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Films building up Majoritarian Narratives: Swatantraveer Savarkar


Ram Puniyani

Films are a very powerful medium which create a social understanding in various ways. Till decades ago we had films which reflected social realities and promoted progressive values. The films like ‘Mother India’, ‘Do Bigha Jameen’ and ‘Naya Daur’ are just a few of these. Some biopic films have also contributed a lot in disseminating social common sense, which are close to reality and promote inclusive values. Attenborough’s Gandhi and Bhagat Singh were greatly inspiring. Many of these were based on immaculate research and brought out the true spirit of the people on whose life they were based.

With the ascendance of the majoritarian politics, identity politics related divisive issue and the ideology of Hindu nationalism, many in the film World have been coming out with films which promote a particular narrative, a divisive one, which is based on sectarian views of politics and history. The common theme among these is a tilting of truth and in most cases glorification of Hindu Nationalist icons. The clever undermining of truth and building up of ‘fiction as fact’ is the underlying theme of most of these films. One of these was heavily promoted by the likes of Prime Minister Modi and RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat; ‘Kashmir files’. The affluent BJP supporters bought the tickets of this film in bulk and distributed these in their areas to encourage people to watch this. The worthies who promoted these claimed that finally the truth of these events is being brought to fore.

Another one was Kerala Story, where the figures of those being converted to Islam and recruited for IS were exaggerated to the sky. Many other such fiction like films flopped at the box office like 72 Hoorain, which tried to present ‘Islamic Terrorism’, presenting the political problem as a religious one. This film suppressed the social understanding that similar allurements of Apsaras in Swarg and Fairies in Heaven are also there in the mythologies of other religions.

These films were mainly to promote Islamophobia. On another level, the film on Godse (2022) was an attempt to glorify Godse by putting together many falsehoods that Gandhi did not try to save Bhagat Singh from hanging and he opposed the Congress resolution mourning Bhagat Singh’s death. And now comes the film ‘Swatantaraveer Savarkar’ by Randeep Hooda. This one takes the fictions as truth at a higher level. It claims that Bhagat Singh went to meet Savarkar and told him that he wants to translate his book, ‘First War of Independence’ from Marathi to English!

What is the truth? Many revolutionaries read this book and appreciated it. The fact is the book was written in Marathi around 1908 or so and was translated into English a year later. Bhagat Singh was born in 1907 and as a matter of fact never met Savarkar in his life!

The film shows Savarkar stating that we shall win Independence by 1912 i.e. 35 years before we actually got Independence. The fact is that Savarkar was in Andmans from 1910 and had started writing mercy petitions and by 1912 had written three of them. In these petitions he had sought apology from the British for his earlier actions and committed to serve the British loyally if he is released. And that’s what he did after his release by the British. Our freedom struggle picked steam in 1920 when due to the Non Cooperation movement, most of the people started associating with the freedom struggle.

Film goes on to question why no Congressman was sent to Andmans and most of them were sent to Indian jails alone. This may not be factually true. As such after 1920 the anti British movement took the path of non violence led by Gandhi-INC. The sentences given to them were of different types like imprisonment in jails. Andman or hanging (Like for Bhagat Singh, Sukhdevand Rajguru) were for involvement in acts of violence. As non violence was the basic credo of the movement led by Gandhi they were neither sentenced to death nor sent to Andmans.

The film argues that the Country got Independence not through non Violence but through violence. The major revolutionaries operating in India belonged to the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. After Bhagat Singh and his comrades were killed or hanged there was no major violent movement. Savarkar’s Abhinav Bharat had abandoned anti British stance with Savarkar’s mercy petitions. Subhash Bose, who formed Azad Hind Fauz, was killed in 1945 and the soldiers of Azad Hind Fauz were imprisoned and kept in Red Fort as prisoners. It was the INC which formed a committee to defend these soldiers. In this Nehru had taken the lead to form the committee for release of these prisoners of war.

There are claims in the film that it was Savarkar who advised Bose to form the army and to fight the British. This is totally in contrast to what are the real facts. Bose after leaving Congress had made up his mind to fight the British through armed might with the help of Germany and Japan, When Bose was fighting against British, Savarkar was urging Hindu Mahasabha to get the Hindus recruited to British army, to help British,

"Addressing the Mahasabha’s Calcutta session, Savarkar urged all universities, colleges and schools to 'secure entry into military forces for youths in any and every way'. When Gandhi had launched his individual satyagraha the following year, Savarkar, at the Mahasabha session held in December 1940 in Madura, encouraged Hindu men to enlist in 'various branches of British armed forces en masse'.”

About Savarkar, Subhash Chandra Bose wrote: "Savarkar seemed to be oblivious of the international situation and was only thinking how Hindus could secure military training by entering Britain's army in India." Bose concluded that "...nothing could be expected from either the Muslim League or the Hindu Mahasabha."

Bose in an address to Indians via Azad Hind Radio said "I would request Mr. Jinnah, Mr. Savarkar & to all those who still think of a compromise with the British to realize once for all that in the world of tomorrow there will be no British Empire"

As far as associating Savarkar with Subhash Bose in the film, Chandra Kumar Bose, grand nephew of Netaji after seeing the trailer told Hooda, “Please refrain from linking Netaji with Savarkar. Netaji was an inclusive secular leader and patriot of patriots.”

The film is yet another one based on distorting the truth to strengthen the Hindu Nationalist politics, with an eye on the forthcoming elections.