Tuesday, November 11, 2008

MIAAC: Bose, the Forgotten Hero

I have already reviewed several Holocaust films this year, and there are quite a few more slated to open in time for awards season. With several reminders of National Socialist horror still fresh in the movie-going consciousness, it is a bit disconcerting to see a WWII film in which the Nazis are not the villains per se, but such is the case in Shyam Benegal’s Bose: the Forgotten Hero, which screened as part of the MIAAC Film Festival.

Forgotten opens with arguably the pivotal scene of Subhas Chandra “Netaji” Bose’s life: his parting of ways with Mahatma Gandhi. Bose wanted to take up arms against the British, while Gandhi remained committed to non-violence. As a result, Bose resigned the presidency of the Indian National Congress, and set out looking assistance fighting the British under the assumption that the enemy of his enemy was his friend. This led him to seek the aid of Soviet Russian, Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy, and Hitler’s Third Reich.

It is perfectly understandable that Bose had little love for the British Raj. However, many are troubled that he advocated military action against Britain at a time when the Union Jack was all that stood between a racist ideology and world domination. Eventually, with Japan’s backing, he assembled the Indian National Army (INA), which along with their Japanese patrons, engaged the British in the Burma Campaign.

Although Forgotten seems pretty forthright in addressing Bose’s relationship with the Fascists and National Socialists, this BBC report (consider the source) suggests their collaboration was even greater than originally thought. While we do see Bose express some reservations about Hitler’s racial policies, as portrayed in Benegal’s film, the revolutionary is still perfectly willing to accept his military aid. However, having intermarried with a white Austrian, Bose eventually found prudent to leave Berlin for Japan.

Bose led quite the interesting life. Though highly problematic, it is undeniably cinematic. Benegal keeps the action movingly along nicely, so its three and a half hour running time does not feel so excessive. A big, sprawling historical saga with excellent production values, Forgotten even produced a hit song. It is a great festival selection, because it is difficult to envision a film of Forgotten’s length and political incorrectness receiving much art-house distribution from the studio’s boutique divisions. It was in fact, one of the closing films of the MIAAC Film Festival, when it screened Sunday at the Asia Society.