Dilip Kumar’s Shaheed inspired me to become an actor: Manoj Kumar

At the National Awards Function in 1965, Baghat Singh’s mother appeared on stage, I&B Minister late Indira Gandhi touched her feet. I donated the entire proceedings of the award from my 1965 film Shaheed for her family's welfare

Bollywood actor Manoj Kumar, known as Bharat Kumar in Indian cinema has acted in and made the most patriotic theme movies. The 85-year-old Manoj Kumar talked to journalist Ranjan Das Gupta on the eve of the 75th Independence Day of India. Read the exclusive interview in his own words:

As I remember the first day of Independence, I still get goosebumps. Memories of countless freedom struggles, sacrifices of thousands of lives by our martyrs, and the unity of the great nation India, for a single cause, Independence.

Today we are a sovereign nation with a population of 140 cores. No other country in the world has such diversity in terms of population and language. It is reflected in Indian cinema too. Speaking of Hindi films, I confess they are mainly escapist entertainers. Box office success is the prime focus in Hindi films for all ages.

Bold and offbeat films like Duniya Na ManePadosi and Dr Kotnis Ke Amar Kahani were creations of Dr V Shantaram, the first filmmaker in Hindi with a vision. An excellent storyteller and technician, he understood the spirit of nationalism well. So did Mehboob Khan whose Roti and Mother India are masterpieces.

I was inspired by Dilip Kumar’s Shaheed to become an actor. It was a patriotic film with true messages of the independence struggle in the late 40s. Hemen Gupta showed how well he could handle the Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay classic, Anandamath’s celluloid adoption. Hemant Kumar’s tuning of Vande Mataram rendered immortally by Lata Mangeshkar according to me is a great nationalist song for Indian cinema.

Paul Zila’s, Zalzala based on Tagore’s Four Chapters was also a commendable film with the backdrop of our independence struggle. KA Abbas adapted Mulk Raj Anand’s, Two Leaves and A Bud as an excellent film version with Rahi in 1952.

In my biopic of Bhagat Singh, Shaheed, I put my best efforts into research at the Hindu library and visiting many corners of Punjab. This revolutionary spirit kindled in me an urge to narrate reality.

It is no new news that Bhagat Singh’s mother was ailing at a Chandigarh hospital and denied medicines. Hearing this I visited her. Seeing me she smiled and said she saw her son alive in me. I was rendered speechless. At the National Awards Function in 1965, Baghat Singh’s mother appeared on stage, I&B Minister late Indira Gandhi touched her feet. I donated the entire proceedings of the award earned from Shaheed for her family’s welfare. Though I did not take credit, the entire script writing of Shaheed was supervised by me and I ghost-directed about 90% of the film.

In Purab Aur Paschim in 1970, I filmed the independence struggle episodes in black and white to give them realistic touches. Through Kishan Dhawan, symbolized the true nationalist of Punjab, Pran was the betrayer, gaddar who prevails in our society even today. He later resurrects. The initial title was Hare Rama, which I changed to Purab Aur Paschim after Dev Anand called me and requested to give him the title for his forthcoming directorial venture. 

Amrita Pritam the renowned poet approached me in the mid-70s with the offer of penning a documentary on the late Indira Gandhi supporting the emergency. I strongly denied though I was a staunch Congress supporter.   

I was astonished and hurt, Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi had no mention of Subhash Bose. Paresh Rawal as Sardar Vallav Bhai Patel breathed life into Ketan Mehta’s Iron Man. Shyam Benegal’s biopic of Netaji was a damp squib.

I congratulated Aamir Khan for Lagaan, a very different film showing independence struggle of our nation using cricket. However, his Mangal Pandey was just average.

75 years have passed since we achieved independence. The Indian film fraternity is yet to receive the recognition of an industry. On this auspicious day, I sincerely pray that we receive industrial recognition. Then the lives of so many extra artists, technicians and production people get secure. 

(As told to Ranjan Das Gupta)

Ranjan Das Gupta

is a Kolkata-based independent journalist. He has been doing freelance work for more than 3 decades and writes on arts & culture, cinema, politics, healthcare and education

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