23rd March marks the death anniversary of three heroes in the Indian struggle for independence – Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. The lives of these revolutionaries have been immortalized in several films, and have inspired countless poets over the decades. In my humble opinion, the definitive film depicting the life and times of Bhagat Singh is Manoj Kumar’s Shaheed (1965). A mesmerizing tale of the fiery passion of a true patriot, the film set up Manoj’s later career as Mr. Bharat himself. But this one film defines him and sets his name up among one of Hindi cinema’s finest. I find the later Santoshi version a pale mirror image of the original.
The songs in the film are anthems for patriots and still exceedingly popular. Here is one showing the single minded dedication of a young man as he pledges his all to his enslaved country:
After being caught, tried and incarcerated, he fulfills his promise of embracing his death with dignity and honor:
A poet said:
Shaheedon ki mazaaron pe lagenge har baras mele,
Watan pe mitne walon ka yahi baaki nishan hoga.
But sadly the sacrifice of Bhagat Singh and his friends has now faded from our memories and is almost buried in the patina of time.