His Moving Images

Last year we celebrated the birth centenary of Satyajit Ray, regarded by many critics and cinema lovers as the greatest Indian filmmaker to date. Whether such a passionate opinion is rationally founded or not is a matter of debate, but it can safely and dispassionately be said that Ray is among the most important of India’s filmmakers.

Satyajit Ray, besides being a film director of global eminence, was also a wonderful scriptwriter, a fairly competent and extremely popular author in the Bengali literature, a lyricist and composer of music, a magazine editor, and an illustrator and calligrapher. In fact, Ray wrote the screenplay of all the films he made, and composed music for 29 of them. This polymath, born on 2nd May 1921, arrived on the Indian film scene in 1955, with his first directorial venture, Pather Panchali.

Iconic filmmakers like Jean Renoir, Vittorio De Sica and a few old-school Hollywood directors like John Ford, Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch were among his chief influences. Among them perhaps Jean Renoir, regarded by many as one of the greatest filmmakers the world has seen, influenced him the most.

Prolific Maestro

Pather Panchali, whose making was delayed because of severe financial constraints, quickly and justifiably won him global acclaim. The beautifully simple and wonderfully powerful moving images of his maiden directorial venture induced the world of cinema to sit up and take note of his arrival. Pather Panchali went on to garner 11 international awards, including the inaugural Best Human Document award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.

Ray went on to direct 36 films in all — 29 feature films, five documentaries and two short films — during his filmmaking career of 36 years. We can very easily see that besides being brilliant he was also extremely prolific, which is quite surprising in a person who delivered such quality works.

Ray’s passionate but rather systematic journey in filmmaking was studded with 36 Indian National Film Awards and many prestigious awards at several international film festivals (for example, a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival). He was even bestowed with an Academy Honorary Award in 1992, when he was unfortunately inching towards his untimely demise.

Independent Visuals

Over the decades, many filmmakers and film critics have spoken and written about the contributions of Satyajit Ray to cinema. In my modest opinion, his main contribution to Indian cinema lies in his presentation of dialogue and visuals in a complementary manner. He was perhaps the first director in Indian cinema history to show that dialogue and visuals can be complementary and not merely reflect each other.

In most of his films, therefore, we find that there is no more room given to dialogue than is absolutely necessary. Many a time, Ray’s frames convey a wonderful array of emotions entirely without the support of dialogue.

In most of his films, there is no more room for dialogues than what is absolutely necessary. Many a time, Ray’s frames have conveyed a wonderful array of emotions without the support of dialogue.

Some cases in point are the climactic scene of Kanchenjungha (1962), where a perplexed Indranath (brilliantly played by Chhabi Biswas; the way he changed his usual dramatic style of acting to suit Satyajit’s realistic cinematic sensibilities deserves high admiration) in the backdrop of a suddenly sunny Kanchenjungha (a major peak in the Himalayan range) realises a sudden truth regarding the failed relationship between his daughter and her supposed would-be husband; Indir Thakuran’s hungry eyes and her slow moving away from Sarvojaya’s hearth, without getting any food from her; Apu’s throwing away the stolen necklace in the depths of ditch water (Pather Panchali); the frantic take-off of pigeons to symbolise Harihar’s death (Aparajito, 1956); Bijoya being transformed to her widowhood (Ghara Baire, 1984)… One could go on and on. Time and again, Ray has shown that visuals are an independent part of the film’s script; they do not need the crutch of dialogue to move you.

“It is important to note how much information Ray packed into a single frame. This is the secret of his fabled economy. Ray used as little dialogue as possible. This he did consciously and deliberately. In a feature film, one is basically telling a story through images. So, images are of the utmost importance,” points out Aparna Sen, the globally renowned filmmaker and successful actor in Bengali cinema.

“Precision and a sense of balance and proportion are the hallmarks of Satyajit Ray’s cinema,” says Satarupa Sanyal. Sanyal is a noted filmmaker from Bengal whose maiden feature film Anu (1998) earned her the BFJA Film Award for Best Film in 1999.

First Modernist?

According to the great filmmaker Shyam Benegal, Ray was the first to infuse modern thinking in Indian cinema in a comprehensive manner. Conventional Indian cinema, he says, just assimilated India’s classical theatrical traditions and incorporated them into celluloid, and Ray was the first in India to make a significant departure from that tradition, thereby creating his own language of cinema in the process.

