Bollywood filmmaker Kabir Khan tells us why The Forgotten Army will always be special for him
When he travelled through Singapore, Myanmar and Malaysia some 20 years ago, along with freedom fighters Lakshmi Sahgal and Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon, two surviving officers of Netaji’s Indian National Army, documenting acts of valour of the selfless soldiers, Bollywood’s top-grossing filmmaker Kabir Khan didn’t quite grasp the enormity of his task. Neither did he realise it would be a life-altering experience for him. Since then, he has lovingly nurtured his wish to tell the story of INA on a larger scale, to a wider audience.
“It’s almost like a promise I made to Dhillon and Sahgal that I would turn the story into something big,” says Kabir Khan, whose mini-series The Forgotten Army offers a subaltern take on the journey of the INA. We sat down with the maker of blockbusters such as Ek Tha Tiger and Bajrangi Bhaijaan for a chat on the series and his hugely-anticipated movie, ’83. Excerpts:
Why did you choose an OTT platform for The Forgotten Army?
There are many reasons. One of them is that this is the medium of the future, where you can tell stories for posterity. Via the web, we can approach the audience slowly, as they can watch it now or a year later. Also, one can develop and explore the characters a bit more and that offers more space to be little truer to history than mainstream cinema, where one tends to simplify history sometimes and gloss over certain things for drama.
The Rani of Jhansi Regiment gets a lot of prominence in the series...
It is one of the most fascinating aspects of the INA, and it showed what visions they had for India. It was the first and only army to ever have an infantry regiment of women, who were trained to go into battle. They had a certain vision of what women’s role in society should be, and it’s fascinating that 75 years ago, 17 or 19-year-old girls joined the army. We also need to be aware of the way they thought of secularism. Netaji spoke so strongly about that, and today, after so many years of Independence, we wonder would they be happy with what’s happening right now. Have we lived up to the dreams that they had? It’s so relevant to bring out all those elements of the Azad Hind Fauj now. Netaji strongly felt that this whole pillar of secularism was the pillar of the INA.
What, according to you, is the most credible theory of Netaji’s death?
There are so many conspiracy theories, but as a rationalist, I do not believe in the Gumnaami Baba theory at all, since it doesn’t fit with the personality of Netaji. It’s a right-wing concoction to try and put Netaji and Nehru at loggerheads. The two largest brigades of Azad Hind were called Nehru and Gandhi brigades, which goes to show there could be no enmity. For today’s politicians, it is difficult to understand that you can have ideological differences, but still have immense respect for each other. Coming back to Netaji’s death, I saw interviews of the doctor who treated him and a witness of a survivor. So, the plane crash theory is most convincing, since there is not enough proof or logic to the other theories.
Tell us about your upcoming movie, ’83.
It is a beautiful story and has come together really well. I am thankful to the original team, which was the backbone. The information they provided and the training they imparted to the boys helped us immensely in recreating this story of the triumph of the human spirit and coming of age of a nation. There’s a reason why no one bowled like Kapil Dev; he is iconic. But Ranveer Singh trained really hard for five months and underwent a huge physical transformation, and I am very happy with his work in the film.