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Saturday, 15 June, 2002, 09:28 GMT 10:28 UK
Hero's family sues Bollywood bosses
Ajay Devgan as Bhagat Singh
Bhagat Singh movies are stirring controversy in India

Barely a week after two films made on the life of an Indian freedom fighter, Bhagat Singh, hit the theatres across India, a controversy over factual representation in these films began in Delhi.


This is like turning history into mystery for commercial benefit

Jagmohan Singh, nephew
A nephew of the freedom fighter, Professor Jagmohan Singh, has complained that the films include several historical and cultural distortions.

Leading Indian actors Bobby Deol and Ajay Devgan have played the role of Bhagat Singh in the films 23rd March 1931 - Shaheed [martyr], and The Legend of Bhagat Singh.

Indian films have given rise to controversies in the past - especially over alleged links to the criminal underworld - but disputes over factual accuracy are almost unknown.

Unhappy family

Bhagat Singh was born in 1907 in a politically active Sikh farming family in Punjab and joined the Indian independence movement early in his life.

An earlier portrayal of Bhagat Singh
The genre has been popular for decades

His became a household name in India after he shot dead a British police officer, mistaking him to be the one responsible for violently assaulting a nationalist leader in Lahore in 1928.

His execution by the colonial authorities in 1931 at the age of 24 turned him into a semi-mythical nationalist icon.

Bhagat Singh has emerged as a favourite hero of the directors and producers in Bollywood, Bombay's sprawling movie industry that challenges Hollywood's position as the leader of the world's movie-making pack.

But his relatives are not too happy with these films, and have gone to the press to air their complaints.

Dedicated freedom-fighter

Professor Jagmohan Singh, a nephew of the freedom fighter, says the film-makers have made some factual errors.

Bhagat Singh as he was represented in one of the earliest films
Money-spinners are now raising questions

He says the film - The Legend of Bhagat Singh - shows Bhagat Singh as what he described as a "trigger-happy young man" which, he says, is not the case.

Professor Singh says Bhagat Singh's views against terrorism have not been included in the movie.

But the film's director, Guddu Dhanoa, told the BBC he had researched extensively for the film and its narrative was entirely factual.

Professor Singh said he was also upset with the romantic scenes shown in these films.

He said: "Bhagat Singh was so pre-occupied with the freedom struggle that he would not even care for marriage."

'Money-spinners'

Professor Singh said Bhagat Singh's stand on communalism and socialism too were not shown in the films.

Still from Lagaan showing hero Aamir Khan with fellow dancer
Bollywood is better known for romantic musicals

"Showing Bhagat Singh as a fundamentalist is the biggest distortion in these two films," he said. "This is like turning history into mystery for commercial benefit."

He blamed the government for allowing such "distortions".

Another member of the family has already filed a petition to the Punjab High Court alleging that the films presented distorted versions of Bhagat Singh's life.

The court has asked the producers and directors of the two the films to file their replies later this month.

Meanwhile, a non-governmental organisation in Delhi has alleged that film-makers are trying to cash in by using Bhagat Singh as a brand name.

In addition to the movies in question, another film on the man's life was released last month while two others are awaiting release.

Demonstrating the power of the genre as a commercial success, Bollywood had already produced three earlier films on Bhagat Singh before the current spate hit the screens.

See also:

23 May 02 | Entertainment
03 May 02 | Entertainment
02 May 02 | Country profiles
28 Mar 01 | South Asia
09 Mar 01 | South Asia
12 Feb 01 | South Asia
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