According to Benegal, before Ray, in Indian cinema, modernity was there only in terms of technology. The fact that technology brought about the possibility of a new kind of language in cinema was simply ignored by Indian filmmakers.

“He recognised the kind of language that technology of films enables you to use, and how well it can be used, and consequently developed a distinct language of cinema that nobody had done before in India,” Benegal observes, adding that he views Indian cinema as before-Ray and after-Ray.

I do not entirely agree with the views of this great filmmaker. In my view, cinematic language arrived in Indian cinema before Ray’s Pather Panchali, albeit in bits and pieces. It was not so comprehensively evident in most of the frames of a given feature film, as in Pather Panchali.

It would not be an overstatement to say, nonetheless, that before Ray, by and large, other than very few exceptions like Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar (1946), Raj Kapoor’s Awaara (1951), Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen (1953), or the great Mehboob Khan’s Andaz (1949), Indian cinema was not much different from photographed theatre or literature. I think Ray gave the necessary momentum to Indian cinema which helped it to develop a comprehensive cinematic language in subsequent decades.

Finding Beauty in the Commonplace

Another of Ray’s great contribution to Indian cinema is perhaps to reveal the great latent beauty in mundane, commonplace things. His films didn’t so much focus on stunning visuals of great natural beauty or great spectacle, nor have they any lavishly mounted song sequences or great, spectacular, jaw-dropping stunts. Rather, he focused more on the beauty of the many day-to-day, commonplace realities that frequently go unnoticed by us.

For example, he could create great cinematic beauty from two penury-stricken village children’s viewing of a moving train from a field of kans grass (Pather Panchali) and their excitement in the experience. Even at this middle age of mine, whenever I watch this scene, which I have watched innumerable times before, I cannot prevent goosebumps from emerging on my skin. It is pure cinema with no need of any language.

Similarly, in the same film, Durga waking up Apu by opening one of his sleepy eyes, by inserting her fingers deftly through a torn quilt is simply a breathtakingly beautiful piece of cinema, though it depicts a very mundane reality of an impoverished family. The car’s fumes enveloping the zamindar’s elephant in Jalsaghar (1958) and Charulata eyeing her husband through a pair of binoculars (Charulata, 1964) are other examples of great symbolic meaning conveyed through apparently commonplace reality.

According to Sen, “While being deeply rooted in his local soil, Ray’s films are not ethno-specific. His deep humanism and simple storytelling give his films an enduring, universal appeal.”

She also lucidly explained Ray’s shot-taking style. “Unlike Ritwik Ghatak, Ray rarely stunned the audience with a breathtaking wide-angle shot with a character in the foreground. Ray’s method was to seep gradually into your consciousness without any gimmickry, until you identified deeply with the characters he had created. In the hands of a less talented director, this manner of shot-taking may have resulted in a mediocre film. But not with Ray, whose vision had tremendous clarity.”

Ray also gave us, she says, “his brilliant use of leitmotif. He invariably used a character or an object several times in different situations, imbuing it with a different layer of meaning each time. This made his films both dense and nuanced. An example of this is the sundial in Aparajito. It first appears as a symbol of Apu’s inquisitiveness and his opening up to the world of science. When we see it next, it tells the time for Apu to hurry back to his college in the city. It appears again when Sarbajaya, the mother of Apu, is dying, indicating that it is time for her to make her final journey. This use of the same object with different meanings at different times, add layers to his film.”

Amazing Content

However, the Bharat Ratna and Legion d’ Honneur award-winner was not only a trendsetter in form but also a pioneer in terms of content, as far as Indian cinema goes. Before him, who in Indian cinema ever made a film centred on two children in a rural Bengali setting, with no love interests and no typical hero or villain? “At the time, it was virtually inconceivable for Indian filmmakers to think of adopting such a subject into a film,” says Sanyal, speaking of Pather Panchali.

The way Ray combined the genres of comedy and fantasy to make a wonderful film with strong elements of magical realism (Parash Pathar, 1958) can also be perceived as a novel experience in Indian cinema.

