then decides to kill the police chief Scott in revenge (8.1.). A precise plan is worked out and finally the day has come. A mistake Jaigopal finally leads to the murder of Saunders instead of Scott (8.2.). The three (Bhagat, Rajguru and Azad) now have to try to leave the city undetected after Emerson had it cordoned off (8.3.). Bhagat escapes disguised as a gentleman with Rajguru as his servant; Azad plays the role of an ascetic wandering preacher (8 May).

To make the efforts of the HSRA known throughout India, Bhagat and Azad decide to carry out a bomb attack. To do this, they get professional help from the chemist Jatin Das in Calcutta (9.1.). The Public Safety Bill (9.2.), Proposed after the violently suppressed strike in the Bombay Textile Mill, is the trigger to actually implement the plan (9.3.). When Lord Irwin's law is passed in Delhi, Bhagat and Dutt set off a bomb and chant "Inquilab Zindabad - Long live the revolution!" They allow themselves to be arrested and taken to court (9.4. And 9.6.). At the same time, the opinions of Indian politicians, especially the Ghandis, and British government officials are brought in again and again (9.5.). Bhagat's followers are also caught up in the air and, after prolonged torture, meet Bhagat again in prison (July 9th). But among them are traitors who bought their way out through their statements on the Saunders murder case. The murder file is reopened; Bhagat and Rajguru are the main suspects (9/8).

The conditions in the central prison of Lahore are very bad, so that Bhagat starts a hunger strike (10.1.). All attempts to force-feed and torture are pointless. At the same time, the trial continues, which the defendants skillfully use to get the attention of the press, and therefore the people. Eventually the others also go on hunger strike and resist all attempts to force-feed. Their common grief welds them even closer together, which is also expressed in the 5th song (10.2.). Meanwhile, the British are holding a ball (March 10th). But even there, the hunger strike is the number one issue, forcing Emerson and Irwin to give in to the demands. But for Jatin Das this insight comes too late; he dies after 63 days without food (10.4.). Thousands of people and followers follow his funeral procession and he is finally burned to the sound of the 6th song (May 10th).

Gandhi is now busy campaigning for a non-violent approach and is demanding Dominion status for India (11.1.). Bhagat, on the other hand, continues to maintain his position for a totally independent country. Jawaharlal Nehru shares this opinion and for Emerson and Irwin this is reason enough to finally classify Bhagat as dangerous. Thanks to an order from Irwin, the negotiations are being continued before a specially established tribunal without having the right to appeal (11.2.). Azad condemns this practice as illegal; However, Bhagat rejects any attempt at liberation (11.3. And 11.4.). A request for mercy from the father is also rejected (May 11).

The judgments are finally read out in an empty courtroom and then repeated in front of the accused in prison: Rajguru, Sukhdev and Bhagat are sentenced to death by hanging. The others received the judgment 'Transportation for life' (12.1.). At the same time, Chandrashekhar Azad is ambushed in Allahabad and finally shoots himself to avoid capture (February 12). In Lahore, Bhagat bids farewell to his family and Mannewali in prison (March 12). There are protests against the impending execution all over the country. They even ask Gandhi to knock out a pardon in his negotiations with Irwin. However, this is rejected and Gandhi signs the contract anyway (April 12th).To prevent a riot, the execution date is brought forward and the prisoners go to the scaffold singing the 7th song. Even shortly before his death, Bhagat renounces all belief and as a last wish he demands a hug with his two comrades-in-arms. They chant “Inquilab Zindabad” one last time, kiss the rope, black sacks are pulled over their heads, the sound of the planks being pulled away can be heard and the screen turns black (May 12). Accompanied by two further songs, an afterword and the end credits appear (June 12).

This very factual description of the course of action naturally serves as a stocktaking or overview and certainly cannot reflect the emotional intensity that the viewer feels when watching the film. Rather, it forms the basis for more detailed analyzes of the film and the composition of individual sequences and makes certain structures of the plot clear. Also Legend can be divided into three acts and thus follows the Aristotelian script scheme, which was used by Syd Field5 has been described. The first act - the exposition - introduces the viewer into the situation and introduces the main characters in the so-called establishing phase. In the film, this happens in the first two sequences. Bhagat Singh was hanged. The secret cremation near the prison is discovered and disrupted, and Bhagat's parents identify his body. The father now remembers Bhagat's life and thus triggers the following plot (Inciting Incident). The first plot point is at 27:35 when there is a confrontation with British cricketers. The protagonist comes to a point where a certain goal is revealed to him. In Bhagat's case, this is to drive the British not only from the sports field, but also from his country. This mission is particularly emphasized not only by the dialogue, but also by very subtle symbols within the scene. For example, the British end their training by bringing down the wickets themselves, which in cricket usually means the batsman is eliminated. Perhaps this attitude should already indicate that the British will ultimately bring themselves down by their own way.

