By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Biopics are tricky things. They work only when the central character holds up the drama.
To play the most turbulent and adventurous national leader India has ever produced couldn't have been easy. Sachin Khedeker simply slips into Subhas Chandra Bose's personality. The actor doesn't assume the legendary nationalist's personality by trying to look like Bose (though admittedly there's more than a passing resemblance). Khedeker instead tries to get into the mind and heart of this rebellious freedom fighter who wandered from country to country to glean support for India's freedom from British rule.
If there was no self-congratulation in Bose's indomitable fight for self-governance, there's none of the look-ma-no-hamming attitude in Khedeker's portrayal of the enigmatic hero.
We can stretch the analogy further to include director Bengeal in the web of understatement that characterizes this true-life drama on the dynamics of political freedom. The prolific director has lost none of his penchant for creating the drama of humanism through images that seem at first, ordinary, but are actually emblems of an existential dilemma.
Wisely, Benegal's astute writers Shama Zaidi and Atul Tiwari focus on the dialectics of the human drama rather than getting submerged in the politics of the turbulent period when India sought to find its liberty from foreign rule through the selfless machinations of the country's notable architects of democracy.
One of the myths regarding Bose, which the film effectually squashes, is that Bose was at loggerheads with Mahatma Gandhi. During one of his many heartwarming conversations with his lieutenant's Bose, getting moistly sentimental, says no one will ever know his true regard for Gandhi.
Ideological conflicts spring out of this socio-political epic to qualify and define the man and the politician. There's no confusion or overlapping between the two roles in Benegal's vast range of vision. Thanks to his extraordinary team of actors and technicians the filmmaker ably re-constructs Bose's life and ideology as being two halves of one remarkable personality.
The battle sequences shot on location are gratifyingly authentic. But it's the humane moments, which motivate Benegal's script to rise above the rabblerousing rhetorics and bombastic patriotism of the political drama to humanize Bose and make him appear more of a wandering ideologue than as the fiery rebellious misfit that Indian history has chosen to see him.
The controversial portions where Benegal's Bose is shown to marry a German woman and produce a baby girl, are done with the soft but firm hands of a visionary who won't let history obstruct his vision of the protagonist's personality.
All through Bose's struggle for India's freedom from foreign shores we see him as a pragmatic yet sensitive patriot.
A great deal of the film's compelling conviction comes from the actors.
Benegal, always a master of the casting crouch, springs a number of marvelous performances. While Khedeker runs across the narrative in a zigzag of inter-personal politics, the other members of the cast come and go creating a compendium of ambrosial cameos.
Divya Dutta (watch her where she pretends to feed kheer to the missing Bose in their Kolkata home), Ila Arun (watch her in the farewell sequence in Kabul where she gifts Bose with three gold coins to free her country) and Rajit Kapur (constantly shadowing Bose) are outstanding in their own space.
Remarkably enough Benegal's casts truly competent actors in the Anglo-Saxon roles. None of the hammy imposters we get to see in other Hindi films concerning the gora-log. Everyone, from Hitler (Udo Schenk) to Bose's wife Emile (Anna Prustel) belong in this outstanding tribute to a 'forgotten' hero
There's so much to see and ponder over in Benegal's epic. One cannot really take it all in during one viewing. To do full justice to Benegal's achievement one needs to go back to the work's nuances in leisure.
I've done that. I've waited a week before writing my review. My final verdict: Bose according to Benegal is a man and a state of mind, which provoke flaming thoughts of nationalism and patriotic chauvinism. There isn't a single desultory moment in the lengthy narration. On the contrary some portions seem to have been over-edited by Aseem Sinha to suit the needs of the impatient theatre exhibitors.
In the pursuit of a mass audience Benegal never vanquishes the essence and humanistic core of his protagonist. All through the picaresque progression of the plot, as Bose travels from Kabul to Berlin to Tokyo and Burma in search of national identity for India, we see him as more of a missionary than a messiah.
Rahen Kothari's cinematography and Samir Chanda's artwork add sheen of no-nonsense nostalgia to the predominantly autobiographical tale. Dialogue writer Atul Tiwari has made sure that the burning patriotism of the political drama doesn't get mired in polemics.
Sure, Sachin Khedeker gets his share of rabblerousing rhetorics. But most of the time he's on his own carving a personality out of the clay of history without becoming a slave to the role model. It's a truly accomplished performance and one without which Bose the man, politician and the film, couldn't have been possible.
Like all biopics Bose poses a perceptional problem for the lay audience. It offers scores and scores of characters within a historical perspective that is unintelligible to the dude who thinks Tusshar Kapoor and the cat in KYAA KOOL HAI HUM are engaging.
Among the films of today and in the autobiographical genre Bose stands tall. Its underscored but accentuated view of a stunning slice of history is unadulterated by humbug. And yet Benegal has made sure we watch a life well worth living without getting bored of its self-righteous underbelly.
To me, that's the biggest achievement of this neglected gem.