Before him, who in the realm of Indian cinema had made a film on 100 minutes (real time) in the life of a wealthy Bengali family on the last day of their visit to Darjeeling, with no proper narrative storyline as such, and drawing corollaries between the moods of characters and moods of nature (Kanchenjungha)?

I do not know of anyone in Indian cinema before Ray to have made a film on a day in the life of a famous cinema star, exposing his pent-up insecurities and sense of guilt behind the façade of glamour (Nayak, 1966).

Or, for that matter, which filmmaker before Ray in India showed the vision of making a musical fairy tale-cum-political satire on two levels; a film that appeals to children and adults differently, with each able to enjoy it at their own level (Hirok Rajar Deshe, 1981)?

Succinctly, one can say that Ray was not only a trendsetter in Indian cinema in terms of form, he also translated a wide variety of novel story ideas to celluloid; topics which perhaps were not attempted before within the by-and-large conventional boundaries of Indian cinema.

Casting, Editing and Child Actors

The auteur’s frequent habit of casting non-professional actors, often in pivotal roles, also deserves exploration. “Ray’s films teach us about casting according to character. That is the reason he often used non-professional actors — simply because they looked the part! If they could act, well and good. If they couldn’t, Ray used them in ways that did not demand too much acting. Whether they looked the part or not was of supreme importance to him,” says Sen.

She also speaks passionately of the quality of Ray’s editing, whose pace varied according to the theme of the film. “The tranquil pace created through editing in the Apu trilogy is vastly different from the pace of Ray’s city films like Pratidwandi and Jana Aranya, which are full of quick cuts that convey the inner restlessness of the protagonist as well as the throbbing pulsation of a metropolis,” observes the eminent filmmaker and actor.

“In Gupi Gayen Bagha Bayen, I would watch out for the editing in the scene where several singers from different gharanas are singing in front of the king of Shundi to compete for the post of the court musician. They just sing a phrase, when Ray cuts seamlessly to a completely different style of singing by another aspirant. This again, is like a master class in editing. I have watched this scene countless times and marvelled at the virtuoso’s editing,” says Sen, who has directed many prestigious and award-winning films.

Sanyal points out the remarkable natural acting that Ray brought out from his child actors. “In his films, child actors delivered wonderfully natural performances, shorn of any bombastic elements, which is hardly seen in mainstream Indian cinema,” the filmmaker asserts.

The Musical Link

Sanyal also marvels at the “brilliant song picturisation and background music score of Ray’s films.” “His grasp of film music was simply amazing,” she says. In this regard, however, I totally disagree with her. To me, Ray’s background score may have been appropriate to the scenes but they are highly repetitive in terms of style. And, in my modest opinion, song picturisation is perhaps the weakest element of Ray’s filmmaking. The very few times he used songs in his films — except for Gupi Gayen Bagha Bayen (1969) and Hirak Rajar Deshe, which are musical satires — they were picturised in quite a bland manner.

His song picturisation was simply no match for the brilliant song picturisation by some of yesteryears’ Bollywood greats like Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt, or for that matter in comparison to contemporary greats like Rajkumar Hirani. But that, perhaps, is because he didn’t belong to that school of filmmakers who view song as an integral part of film.

Moreover, though his scripts are quite tight and concise, because of the sheer paucity of drama elements or the slow pace of narrative flow in most of his films, often his films fail to engage ordinary viewers at large. That is, viewers who are not trained in cinematic nuances.

Overall, though surely we cannot say that Ray was the greatest Indian filmmaker in all aspects of filmmaking, there is no denying the fact that he made many significant and some pioneering contributions to Indian cinema’s journey from adolescence to adulthood.

Written by Swarnendu Biswas.

Writer is a New Delhi based veteran journalist. Many of his features have been published in reputed Indian and overseas publications. He is also author of the book Inspiring Indian Women: The Bold and Restless in Pursuit of Passion. In this book comprising a collection of mini biographies he narrated achievements of nine inspiring women of post-modern India.

This feature was first published in www.pravasindians.com

'The Great Escape' that brought us Freedom

17th January 1941. 38/2 Elgin Road, Calcutta, British India. It was still dark, early morning hours. A German Wanderer sedan stopped in front of the house. A person resembling a Muslim cleric came down the stairs, took the rear seat of the car and the car left the gate. The man in Muslim disguise was no other than India's final liberator, 'Netaji' Subhash Chandra Bose. The man on the steering wheel was Netaji's nephew Sisir Kumar Bose. This was the beginning of 'The Great Escape' and the final stage of our liberation from the oppressive Empire.

