When Manoj Kumar became Mr Bharat

Manoj Kumar

It's a common saying in Punjab, the land of his birth

It's a common saying in Punjab, the land of his birth: "Everybody wants another Bhagat Singh to be born, but nowadays, we want him to be born in our neighbour's house." Seriously, the inquilab that Bhagat Singh and his fellow brave compatriots fought and died for is in a desperate need for a rejig. If you think in the same vein, I recommend you call your local DVD library. Just order Manoj Kumar's Shaheed and that patriotic chip in your system is bound to get activated.

The 1965 classic is based on the life of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh and traces his journey from a young child to a great revolutionary. This film laid the foundation of Kumar's Mr Bharat image, which he consolidated with Upkar, Purab Aur Paschim and Kranti.

Kumar, it seems, was destined to play the iconic freedom fighter. When he was staying in a refugee camp in Delhi as a nine-year-old, after the Partition, a friend, Surinder Chawla, narrated the story of Bhagat Singh. That's how the fascination with the freedom fighter began. He decided to stage a play on him — even got the trademark Bhagat Singh-style felt hat — but when it came to action, he got stage fright. "I was so nervous. I just ran away. This really pricked my conscience. I knew that I hadn't done justice to our national hero," says Kumar. He collected old Urdu magazines that had Singh on the cover and read up on him. He got permission to visit the library of The Hindu in Chennai and spent hours poring over every little news item on Singh. He shared the idea with his friend Kewal Kashyap who was a film PRO but who was looking to produce a film. They decided to make this film.

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