The heroes of Shaheed (1965)

After almost a decade, I happened to watch Manoj Kumar’s classic Shaheed, which retold the story of the glorious revolutionaries of the late 1920s, who led a parallel battle against the British rule. From a cinematic perspective too, this film, directed by S Ram Sharma and produced by Kawal P Kashyap, is a landmark, for this marked the birth of Manoj Kumar as we know him.
The movie tells a story, now familiar through history textbooks and multiple re-tellings on the silver screen. The movie begins with a description of India as a country where mothers like Jijabhai have brought up sons like Shivaji to fight fearlessly for the cause of freedom and where the likes of Maharani Lakshmibai have chosen death over a life of slavery. In the same country, Bhagat Singh (Manoj Kumar) grows up in a family of patriots. 
Ma, ab toh azaadi se pyar ho gaya hai….
Dekhna, ek din mera pyar manzil tak zarur pahunchega
Well into his youth, he comes in touch with other revolutionaries like Chandrasekhar Azad, who form the Hindustan Socialist Republican Party. Protests erupt all across the country as the Simon Commission arrives in India. Lala Lajpat Rai succumbs to a few injuries he suffers from a lathi charge at one of the rallies in Lahore. Bhagat Singh and Rajguru avenge this death by killing Inspector Saunders, who was involved in the lathi charge. Bhagat Singh escapes incognito with Durga bhabhi (wife of revolutionary Bhagwati Charan Vohra and played by Nirupa Roy) to Calcutta after shaving off his beard. He later throws a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly with Batukeshwar Dutt to oppose the Defence of India Bill being tabled there. All the revolutionaries get arrested due to the treachery of Jai Gopal, who turns into a government approver. In the prison, they protest against the abominable conditions there and even refuse to participate in the court proceedings, which turns out to be nothing but a sham. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev are sentenced to death and they embrace it with a smile on their face and song on their lips, as the entire nation seethes with sorrow and anger.
Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai
Manoj Kumar spent many days talking to Bhagat Singh’s mother, who provided vital inputs about her son for the story. These interactions were evident in the final work, as the mother-son chemistry between Kamini Kaushal and Manoj Kumar proved to be a high point in the drama. Another major source of input was Batukeshwar Dutt himself, who was contacted by Manoj Kumar and his team to get intricate details about the lives of the revolutionaries. Dutt was sentenced to life imprisonment by the British government and was rearrested again after his release for his participation in the Quit India movement. But sadly, he contracted tuberculosis and died in near penury, in 1965, at AIIMS, Delhi, almost a forgotten hero. Worse, no biographer or historian contacted him to record the details of what happened in the hey days of the revolutionary movement. Shaheed becomes an important work for this reason as well, as it contained first-hand information provided by BK Dutt, who gave vital inputs about the lives of the revolutionaries. Manoj Kumar also got inputs from Manmanth Raj Gupta, who was involved in the Kakori case. When Bhagat Singh’s mother attended the National Awards ceremony, where the film received three awards, she received a standing ovation from the public. The award money was given to her by Manoj Kumar.
Prem Chopra, as Sukhdev, played his role to perfection
Prior to this, there were two cinematic versions of this story – Shaeed-e-azam Bhagat Singh, by  Jagdish Gautam, which had Prem Adeeb as the hero and Shaheed Bhagat Singh, which had Shammi Kapoor as Bhagat Singh and Prem Nath as Chandrasekhar Azad. Both the films had failed at the box office and expectations were not high from Shaheed as well, since none of the actors in the lead roles were huge stars, barring Pran, who did this role for a pittance, as he liked the story.
The screenplay and dialogues by Din Dayal Sharma and BK Dutt held this film up like strong pillars. They even won the National Award for Best Screenplay that year. Even in the face of death, the sense of humour shared by the revolutionaries came out time and again through the dialoguesWhen the revolutionaries tell each other in jail, on meeting after a long time, Aisa lagta hai barso baad mile hai, the jailor retorts, much to their glee, Fikar mat karo, ab barso saath hi rehna padega. When Bhagat Singh and BK Dutt are being led to prison, the police van is stopped by a herd of goats being led to a slaughterhouse and Bhagat Singh remarks, “Chalo, yeh bhi kasaikhane jaa rahe hai”. But what gave the viewers goosebumps were the songs, mostly written and composed by Prem Dhawan. The song Ae watan, undoubtedly one of the finest patriotic songs of all time, is used across all crucial scenes in the film to heighten the drama. The element of paradox is also used effectively in the movie. In the court scenes, the attempts of a judge to maintain order in the court are juxtaposed with the mayhem created outside by the protesters. The prison into which the revolutionaries are led into before their death has the grafitti ‘Live and Let Live’ on its walls. The scenes of prison torture end with a constable yelling ‘Sab theek hai‘.
Laut kar aa sake na jahaan mein toh kya
Yaad banke dilon me toh aa jayenge
In what looks like a casting marvel in retrospect, Shaheed had three famous villains in a positive role – Prem Chopra as Sukhdev, Manmohan as Chandrasekhar Azad and Pran as Qaid Singh. Manoj Kumar’s partnership with these artists, along with Madan Puri (who played the jailer) and Kamini Kaushal continued in his other projects as well. Shaheed paved the road for Manoj Kumar’s patriotic journey through the 1960s and 1970s. Such was its impact, that on seeing the film, a much impressed Lal Bahadur Shastri asked Manoj to make a film on his slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’. The idea resulted in his next blockbuster Upkar. It’s for this simplicity, poetry and straight-from-the-heart story-telling that Shaheed remains the best movie on Bhagat Singh to have been made in Hindi cinema to this day.

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