The Rebel Leader

"no real change in history has ever been achieved by discussions" - Subhas Bose about Gandhi's 2nd Round Table Conference in London, 1932

Before we continue our journey, we will go back few years. It was 1938 when Subhash Bose became the president of Indian National Congress. He had already toured across Europe and met the national leaders of many European countries, including Benito Mussolini, to create a favorable opinion for India's independence. Long before that, he had started losing confidence in Gandhi's passivism and non-violence. In 1921 after Gandhi's abrupt withdrawal of non-cooperation movement, he could not hide his sheer disappointment, "the order of retreat, just when public enthusiasm was reaching boiling point, was nothing short of a national calamity.". On the Congress's stand for Dominion Status, in 1928 he said, "What we feel most acutely is that at a most critical juncture in our history our older leaders have failed to rise to the occasion.".

Subhash Bose with M. K. Gandhi
Subhash Bose with M. K. Gandhi

A rebel within him started rising. The rebel that had been always within him. In December 1921, when he was sent to a jail for the very first time, it was not long enough for him. "Only six months?", he said to the magistrate; "have I then stolen a chicken?". In 1928, he organized men for Bengal Volunteers, an underground revolutionary organization, that carried out multiple assassinations of top British officials. By the year 1932, he was utterly frustrated with the Congress's inaction and after the disastrous Gandhi-Irwin Pact that ended the civil disobedience movement, he said, "Gandhi is an old, useless piece of furniture. He had done good service in his time but is an obstacle now.". He started advocating war against British rule by taking foreign help.

"I am not a shopkeeper and I do not bargain. The slippery path of diplomacy I abhor as unsuited to my constitution." - Subhash Bose on his release terms from Jail, 1927

After this Bose started his campaign in Europe. He visited Germany. A series of visits followed, to Berlin, Rome, Prague, Warsaw, Istanbul, Belgrade, Bucharest. He met top Nazi officials and directly asked when they were going to strike at Britain "so that we might also take up arms simultaneously against the British". Readers may remember Jatindranath Mukherjee aka Bagha Jatin's similar fight by causing defection in British Indian Army and taking active German help during World War 1, also known as the Hindu-German Conspiracy in history.

Upon return to India in 1936, he was selected as the president of Congress in 1938. He wanted to steer Congress to a more active confrontation with British Empire that caused further friction with Gandhi. Against Gandhi's wish, he won the Congress Presidential election for the 2nd time in 1939 beating Gandhi's preferred candidate. Gandhi considered it as his personal defeat. Bose could clearly see the British difficulty in the looming war in Europe and wanted India to take full advantage of it. But Gandhi and the Congress were not ready. Gandhi still relied on a British change of heart. Bose was forced to resign and finally ousted from Congress for 3 years. Soon he formed his new party 'Forward Bloc'. His aim was to consolidate all left-wing groups. When the war began, the British government arrested him without delay. He was arrested on 2nd July 1940. Bose knew this was the time to act, not to spend time in jail. He had to get out of India and reach out to Britain’s adversaries. He could see India's independence.

He announced that he would starve himself to death - "Release me or I shall refuse to live". Finally, he was allowed to go home, but in house arrest. It was already December 1940. 26th January 1941 was fixed for his trial for sedition. But Bose had a different plan. He slipped out 9 days before that, disguised as a Muslim insurance agent, Mohammed Ziauddin.

Calcutta to Kabul

German Wanderer that Bose used on 17th Jan 1941
The car left Calcutta. It was not safe for him to take a train from there. So, Subhash Bose along with Sisir went by road, moving at night, hiding by day, to Gomoh, 210 miles from Calcutta. On the way, they rested the day in Subhas's another nephew, Dr. Asoke Nath Bose's house. Upon reaching Gomoh, Subhash took leave of his nephew and boarded the train for Peshawar. In Peshawar, he was received by Mian Akbar Shah who visited Bose's Elgin Road house during the house arrest to chalk out the plan. Bose stayed at Taj Mahal Hotel and for some time in the house of Abad Khan. Mian Akbar Shah brought a man named Bhagat Ram Talwar to assist Bose reach his next destination to Kabul. Bose stayed 2 days in Peshawar.

