Kabir Khan: You didn't have to prove you were Indian to be in the INA
Kabir Khan's upcoming web series tells the story of the foot soldiers and captains of Subhash Chandra's Bose's INA, a script he has nurtured over 20 years. He thinks there couldn't be a better time to release it
It was 1999, and director Kabir Khan was 25. It was an exciting time, he says, as he readied for the journey of a lifetime. He was setting off on a road trip from Singapore, through Malaysia and Burma, back to India. What made it better was that his co-travellers included, Captain Lakshmi Sahgal and Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon, both aged 86 and former veterans of Subhash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army (INA). Formed in Singapore in 1942, the INA, led by Bose, aimed to march to Delhi and oust the British. Khan admits his obsession with what was locally referred to as the Azad Hind Fauj. "I was just a few years out of film school then and I got the opportunity to travel with them for my documentary, The Forgotten Army. This was the first time since World War II, that they were retracing the route the Fauj had taken. It was also the first time anyone from the INA was going back to Burma. It was special for them. As for me, I was being told the story by those who were part of history," Khan says on the eve of the launch of his Amazon Original show. The five-part series chronicles the story of Lieutenant Sodhi and his army of men and women fighting for Indian independence.
His interest in the Fauj ensured he didn't forget that he had long wanted to turn the documentary into a feature. But he knew, it was an ambitious project. It took him 20 years to recreate it in a fictionalised format. "The story never left me. The reason I don't make sequels is that once I have made a movie, the story is done. With this one, I felt, it needed a larger canvas. It was a promise I had made to Captain Sahgal and Captain Dhillon. When I made the transition to features, this was the first script I wrote. It kept growing inside me, and the research was internalised in the form of this goldmine of information that I had heard from them," says the two-time National Award winner.
Kabir Khan. Pic/ Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Every day of those three months he spent with the two veterans, now deceased, is etched in his memory, even as they were being watched by the Burmese administration and intelligence. Almost every scene in The Forgotten Army is based on true events, as narrated to Khan. He recalls a time when Dhillon and Sahgal insisted on locating a cave in the jungles of Burma, where they had taken refuge. This was 1944. It was at a place called Mount Popa, and it was their last station. "Captain Sahgal would joke that her husband, Prem Singh Sahgal, who was instrumental in the army, would have named his child Popa [if he had his way]. Their home in Lucknow is named Popa." They wanted to find the cave that they had operated from. By then they had been reduced to a guerrilla outfit. The three looked for four days, and on the fifth, they met with success. "We went in. Captain Sahgal had told me that her husband had placed a Buddha idol in the middle [of the cave]. And sure enough, there it was. I get goosebumps when I think about it even now."
The story, he says, is about the foot soldiers. Khan, a student of Jamia Millia Islamia and a history buff reflects on India's current climate when he says, "It's important that we watch a story of true patriots at this time. One of the main characters in the story says, 'to be able to fight for the INA, nobody is going to ask you if you are Indian enough, or ask for documentation. You just need to know you are Indian, and that's enough'."
Catch up on all the latest Mumbai news, crime news, current affairs, and also a complete guide on Mumbai from food to things to do and events across the city here. Also download the new mid-day Android and iOS apps to get latest updates
Sign up for all the latest news, top galleries and trending videos from Mid-day.comSubscribe