Bharat, the name has become synonymous with Manoj Kumar. Every year, as the country gears up for Independence Day celebrations, journos reach out to the actor-producer-writer-director to salute to the martryrs he has immortalised on screen.
I did too, seven years ago. But I had one particular patriot in mind — Bhagat Singh. In 1965, Manoj Kumar had resurrected his last journey to the gallows in Shaheed, a film he had also scripted. The actor, who had been researching his childhood idol since he was 16, had picked up the pen when he was 22. He recalled penning
between shots, at Chandivili Studio, on the sets of a movie.
Bhagat Singh, a
“My co-star who was one of the top leading ladies at the time, walked up to me and enquired what I was writing,” he reminisced with a wry smile. “When I told her I was penning a film on Bhagat Singh and asked her if she knew about him, she retorted, ‘Of course, I do, he’s a
(dacoit), isn’t he?’ I was shell shocked and that day, promised myself that I’d make this film because never again did I want one of our greatest heroes to be mistaken for a dacoit.”
Interestingly, when Manoj Kumar was 10, he had been selected to play Singh in a
play. “But I was so nervous that I ran away just before the curtains went up,” he laughed. He didn’t run away from Shaheed though. In fact, he endured several ordeals for it, sleeping on blocks of ice for 48 hours at Prakash Studio and holding his palm over a lit candle for another shot. “I burnt my hand badly and was so numb from my nap on ice that I didn’t feel any sensation for four months,” he admitted.
As the film progressed, he began to behave eerily like Bhagat Singh, so much so that even the martyr’s mother believed that her son had come back to her.
was present at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, seated next to his father, when Manoj Kumar walked up to receive his first National Award. The old lady even joined him on stage.
“For the first time I saw Mrs Indira Gandhi flustered. She didn’t know whether to touch
’s feet, fold her hands in the traditional
or embrace her. She did all three and the standing ovation continued for 10 minutes,” the star recollected, misty-eyed.
made Lal Bahadur Shastri misty-eyed too. The film was released during the Indo-Pak war and the stressed Prime Minister who’d been invited for the premiere, had warned Manoj Kumar that he wouldn’t stay longer than 10 minutes.
“The film started, and within minutes, I saw that Babuji was engrossed. I told the projectionist not to take an interval break. When the lights finally came on, I saw that he’d been crying. He was the first to jump up, clapped the loudest and made a 20-minute speech,” beamed an emotional Manoj Kumar.
Later that night, he was woken up by a call from Shastriji, inviting him over the next morning for a cup of tea. The PM proposed that the actor make a film on his famous slogan,
Jai jawan, jai kisan
That night, Manoj Kumar took the train back to Mumbai. And in the deluxe coach, the story of
was born. The film opened in 1967. Three days after its release, Manoj Kumar bumped into Filmistan boss, S Mukherji, who punched him hard on the back and boomed, “Hey Bharat, how are you?” And Manoj Kumar became Bharat. Jai Hind!