Bhagat Ram was a very interesting character in himself. He was once a part of a Punjab-based communist movement called the Kirti Kisan Party. He was tasked to move Subhash Bose out of the British territory. Unknown to Bose, Bhagat Ram eventually became the only quintuple spy of World War 2 with a code name 'Silver', worked for the Germans, Italians, Japanese, Russians, and the British!

They took a car from Peshawar to reach Kabul. This time Bose posed as a deaf and mute Pathan as he did not know the local Pashto language and Bhagat Ram took a new name 'Rehmat Khan'. In order to avoid the border patrol, they got off near Jamrud, the fort that guards the entrance to Khyber Pass. They went by foot from there, escorted by two armed Pathans.

On the first night they stayed in a tribal village and took refuge in a mosque at Adda Sharif on the second night. The next day they reached Lalpura. Here they had some prearrangements and stayed the night at a local person's house. The host was an influential Khan who gave Bose a letter so that they would not be disturbed by the police and they used it in two occasions in next few days. On the fourth day they crossed the Kabul River for the 2nd time to reach the main road to Kabul. There was no boat available. The locals made a makeshift boat using some leather sacks. They were already deep inside Afghanistan for anyone to demand passports. Here the escorts left them.

Unable to find any car, finally in the evening, they boarded an open lorry that drove through the bitterly cold night to reach Kabul the next day. Snows were falling and they had just two boxes as seats in that open lorry. They were almost frozen when they were dropped off from the lorry near the Lahore gate, Kabul. It was 31st January 1941 and Bose was out of British India. They stayed the night at a lorry driver's inn. In Bose's words:

"A cold wind raged outside and we could not let the doors remain open. Smoke filled the cell and it became suffocating. We then managed to get a few dry logs for a fire to warm our frozen bodies. In the evening Bhagat Ram brought some candles from the bazaar for a light, and some dry bread and kabaabs. When I could not eat the bread, he brought me a cup of tea. I dipped the bread into it and ate it."

Orlando Massotta in Kabul

For the next 3 days, Bose tried to contact the Russian Embassy in Kabul without any luck. On the fifth day, Bose sent Bhagat Ram to the Italian Legation (administrative office). Finally, here Bose got all the cooperation, hearty congratulation for reaching this point and a promise of a fake Italian passport. By this time on 26th January 1941, British authority in Calcutta found out about his disappearance. Afghan police became suspicious about the long stay the two 'pilgrims' in lorry driver's inn. So, on 3rd February 1941, Bose and Bhagat Ram moved out of the inn and took shelter in another Indian, Uttam Chand's house.

In the meantime on 7th March 1941, Prime Minister’s office in London issued an order to two Special Operations Executives (SOE), of the British Intelligence, stationed in Turkey and Middle-East. The order was to find and kill the Indian leader Subhash Chandra Bose. Yes, Churchill wanted Bose dead. No other top rung Indian leader had this honor as Bose was truly His Majesty's opponent.

Bose as Orlando Massotta
At last, after much delay, on 18th March 1941, Bose received his Italian passport in the name of Orlando Massotta. Unable to get any Russian help, Bose had set his next destination to Berlin. Bose was no Axis apologist. He hoped for Soviet help first. But Germans and Italians provided what he needed. He said, "I am not altogether happy about going to Berlin or Rome. But there is no choice."

The only way to reach Berlin from Kabul was through Moscow. So, he set out for the Russian frontier on 18th March 1941 in a car along with two Germans and one Italian. He went through one of the most difficult passages in the world in this journey. He went from Kabul to Bokhara, then through the high passes of Hindu Kush, the gorge of Tashkurgan, the dead cities of the Afghan steppe, ancient Mazar-i-Sharif, crossed the jungles along Oxus, took the ferries at Pata Kesar and finally arrived at Samarkand. From there he took a train to Moscow and then finally on 28th March 1941, flew to Berlin.

