THE LEGEND OF BHAGAT SINGH (2002)

Ajay Devgn in a still from The Legend Of Bhagat Singh
  • Release Date: 07/06/2002
  • Cast: Ajay Devgn, Sushant Singh, Raj Babbar, Akhilendra Mishra, D Santosh
  • Director: Raj Kumar Santoshi
  • Writer: Raj Kumar Santoshi, Piyush Mishra, and Anjum Rajabali

I will climb the gallows gladly and show to the world as to how bravely the revolutionaries can sacrifice themselves for the cause

—Bhagat Singh

The Legend of Bhagat Singh released in 2002, the same year as 23rd March 1931: Shaheed and Shaheed-E- Azam, two other films on the life and supreme sacrifice of the legendary freedom fighter and revolutionary, Sardar Bhagat Singh. Directed by Raj Kumar Santoshi, with Ajay Devgn playing the titular character and AR Rahman composing the music for the film, elevated it to the top of the watch list of most Indian cine-goer in June 2002. 23rd March 1931: Shaheed, on the other hand, had Bobby Deol playing Bhagat Singh and a lot of emphasis on Chandra Shekhar Azad played by his elder brother and superstar Sunny Deol.

Sunny had earlier given the audiences a sneak-peek into him playing Chandra Shekhar Azad in a scene from Indian where he shoots the villain, played by Mukesh Rishi who frightfully sees a re-incarnation of Azad in Deol’s mannerisms on screen. Shaheed-E-Azam had Sonu Sood playing Bhagat Singh and he was the closest in resemblance to the revolutionary. Sood was just making a foothold in the industry back then and the film was marred by a controversy that ultimately ensured that it was swept under the rug.

Santoshi’s film was not only the best realized and closest to reality but also had a leading man who, though looked nothing like Bhagat Singh, brought his own honest and heartfelt rendition of the character to the screen. This aspect of Devgn’s essay forced the audiences to forget the dissimilarities between the historic character and the artist rending it. The film was marked by rousing dialogues and uplifting background score that instantaneously elevated some of the scenes to a level that was bound to strike a chord with the most casual of patriots.

Akhilendra Mishra and Ajay Devgn in a still from The Legend Of Bhagat Singh

Sadly, all that didn’t convert to cash at the ticket windows. Made at a budget of about 20 crores, the film barely limped to a paltry 13 crores at the domestic box office. It did some brisk business through satellite, music, and later home video rights that ensured that the film was not a complete washout. Many critics attributed the partial failure of the film to 23rd March 1931: Shaheed that released on the same day and had the darling of masses, Sunny Deol in a character that gave him ample chance to exude his trademark earthen charm and flex his muscles. The audiences were violently divided among the classy and the massy and they chose one of the two films leading to the films eating into each other’s business.

The Legend of Bhagat Singh starts with a young Bhagat Singh witnessing the horrifying brutalities meted out to the Sikh in India. His delicate sensibility is further influenced by the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 and post that despicable incident, he becomes an ardent follower and proponent of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. When Gandhi calls back his agitation against the British, following an incident of violence against Police officers by Indians, Bhagat is crestfallen. The story moves ahead in time and now we meet a grown-up Bhagat Singh (Ajay Devgn) studying at National College. It is here that he meets his long-term collaborator and dear friend Sukhdev (Sushant Singh). It is here that he gets an opportunity to join the Hindustan Socialistic Republican Army which would be his guiding light for the rest of his life.

Bhagat’s revolutionary thinking, oratory skills, and fearless nature help him grow quickly among the ranks in the HRSA. He is smart enough to realize that the reach of the HRSA is limited only to a few cities and most people of the country are not even aware of their existence and efforts to win freedom from the British Raj. In order to propagate the ideology and fight of the HRSA, he undertakes a daring mission to bomb the assembly that plans to pass two subjugatory bills. The idea is to surrender after the strike and then use the court to lay out their views and ideologies through the court proceedings and the press coverage that it was poised to receive. His idea works and soon the whole nation wakes up to his call. Things turn sinister when one of his comrades in a previous mission to avenge the murder of Lala Lajpat Rai turns a government witness and Bhagat is implicated in the murder of the police officer.

Sushant Singh, Ajay Devgn, and Varun Grover in a still from The Legend Of Bhagat Singh

Even though the film works more like a highlight on few specific incidents of Bhagat Singh’s life, it deals with these episodes proficiently. The emphasis is focused on Bhagat and a few supporting characters like Chandrashekhar Azad, Sukhdev, and Rajguru. It was the smart thing to do as there are so many incidents and characters to deal with in the story that it would have been impossible to do justice to one and all. Hence, it was a good idea to handpick a few supporting characters and flesh them out more than all the rest. The only thing that I was not convinced with was the casting of many of these characters. For example, Chandrashekar Azad was in his late 20s when he was martyred. His character is played by Akhilendra Mishra who does a fantastic job with the character but looks well over 40 and raises some serious questions on the historical accuracy.

The writing of the film by Rajkumar Santoshi, Piyush Mishra, and Anjum Rajabali is by far one of the strongest aspects of it. The performances of the film get theatrical at a few junctures, the music may not strike a chord every time, but the manner in which the story progresses and the lines that Bhagat and his compatriots are given to mouth always work. Piyush Mishra has a penchant for writing revolutionary stuff and I could sense a deep impact of his sensibilities in the writing of the film. It is impossible for me to ascertain what aspect of the writing of the film he was involved with, but I somehow feel that it must have had to do with the courtroom sequences and the portions where the ideology of the freedom fighters are reveled through scenes of dialogue between characters.

Ajay Devgn won a national award for essaying Bhagat Singh and he deserved every bit of the accolade that he was showered with. He has expressive eyes and once the director starts utilizing those eyes to convey emotions, he instantly becomes a better actor. He has impeccable timing for delivering inspirational lines and he does so with such conviction and rousing fervor that anyone with a semblance of patriotism will be inspired by it. Sushant Singh, D Santosh, and Akhilendra Mishra chip in with power-packed performances that are essential to the plot and also help in elevating Ajay Devgn’s performance.

The Legend of Bhagat Singh’s historical accuracy may be questionable, but it has its heart in the right place. Ajay Devgn earnestly brings the revolutionary to life and roars thunderously in the scenes that demand him to. The music by A.R Rahman is uplifting and brilliant. It is the perfect film to elevate your mood and fill you with a sense of patriotism on any given day.

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)       

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