Bhagat Singh, regarded as one of India’s dynamic socialist revolutionary and executed at the age of 23 on March 23, 1931, has always been a subject of interest to filmmakers. He has been a pop-culture icon, featuring in films, songs and literature.
The first film on him was in 1954 in Shaheed-e-Azad Bhagat Singh. With Mohammed Rafi lending his voice for Bismil Azimabadi’s ‘Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna’, the film was written and directed by Jagdish Gautama.
This was followed by Shaheed Bhagat Singh in 1963, starring Shammi Kapoor who played the 23-year-old despite being 32 at that time. Nevertheless, the film wasn’t as popular as the first one.
In 1965, Manoj Kumar played Bhagat Singh on screen and till date, it’s regarded as one of the most popular films made on the patriot. Titled Shaheed, the film won the award for Best Feature Film in Hindi, the Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration and the award for Best Screenplay for BK Dutt and Din Dayal Sharma. Azimabadi’s poem was again used in this film, but became immensely popular thanks to Manna De, Mohammad Rafi and Rajendra Mehta’s singing.
In 2002, three Hindi films billed as biopics on the freedom fighter were released. Three different actors portrayed him in three different films. In The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Ajay Devgn, who was 33 at the time, played him on screen which won him his second National Award for Best Actor. Directed by Rajkumar Santoshi, Azimabadi’s poem this time was given a modern feel rendered by Sonu Nigam.
Shaheed-E-Azam released in 2002 too, starring Sonu Sood who, surprisingly bore an uncanny resemblance to the real Bhagat Singh unlike the other actors. However, the film went through a few difficulties in addition to the Punjab and Haryana High Court issuing a notice to the producers calling for a ban of the movie. The film failed to create an impact.
That same year, Bobby Deol starred in 23rd March 1931: Shaheed as the martyr. His elder brother, Sunny Deol, played Chandrashekhar Azad. The film was considered a disaster at the box office, much like Devgn’s film, but was heaped praises for the setting and costumes. Simple Kapadia, former actress and sister to Dimple Kapadia, was in charge of the costumes.
In Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti, there are vignettes of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ramprasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, and Durgawati Devi at that era envisioned by Sue McKinley. Siddharth played the role of Bhagat Singh.