The Legend of Bhagat Singh Director: Rajkumar Santoshi. Players: Ajay Devgan, Sushant Singh, Raj Babbar, Farida Jalal, Amrita Rao. Theatrical release with English subtitles (Eros).
The phenomenal success of the patriotic-themed Gadar has resulted in the arrival of not one but three bio-pics that celebrate famed Indian Independence champion and martyr Bhagat Singh. The huge budgets boasted by Santo-shi’s The Legend of Bhagat SinghTHE LEGEND OF BHAGAT SINGH and the Sunny Deol-Bobby Deol-Guddu Dhanoa entry Shaheed-23rd March 1931 did not deter Iqbal Dhillon from entering the foray with his small-budget Shaheed-e-Azam. Now that the dust has settled, only Santoshi’s Legend is still left standing.
Better constructed, packing more intensity and shorter than the Deol’s expansive version, Legend of Bhagat Singh rounds up Devgan in the title role. Without losing connectivity with the broader story, the script follows Bhagat from a robust Punjabi childhood to his fateful college years where repeated run-ins with two diametrically opposed forces on campus instill in the young patriot an intellectual appreciation for secular Liberty, with a big L, on the one hand and an intense hatred for British tyranny on the other.
In the Bhagat Singh sweepstakes, the race to make the better film was distractingly overshadowed by what went on behind the scenes. First, Sunny Deol had a falling out with former-buddy Santoshi after Santoshi signed on Devgan for The Legend of Bhagat SinghTHE LEGEND OF BHAGAT SINGH a project Deol and Santoshi had conceived together originally. Second, Santoshi did the unthinkable—he wrapped up in a record 136-day shoot.
Third, both camps got their music directors to retread endless loops of “Mera Rang De Basanti Chola,” popularized in Manoj Kumar’s 1965 version of Shaheed. As bonuses, Santoshi even got A.R. Rahman to compose the score, while the Deols got—ta da—Aishwarya Rai for a one-song cameo. The result: two films with the same storyline, similar music, and lots of unhappy former friends.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.