Film on Netaji

Bose back in focus

Print edition : September 27, 2019

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Photo: THE HINDU archives

The poster of the film.

The director, Srijit Mukherjee. Photo: by special arrangement

A scene from the film “Gumnami”, which is set for release on October 8.

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar (left) along with Sugata Bose, former Trinamool Congress MP and a grand-nephew of Subhas Chandra Bose, visits Netaji Bhavan in Kolkata on August 4. Photo: PTI

Members of the All India Forward Bloc during a rally on Netaji Subash Chandra Bose’s “death issue” in Kolkata on August 21. Photo: PTI

Srijit Mukherjee’s film Gumnami, apparently based on the Mukherjee Commission report on Subhas Chandra Bose, sparks a fresh controversy.

THE controversy surrounding the supposed death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in 1945 refuses to die down. If the declassification in 2015 of the secret files on Bose, which had been lying with the West Bengal government and the Centre, renewed the old debate on his death, a new film on Bose, which is set for release in early October, has once again stoked the embers of the debate. The film, made by the National Award-winning director Srijit Mukherjee and produced by Shri Venkatesh Films, is tellingly named Gumnami, a fact that has raised the hackles of not only Bose’s descendants but also several others in academic and social circles.

For a long time, a theory has been floating around that Bose did not die in that fateful plane crash on August 18, 1945, in Taihoku (now Taipei in Taiwan) and that he spent his final years in Uttar Pradesh as an ascetic called Gumnami Baba. Gumnami died in Faizabad in 1985, but the theory that he was indeed Netaji not only gained currency but also found quite a large number of believers over the years. The main reasons for the outrage are the apparent suggestion in the film that Gumnami Baba and Bose may have been one and the same person and the fact that the actor who plays the role of Bose in the movie, Prasenjit Chatterjee, also plays the part of Gumnami Baba.

A press statement from “The Majority Members of the Bose family” reads: The family of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose has demanded an end to a misleading and defamatory campaign to malign the image and legacy of the legendary leader.

“This long-running and sinister campaign is being organised by a Delhi-based private organisation, Mission Netaji, led by Anuj Dhar and Chandrachur Ghosh. It features a penniless recluse known as Gumnami Baba, who left behind trunkloads of Netaji-related fake collectibles.”

According to Chandra Kumar Bose, a grand-nephew of Subhas Chandra Bose, Srijit Mukherjee’s film was actually based on Conundrum, a book written by Anuj Dhar and Chandrachur Ghosh, and not on the Justice Mukherjee Commission report on the death of Bose, as claimed by the film director. “In Conundrum, the authors have tried to establish that Gumnami Baba was Netaji. But they could not provide any concrete proof. There was a rumour that he looked and sounded like Netaji. He apparently lived in hiding all the time. But there was another rumour about Gumnami Baba: that he was a murderer on the run. So, why did Srijit Mukherjee not talk of this rumour as well in his film? When he found himself getting cornered, Srijit claimed that his film was not based on Conundrum but on the Justice Mukherjee Commission report. But that report categorically states that a forensic test has shown that Gumnami had no connection with Netaji,” Chandra Kumar Bose told Frontline.

The Mukherjee Commission report stated: “...there are formidable facts and circumstances on record, which stand in the way of this commission in arriving at a conclusive finding that Bhagwanji/Gumnami Baba was none other than Netaji.” It also categorically ruled out that Bose died in the plane crash as alleged. The commission submitted its report in November 2005. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre summarily rejected it. Later, Justice Manoj Kumar Mukherjee, who headed the commission, told the documentary film-maker Amlan Ghosh that he was “100 per cent sure” that Gumnami Baba was Bose even though the report he submitted was to the contrary. It was a personal view.

Srijit Mukherjee insists that his film is not based on Conundrum but on the Mukherjee Commission report. “Certain members of Netaji’s family are hell-bent on proving that my film is based on Conundrum, which it is not. Initially, I had thought of making a film on Conundrum, but then, when I started researching I realised that there were so many perspectives and points of views that it was not possible to make a film on Netaji on one single perspective. So I decided to choose the Mukherjee Commission report, which is a government-commissioned report and a historical event,” he told Frontline, admitting that he did read Conundrum among other books on Bose for his research.

“I have made it clear in my teasers and posters that three theories of the Mukherjee Commission were being discussed in the film [that Netaji died in the plane crash; that he was imprisoned and killed in the former Soviet Union; and that he had returned to India and was Gumnami Baba]. Neither the Mukherjee Commission nor my film claims that Netaji was Gumnami Baba. Certain members of Netaji’s family have a problem with me presenting the Gumanami Baba theory in my film. But I have not done anything of my own accord but merely chronicled the discussions and questions that were raised in the Mukherjee Commission report. Now, if all three theories were raised, then as a film-maker, I will obviously have to show them,” said Srijit Mukherjee. He believes that it is not a real controversy but one that is being created wilfully.

Sugata Bose, former Trinamool Congress member of the Lok Sabha and another grand-nephew of Subhas Chandra Bose, said that the film was flawed in its conception. “It is a gross insult to Netaji, a travesty of history and a mockery of cinematic art,” he told Frontline. On the dual role played by Prasenjit Chatterjee in the film, he said that “any actor who agrees to do a dual role of Netaji and then some Gumnami Baba either does not know anything about Netaji or disrespects Netaji, and the director seems to believe that insulting Netaji in free India is his fundamental right”.

A section of Netaji’s family, chiefly Sugata Bose and his mother and former Trinamool Congress MP Krishna Bose, steadfastly adheres to the theory that Bose perished in the air crash, a theory that many, including a large number of Bose’s other family members, refuse to endorse. “The director is trying to say that there are three so-called theories. That is completely false. There is one historical fact backed by a lot of eyewitnesses that Netaji laid down his life fighting for his country’s freedom on the 18th of August 1945,” Sugata Bose had said.

Responding to Sugata Bose’s condemnation of his film, Srijit Mukherjee said: “The greatest insult to Netaji, that I believe certain members of the Bose family should understand, is that almost 75 years after his alleged disappearance, we still do not know what happened to one of India’s greatest sons. There cannot be a greater embarrassment than that, and I condemn Sugata Bose to be a party to that.”

The mystery surrounding Subhas Chandra Bose’s death persisted even after the declassification of a large number of secret files in 2015. Although the burning question of Bose’s death remained unanswered, the contents of the files, nevertheless, served to add weight to the theory that Bose was alive even after Independence (“Bose returns”, Frontline, October 16, 2015). One of the most shocking revelations of the declassified files was the prolonged surveillance of Subhas Chandra Bose’s family members—particularly Sarat Bose and his children—by the police and the intelligence wing long after his supposed death. In fact, the snooping on the family continued until as late as 1971, 20 years after Sarat Bose’s death in February 1950. Letters were intercepted, movement of the family members both within and outside the country was closely monitored and recorded, and their social interactions were observed minutely. On the occasion of Subhas Chandra Bose’s so-called death anniversary this year, Trinamool supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee posted on social media: “On this day, in 1945, Netaji went on a flight from Taihoku Airport in Taiwan, only to disappear forever. We still do not know what happened to him. People have a right to know about the great son of the soil.” The Press Information Bureau tweeted: “#PIB remembers the great freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose on his death anniversary,” but quietly removed its upload.

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