Bose: Dead/Alive — ALT Balaji's new web series examines the man, and the myths
There are perhaps more myths to Subhash Chandra Bose than there are accurate histories. From ageless rumours in Kolkata about Bose pulling off histrionics akin to those of superheroes to his eventual destination after a plane crash in 1945, there are countless theories. The intrigue surrounding Netaji’s death (or was it) has in recent years also become a way to garner political mileage, with the BJP often cornering Nehru and the Congress for its treatment of Bose’s family after he allegedly went missing. The narratives woven around Bose’s charisma and bravura means that a lot of people see him as an icon. Evidence of this would be the several threads littered across community platforms like Quora. Add to that the recently declassified Bose documents. Put together, all of this has been building to a fever, and no format is better for channelling such feverish intrigue than that of the visual. ALT Balaji’s Bose: Dead/Alive with the near-impossible-to-pin-down Rajkumar Rao as Bose is all set to paint the mystery red.
ALT Balaji’s web series is of course, not the first to tackle the subject. Bengali film Subhas Chandra (1966) and Shyam Benegal’s Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2005) have, though with differing treatments, looked at his life in full. Why a web-series now? “Making something on Bose is a huge responsibility but a series on Bose is the need of the hour. Over a period of time, we have forgotten who Subhash Chandra Bose was and what his contribution was in getting India her freedom. We need to tell the story to the younger generation and what could be better than a web series?” Pulkit, the director of Bose, says. Pulkit, whose first debut feature Maroon (2016) was released on Netflix earlier this year, was brought in by producer Hansal Mehta for the series. The young director says that he had been researching a similar project for himself.
The sheer number of stories around Netaji presents a dilemma of sorts for a director. There is essentially, too much material to follow, to recreate and in the end, to stay true to. “I remember I met a guy on my first recce, he narrated a story in which Subhash Chandra Bose played a trick just before the news of his death came in. He told me that Netaji was so intelligent that he planned his death in such a manner that the British got confused and were clueless about him. He planned it in a manner where the British would fear him coming back to India,” Pulkit says. The Bose papers of course confirmed that the British expected Bose to be alive despite the reports of the crash and his death.
Benegal’s film, perhaps the most popular rendition of the subject at least in Hindi, is a biopic that deals mostly with the man and not the myth (in Bose’s case it is safe to say, both stand for the same thing). In a series dealing primarily with the myth, what, if anything would the onclusion be like? “When you read about him and research his life and 'afterlife', there's no end. His life is open-ended and every aspect, every story related to his death seems possible. I’ve just followed, with belief, these stories and handled the climax in a simple yet open way,” Pulkit says.
That said, there is an exhaustive amount of research that must go into separating the audacious and unlikely from the might-have-happened, which is where the writers and researchers for such a subject, have their task cut out for them. “The mainstay of the series has been Anuj Dhar’s book, 'India’s Biggest Cover-up'. But we did look at other conspiracy theories outside this book too, like 'The Tashkent Man'. As for understanding Bose, the man, to flesh his character out, I did some binge reading of biographies of Bose, including Mihir Bose’s 'Lost Hero', Leonard A Gordon’s 'Brothers Against the Raj', Hugh Troy's, 'Bose The Springing Tiger', Rudrangshu Mukherjee's 'Nehru and Bose: Parallel Lives', Priyadarsi Mukherji's, 'Contemporary Anecdotes, Reminiscences and Wartime Reportage'," Reshu Nath, the series' writer, says. Nath says that other than reading primarily about Bose, it was essential that he read a lot about the Indian Independence movement in general.
In all, looking at the variety and subjectivity of material available, can Bose even be bracketed? “I am unsure if anyone can get Bose right like a mathematical equation. There isn't a complete congruence in the depiction of Bose even across the biographies. There are hagiographical accounts; Hugh Troy, despite being a British Intelligence officer, has grudging respect for him. And then there’s someone like Mihir Bose, who decodes the man behind the folklore. One has tried to look for some kind of a commonality of accounts,” Nath says. Despite three inquiry commissions having been set up since his alleged death/disappearance, little in the way of universal conjecture on Bose’s last days has arrived. Consequentially, whatever image you have of the man in mind, differs from what someone else might. “One is very well aware that many people seem to guard his memory with such fanatical zeal that any representation that differs from their own is bound to raise hackles. In short, controversy would not be too far away from any telling of this story,” Nath says, or might we say, predicts.