Before leaving, Bose gave important messages and letters to Bhagat Ram to be delivered in Calcutta. Bhagat Ram followed his orders and met Bose's family members in Calcutta, 'Forward Bloc' and 'Bengal Volunteers' leaders. Bose's instruction to 'Bengal Volunteers' was to foment rebellion in the North-Western province. But later Bhagat Ram betrayed and all the major leaders were captured.

Bose in Berlin

Bose was now in Berlin. But this time Hitler's Germany was different from the WW1 era Germany that had not only helped Indian revolutionaries with arms and money, but also allowed them to set up base in Germany. Hitler's persecution of communists removed the last trace of Indian revolutionary groups from German land. Hitler was preparing to invade Soviet Union in June 1941. Everyone knew Subhash Bose's alignment with left ideology. But still Ribbentrop, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nazi Germany, gave a warm welcome to Bose. He was allowed to setup a radio link to broadcast anti-British literature and establish 'Free Indian' military units from Indian prisoners of war. But Germany was not yet ready to provide direct military support to the Indian cause. Galeazzo Ciano, Italian Foreign Minister, wrote:

"While being of the opinion that Bose must be helped...Ribbentrop considers premature any public declaration on the part of the Axis on the subject of the future settlement in India. The Führer did not receive Bose, precisely to avoid any definite commitment on the subject."

Subhas Bose with Nazi Officers

By this time Germany invaded Russia. Bose proposed to raise Indian Legion of three infantry battalions. The plan was when Germany reached beyond Stalingrad, deep into Central-Asia, Indian Legion will leap ahead of German and storm into British Indian territory through the North-Western province. As they would move ahead more and more patriots from British Indian army would join this Indian Legion.

Bose oversaw the recruitment into this Indian Legion. Bose brought in A.C.N. Nambiar, a left-wing journalist and post-independence Indian ambassador to Scandinavia, as the 2nd in command of the Legion. Indian prisoners of war from various parts of battlefield were brought here. Many joined voluntarily. Bose had setup an office called 'Indian Independence League’ or 'Free India Centre’. By January 1942, his movement became well-known among the Indian diaspora there and many young civilians volunteered for the Legion. Now he had become the 'Netaji' and the greeting 'Jai Hind' was first used.

In the meantime, Japan joined the war and they captured Singapore from British in February'1942. Japanese forward movement towards east of British India made Netaji hopeful of end of the British Empire. He announced from the 'Azad Hind Radio' on 28th February 1942:

"In this struggle, and in the subsequent period of reconstruction we will cooperate whole-heartedly with all those who help us to destroy the common enemy"

On the other side of the globe, another selfless patriot, Rashbehari Bose, was working tirelessly to get the Japanese government to support Indian freedom movements. He was the same man who fled to Japan during WW1, when the Hindu-German Conspiracy, led by Bagha Jatin, was foiled. He was instrumental to cause defection in the British Indian army barracks at that time. Now during this tumultuous time of WW2, he was again the key influencer to setup the Indian Independence League and proposed to raise an army that was known as the 'Indian National Army' (INA) or the 'Azad Hind Fauj'. Finally the Japanese government formally sent the proposal of tripartite declaration on India's independence to Hitler and Mussolini along with sending an invitation to Netaji to join them. Netaji was in Rome at that time to meet Mussolini and Ciano. On 5th May 1942 he met Mussolini and the Italians agreed. Ciano wrote:

"Mussolini allowed himself to be persuaded by arguments produced by Bose to obtain a tripartite declaration in favour of Indian independence. He has telegraphed the Germans proposing - contrary to the Salzburg decisions - proceeding at once with the declaration."

Subhash Bose with Hitler on 19th May 1942
But the Germans were still doubtful. Goebbels, Nazi politician and 2nd in power after Hitler, was not convinced with the amount of support the Japanese could provide. On 19th May, Netaji met Hitler. German Führer also conveyed the same message that German troops were caught in Russian territory. They were too far away to provide any support to the Indian Legion and without German support they had little chance against the British Army.

It is needless to say Netaji was highly disappointed and lost hope in Europe. So, he made up his mind to go to Japan. In the meantime, Rashbehari Bose convened the second conference of the Indian Independence League at Bangkok on 22nd June 1942 where resolution was made to have Netaji join the league and take its command as its president. In his last few months in Europe, Netaji tried to keep the morale high of the Indian Legion which was already 4000+ men strong having 3 battalions. Netaji could see India's independence and said in a speech to the Legion:

"There is no doubt that the British have lost this battle. The problem is how to take charge of our country. When the Englishmen are about to leave there is no point in begging independence or getting it as a present from other nations because such an independence cannot last long. We are young and we have a sense of self-respect. We shall take freedom by the strength of our arms. Freedom is never given. It is taken."

