Director: Raj Kumar Santoshi
Starring: Ajay Devgan, Sushant Singh, Raj Babbar, Farida Jalal
23rd March 1931—Shaheed
Director: Guddu Dhanoa
Starring: Bobby Deol, Sunny Deol, Amrita Singh
After watching the two films back to back what you can't get over is the introduction of Chandrashekhar Azad in Shaheed. Some drunks are let loose on revolutionaries by the Britishers. As they harass the women by asking them to be involved in "aalingan" (embrace) not "andolan" (revolution), Azad (Sunny) emerges from the crowd to offer a hug to the villain. It's a clinch tight enough to break the man's bones and sends the audience into a comic rapture. It also reduces a charismatic, heroic figure from our history into a present-day Rambo. So what if Sunny doesn't get to wrench out handpumps from the earth a la Gadar. His Shaeed still manages to equate patriotism with unbridled machismo. As for the historical accuracy or the lack of it, we'll leave that debate for another day.
Such pop parameters operate in TLOBS as well. Sukhdev and Bhagat bond over bhangra, Bhagat and Azad meet over a mini duel. The team of revolutionaries could be a bunch of friends from DCH, playful even at their trial. Rajguru is squarely a comedian while Sukhdev is a loveable rogue who pulls Bhagat's leg when his fiancee visits him. Yes, there's a woman (Amrita Rao) in Bhagat's life who sings Mahi ve mahi, just like Aishwarya Rai does a Jogiya ve jogiya dance for the Deol film. There's more that's same. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre has been conceptualised in an identical manner. Both scenes vaguely inspired by the legendary Odessa Steps montage in Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, complete with the image of the innocent child caught in the vortex of violence.
Yet there's a difference. Shaheed is all about the nostril-flaring, dialogue-shouting Deol brotherhood and seems to operate in an ideological vacuum. There's an effort to posit the differing philosophies of Gandhi and Bhagat against each other but in too simplistic and flawed a manner. Gandhi and Nehru become wimps, while Bhagat is shown as a churlish and petulant Gandhi-basher. There is an overt attempt to make the film more relevant for the present by alluding to corruption, inequality and communal hatred. But Devgan-Deol certainly fail in rewriting history, even at the box-office.