The first bracket of the main part (bracket 1) is the development of the plot towards the HRA becoming popular and Bhagat and his friends joining the same party and culminating in the murder of the policeman J.P. Saunders (Midpoint Climax). After his murder, the HSRA can no longer stop. Bomb attacks follow and for the rest of the film you only see Bhagat acting out of prison or in the courtroom. The second bracket of the main part forms here with the hunger strike, which Bhagat in sequence 10.1. is initiated and finally culminates in Jatin Das' death, which at the same time marks the second plot point of the film. Through his death, the prisoners must finally become aware of the seriousness of their situation and realize that for them too, at the end of the fight, death is the only thing that awaits them. The climax (Climax) shortly before the end of the film is therefore the signing of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact by Gandhi, who, at least it seems, finally pronounces the death sentence for the three convicts. The last song sequence therefore has a downright anti-climactic effect, because the viewer already knows that the walk of the three will end with death. Against all hope that has built up in the course of the plot, Rajguru, Sukhdev and Bhagat die in the end by hanging. Just as the viewer knows since the first sequence.

1.2 Film and historical template

Shortly after Singh's death, the first biographies and short texts about his life appeared, but they were banned by the British government. For example the work of Jitendra Nath Sanyal, who even went to prison for publication (Yadav 2006: 9). The subject of Bhagat Singh has been very popular in the Hindi film industry since the 1950s, as can be seen on the IMDB. It is not known exactly which texts screenwriter Anjam Rambali and director Rajkumar Santoshi used (Lalwani, May 2002); when reading various biographical texts, however, it becomes clear that they went about it very carefully6. In several film reviews it was also pointed out that Bhagat's younger brother, Kultar Singh, was present for a week during the shooting in Pune and was able to significantly influence the elements of the plot (Lalwani, June 2002).

In addition to the well-known people around Bhagat Singh, historical events were introduced into the film, which are intended to facilitate the classification of the film in the historical context and which also form the framework for Bhagat's actions. It is of course interesting to see how these events were adapted for the film and whether it is possible to link Bhagat's personal fate with them.

1.2.1 Figures

The focal point of the film is Bhagat Singh, a young man from Punjab in northwest India, whose life story is to be presented to the viewer here. The portrayal by Ajay Devgan is often reminiscent of one of the numerous Amitabh Bachchan films from the late 1970s7. So it's no wonder that some film reviews have given his game the label “angry young man”8. These angry young men are considered to be characteristic of a very specific era of Hindi film, the 1970s and 80s:

The focus of interest was a new type of hero: the 'angry young man', the 'angry young man' or 'industrial hero', as he was also called. All of them were protagonists whose main motive was revenge or at least the lonely search for justice. (Uhl and Kumar 2004: 49)

As in many of these films, the protagonist sees himself as a child cheated or betrayed by a father figure, who in the case of The Legend of Bhagat Singh taken by Gandhi. At the age of only twelve, Bhagat witnessed the implementation of the Rowlatt Acts9 on the street in Lahore and finally imagines himself in a surreal montage as a helpless spectator of the massacre in Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. Traumatized by the cruel British, he turns to Gandhi and fights in his non-cooperation campaign. When this was ended due to a violent attack on a British police station in 1921, Little Bhagat was devastated and changed. Following the tradition of a Bachchan film, the protagonist, who has grown up in the meantime, is only reintroduced in a song sequence (sequence 2.2.). He takes part in the performance of a supposedly harmless play for the entertainment of some British guests, which later turns out to be a condemnation of the British colonial power. The desperate boy has now become a self-confident, critical man who has turned away from the former maxims of non-violence and non-cooperation. In the same breath one of his most important colleagues and close friends is introduced. Sukhdev, played by Sushant Singh, is the idealistic and smart partner of Bhagat, who also attends the National College in Lahore and stands out for the fact that he asks his fellow English students patriotic questions (sequence 2.1.). Third in the group is Hari Shivaram Rajguru (D. Santosh), who only joins later and becomes Bhagat Singh's comical sidekick due to his quick-tempered and sometimes clumsy demeanor. A little naive but always charming, he ensures that often tense situations are relaxed, for example when he forgets the code word for transmitting secret messages between Azad and Bhagat and is briefly mistaken for a spy (sequence 7.1.). Other sympathizers remain largely anonymous both during Bhagat's college days and later in the plot, so that after only one viewing of the film it should be very difficult to sort the actors listed in the credits from the mass of comrades-in-arms.


1 Qatar Singh Sarabha, Ashfaqullah Khan, Ram Prasad Bismil, are among the most famous freedom fighters who were sentenced to death by hanging by the British during this time.

2The script manual. 8th edition. Frankfurt a. M .: Two thousand and one, 1996

3Introduction to Systematic Film Analysis. Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 2004.

4Introduction to film and television studies. Constance: UVK Verlagsgesellschaft, 2002.

5 For a detailed explanation of this see Field, Syd 1996.

6 cf. Yadav and Singh 2006; Nayar 2000; Saigal 2002 or Rao 1997.

7 Amitabh Bachchan is a living legend of Hindi film who had some of its greatest hits in the 1970s, such as Sholay (1975), Deewar (1975), Don (1978) or Amar Akbar Anthony (1977).

8 cf. Gujadhur 2002, Movie Review at or Lutgendorf 2004. The term “angry young man” is used in Hindi films to describe Amitabh Bachchan's earlier roles. For more detailed information about the actor, see Mishra 2002: 125-156.

9 The Rowlatt Acts, also known as the Black Act, followed the Rowlatt Commission in 1919 to prevent subversive activity. These enabling laws were designed to restrict press freedom, detain suspects without any evidence, and imprison political opponents without trial. See also Rothermund 2003: 40f. and Rothermund 2002: 74f.

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