Berlin to Tokyo

Netaji had to wait eight more months before a passage to Japan could be arranged. The Italians could not arrange an air route. No land routes were open. There was a chance of capture even while travelling in a ship. Submarine was the only option.

Subhash Bose in German U-Boat (1943)
Finally on 8th February 1943, Netaji, along with Abid Hassan boarded a German U-boat (a submarine) from Kiel, a German port city on the Baltic Sea coast. The quest for Far East begins from here. The submarine went past Denmark into the North Sea and came to the Atlantic Ocean crossing above north of England. The meeting point with the Japanese navy was fixed at 400 miles South of South-West of Madagaskar. The submarine sailed past the entire African West coast via Cape of Good Hope and reached the rendezvous point on 28th April 1943. Here both Netaji and Abid Hassan were transferred to a rubber dinghy to reach the Japanese submarine I29.

They sailed through the vast Indian Ocean. They crossed Sabang, the Northern tip of Sumatra, and stopped at Penang, Malayasia before finally reaching Singapore. From here, they took the flight to Tokyo accompanied by Colonel Yamamoto, the head of Japanese-Indian liaison group, the Hikari Kikan. They reached Tokyo on 13th June 1943 after a journey of 18 weeks.
Subhash Bose (right most) in 1943 Tokyo Summit

Here Netaji took the command of the Indian National Army to lead them to India's freedom. That is another fascinating story of the next 2 years of his life before his unconfirmed and mysterious death on 18th August 1945.

The Liberator of India

Readers may think why I titled this article as 'The Great Escape that brought us Freedom'. Is it just a catchy phrase, a click-bait? Didn't we get freedom through Gandhi's charkha (spinning wheel) as we have been taught since ages?

Sorry to dishearten you. The Prime Minister of England, Clement Atlee, who signed the Indian Independence Act of 1947, told later during his visit to Calcutta in 1956 that Gandhi's role was "MINIMAL". He said the reason behind British left India was Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army.

Whole world, particularly West, loves to promote Gandhi as he is a very nice tool, a symbol that any imperialist government would love as their opponent instead of someone like Subhas Bose who reaches out to enemy nations for help to wage war. What else can demoralize a nation than this line - "De Di Hame Aazadi Bina Khadag Bina Dhal" (Gave us freedom without wielding sword and a shield)?

The fact is British ruled over us with the help of us, the Indians. There was never more than 20,000 British people at a time in India. Few local rulers from 560+ Princely States, zaminders (landlords) and some English educated bootlicking elites helped them to rule over us for two centuries.

They used our men in police force to brutally torture our true freedom fighters. They used our men in the armed forces to wage their personal wars in Europe, China and rest of the world. Only way to throw this Empire out to their own little island was to break loyalty of our own men in the armed forces. That is what Bagha Jatin, Rashbehari Bose, Sachindranath Sanyal, Har Dayal, Pingle, Virendranath Chattopadhay did during WW1. That is what Rashbehari Bose and Subhas Bose did during WW2.

More than 30,000 INA soldiers died fighting British Army in WW2. Who says we got freedom by non-violence? The INA trial in Red Fort brought further defection in the armed forces. More than three times Royal Indian Navy (RIN) revolted between 1942 and 1945. During the RIN Mutiny of 1946 (as the British calls), multiple barracks of British Indian Army and Indian Air Force supported them.

During this revolt, British generals asked Gurkha Regiment to fire on the ratings (junior members) of revolting Navy in Karachi and they refused to fire. British Empire realized that they have lost control over the armed forces and their time has come to pack the bags. Later British High Commissioner John Freeman stated "The British were petrified of a repeat of the 1857 Mutiny, since this time they feared they would be slaughtered to the last man". 

It is now time to change the demoralizing fake narration that suits the imperialists and bring back some national pride.

The Springing Tiger by Hugh Toye
The Forgotten Army by Peter Ward Fay