Besides being one of the most revered films on patriotism, Shaheed will also be known for being the first of Manoj Kumar’s series of patriotic films before Upkar, Purab Aur Paschim and Kranti.
Shaheed, released in 1965, was directed by S. Ram Sharma for producer Kewal Kashyap. Manoj Kumar was cast in the role of martyr Bhagat Singh, with Prem Chopra and Anant Purushottam Marathe playing Sukhdev and Rajguru respectively. While Kamini Kaushal essayed the role of Vidyavati, Bhagat Singh’s mother, Manmohan was seen as Chandrashekhar Azad. The film received critical acclaim, several accolades and awards for its sensitive portrayals at that time. On the occasion of the golden jubilee of Shaheed, on March 23, 2014, veteran actor-film-maker Manoj Kumar was keen to have a special screening. But producer Kewal Kashyap who is quite old and lives in Kolkata, refused to travel down to Mumbai, and Anant Marathe, who played Rajguru, Kumar learnt, passed away about five years back. Of the entire team, only a handful of actors are around like Prem Chopra, Kamini Kaushal, Indrani Mukherjee and Manoj Kumar. However, while the screening did not take place, Shaheed was telecast on March 23 on Zee Classic.
“A golden jubilee is a great achievement. I feel, yeh toh kal ki baat hai. When people talk about the film even after 50 years of its release, ek ajeeb si feeling aati hai. You are humbled. However, since I was the only one from the team who wanted to screen the film, I did not want to sit alone and watch my own film with the media. And what do I tell them? That ‘I did this and I did that’. I am not fond of blowing my own trumpet,” says the actor-film-maker who will always be remembered as India’s only patriotic hero who gave up his mainstream romantic image to make films on patriotism.
Talking about how the project started, Manoj Kumar says, “It took four years of research to prepare for the role. I visited newspaper offices and read old books, magazine, papers, anything that I could lay my hands on regarding the freedom fighters. In Madras, I would go to Hindu Library after completing the shooting of my films that were being shot there and read books. I met Bhagat Singh’s lawyer one day and many krantikaris who imparted a lot of knowledge about the martyr. It was a gainful insight and helped me during the shooting.” While the shooting of Shaheed began in 1963, says the veteran actor, and took two years to complete, it released in December 1965.
“Kewal ran from pillar to post to arrange money for the film. I am grateful to him as he gave me everything I wanted for the film,” smiles the actor who found a true friend in his producer. “Kewal Kashyap was PRO to music composers Shanker-Jaikishan, O.P. Nayyar and Ravi. When he got tired of his job, he came to me and said he had decided to produce a film. To encourage him, I told him to go ahead, but he wanted me to write the story and even act in the film. By then I had a few releases like Hariyali Aur Raasta, but as for writing the story, I refused and discouraged him that ‘nobody will come to see the film’.” Moreover, Kumar says, two films had already been made on this subject earlier and to top it all, the film did not have a heroine. But since Kashyap was insistent, Kumar had to bow down. “Had it not been for my story, Kewal would not have made Shaheed and the fact remains that if he had not taken the initiative, Shaheed would never have got made. Both of us gained a lot through each other by making this ambitious film,” recalls the film-maker who proudly claims to be the first man ever to get the National Award for Best Writing for Shaheed.
After that, Shaheed became an official document for Bhagat Singh’s proud mother and the Government of India, recalls the veteran actor adding that throughout the film the three of them (Kumar, Chopra and Marathe in the roles of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru respectively) never wore makeup. “But for the scenes where the three are taken to the gallows, we applied makeup (laughing). Do you know why? So that hum achhe aur sundar lage. After this film, Prem, Marathe and I became comrades for life,” smiles Kumar.
Shaheed also won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi, as well as the Best Feature Film on National Integration. For the prestigious award ceremony, Kumar recalls how his father went to Chandigarh and got Vidyavati, Bhagat Singh’s mother, to the function in Delhi. “When she came on the dais, there was a standing ovation of a full 15 minutes. Madam Gandhi (Indira Gandhi) the then Prime Minister touched her feet to seek her blessings and we gave the entire prize money that came with the award to Vidyavatiji. We got tremendous love and affection from his mother,” says the actor.
Recalling the melodious songs of the film that are remembered and sung even today, Kumar states Mera rang de basanti chola was picturised first and the song was recorded later. “Those days a film would sell by the name of the music director and I am thankful to Kewal to have agreed to my suggestion to take newcomer Prem Dhawan as a music director. And see, the songs of the film became very popular and are sung even today.” As for his favourite song, prompt comes the reply, “They are all my favourite. However, Jogi hum to loot gaye tere pyaar mein was a trendsetter, but musically it was Aye vatan ay vatan humko teri kasam sung by Mohammad Rafi that had variety in it. The mastersong was Sarfaroshi ki tamanna which was composed in Raag Darbari and was very unusual. It was sung by Manna Dey, Mohammad Rafi and Rajendra Mehta. The other songs are Mera rang de basanti chola, Pagadi sambhaal jattaa and Watan pe marne wale zinda rahega tera naam.”
Recalling some trivia about the film, Manoj Kumar states that since the producer was short of funds, they mostly used tennis court lights during the shooting. As for the jail scenes, while the actual incident of the hanging of the three freedom fighters happened in Lahore, the scenes had to be shot in a similar looking jail in Ludhiana.
Another interesting aspect of the film that Manoj Kumar lets us know is that Shaheed was the first Hindi film to have freeze shots. “Scenes that were considered as highlights were stilled for a moment. This film became a trendsetter,” recalls the film-maker adding that while the credit for direction went to S. Ram Sharma, it was he, Manoj Kumar, who actually directed the entire film. When asked the reason, the veteran with his trademark gesture of holding his hand on his faces, says, “Kya karna hai? Interest yahi tha ki film complete ho. I have always been involved in my films and that is how I gathered confidence to make more films,” he concludes.
Shaheed – The big sacrifice
In 1916, Bhagat Singh’s uncle Ajit Singh was arrested for speaking out against the British, but escapes from prison and his whereabouts are not known. This affects young Bhagat Singh. When he grows up, he joins the freedom movement headed by Chandrashekar Azad and forms a team comprising Rajguru, Sukhdev, and Jaygopal. Since he is a Sikh and is easily identified for his turban, Bhagat Singh removes his turban, shaves his beard and changes his appearance.
Bhagat Singh and comrade Batukeshwar Dutt throw a bomb in the Central Assembly of the British Parliament as an act of protest. Along with other freedom fighters, they are sent to prison. Seeing the way Indian prisoners are treated, Bhagat and his comrades go on a hunger strike. The government gives in and agrees to change the way prisoners are treated. As their fight for freedom struggle continues, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev are given death sentences. Fearing public protests, the British secretly sends Bhagat Singh and Rajguru to the gallows a day before they are officially supposed to be executed. The men shout: “Long live the Revolution!” just before they are executed.