Few actors in Bollywood found the kind of success playing a patriotic hero the way Manoj Kumar did. The big hit that started off the trend was the 1965 film, Shaheed, where Kumar played the titular martyr, Bhagat Singh. This would, of course, be followed by others like Upkaar (1967) and Purab Aur Pashchim (1970), the films that saw him earn the nickname ‘Bharat’ (his characters’ names in both these films).
Shaheed went on the floors 50 years ago in 1964. And to mark the occasion, Kumar plans to host a special screening at a city multiplex later this week. He confirms that some veteran members of the cast and crew will attend the event. “Some of the people are no longer with us. But Keval P (producer), Prem Chopra (who played the freedom fighter, Sukhdev) and Kamini Kaushal (who played Bhagat Singh’s mother) will be present,” Kumar tells us.
Reminiscing about the kind of preparatory effort and research that went into making the film, Kumar says that it took them three years to gather facts and put the story together. “I remember sitting alone in newspaper offices, and going to Delhi and Bengaluru to visit magazines offices. We’d buy old magazines as well.
Extensive research was done before writing the film, because there was no book available (on Bhagat Singh),” Kumar says.
He even recalls travelling to Singh’s hometown in Chandigarh to meet his mother. “There, I also met freedom fighter Batukeshwar Dutt, who threw the bomb in the parliament. I spoke to him and got many stories,” says Kumar.
Coming back to the upcoming event, Kumar says that, apart from some of the cast members, only a few of his close friends will attend the screening.
“I will only have my film friends present, because (political) leaders were never in favour of Bhagat Singh. It’ll be a private affair, where we discuss how we made the film,” adds the veteran actor.