There are not enough films on India’s freedom movement, and the role of Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA) has been portrayed in a handful of films. Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Raag Desh is about the trial of three INA soldiers, and the whipping of nationalistic fervour at the time. Two years later, India did get independence, and the INA became a footnote in history.
The film has been made out of edited footage from a TV series commissioned by Rajya Sabha TV, which perhaps explains the repetition, uneven pace and inconsistency. There is a surfeit of information about the INA and the Red Fort Trial of Prem Sehgal (Mohit Marwah), Sarfaraz Khan (Kunal Kapoor) and Gurbaksh Singh Dhillion (Amit Sadh). It is a story that needs to be told, but not in the soporific, history lesson manner that Dhulia adopts.
Netaji Bose (Kenny Basumatray) had the right idea and the charisma to attract thousands to his cause, but his revolution failed, he retreated and was killed in a plane crash (there are several theories about what happened) and his army was taken prisoner by the British.
The noteworthy issue in the story is that soldiers of the INA were a breakaway bunch from the British army and when they fought against them, they were forced to kill their own countrymen. If they were anguished about this, it does not come across strongly enough. The three men were tried for conspiring against the king and for murder.
Their skilled lawyer, the great Bhulabhai Desai (Kenneth Desai), used historical precedents to get them off the murder accusation, and they were let off on the other charge because the British rulers were afraid of the rage of the Indian public if they hanged the three accused. This is portrayed by some slogan shouting and the refusal of a shopkeeper to serve an Englishman.
The film meanders along, taking in a romance between Sehgal and Captain Laxmi (Mrudula Murari), and comes together a little too late, in the last scenes of the trial and acquittal, but it does not succeed in engaging the viewer emotionally (which the recent Dunkirk, did, just to give one example). Leaders back then believed in unity and harmony — Bose does not enter a temple till a Dalit man is allowed inside too, and rubs off a red pooja mark from his forehead so that he is not seen as favouring one religion. This is something today’s divisive politicians need to learn.