On the anniversary of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru’s martyrdom, we take you back to one of the first films made on their sacrifice. Besides being one of the most revered films on patriotism, Shaheed also established Manoj Kumar as India’s de facto patriotic hero. He would go on to work in films such as Upkar, Purab Aur Paschim and Kranti.
Shaheed was released in 1965 and was directed by S. Ram Sharma for produced by Kewal Kashyap. However, Manoj Kumar accepts that he actually directed it. “Kya karna hai? Interest yahi tha ki film complete ho. I have always been involved in my films and that is how I gathered the confidence to make more films,” he said in an interview to us in 2014.
Manoj Kumar was played Bhagat Singh while Prem Chopra and Anant Purushottam Marathe played Sukhdev and Rajguru respectively. Kamini Kaushal essayed the role of Vidyavati, Bhagat Singh’s mother, Manmohan was seen as Chandrashekhar Azad. The film was critically acclaimed and the best review came from Bhagat Singh’s mother who really liked Kamini Kaushal’s portrayal of her. In fact, 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,” said Kumar.
In 2014, speaking about the landmark film, Manoj Kumar had told us, “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 (now Chennai), 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, 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,” the actor said, “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’.” The reason why Kumar was not too enthusiastic about Shaheed was because 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,” Manoj went on to get the National Award for Best Writing for Shaheed, a first for an actor.
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’s father went to Chandigarh to bring 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,” the actor said.
Recalling the melodious songs of the film that are remembered and sung even today, Kumar stated “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 master song 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’.”