Relatives of freedom fighter have filed petition to high court

NEW DELHI — The bitter battle between rival Bollywood films about Indian freedom fighter Bhagat Singh has moved out of the box office and into court.

Relatives of Singh, who was executed by colonial British authorities in 1931, have filed a petition to the Punjab high court alleging the films present distorted and historically inaccurate versions of his life.

The producers and directors of the films — “The Legend of Bhagat Singh” by Raj Kumar Santoshi, and “23rd March 1931 Shaheed” by the acclaimed Deol brothers, Sunny and Bobby — must file a response by month’s end.

Singh was born into a Sikh farming family in 1907 and became an activist in the Indian independence movement. He shot and killed a British police officer, wrongly believing him to be the man who had assaulted a nationalist leader in Lahore in 1928.

Singh’s nephew, Jagmohan Singh, said “Legend” wrongly shows the freedom fighter as a “trigger-happy young man,” while “Shaheed” depicts his uncle as a terrorist, rather than as a martyr.

Singh also claimed Santoshi reduced a moving, romantic encounter between Bhagat Singh and his future wife to a “romp on a farm.”

“Bhagat Singh is an emotional subject, and any distortions of his character hurt us,” Singh said.

Another three movie versions of Singh’s life are due to open this year.

Vijay Anand, chairman of India’s Central Board of Film Certification, which passed both movies for screening, defended the filmmakers. “Film is not history. When a filmmaker translates a historical subject into a motion picture, he is bound to dramatize the story.”

“Legend” is beating “Shaheed” at the box office in Mumbai, the country’s film capital. It has raked in 9 million rupees ($185,000) vs. “Shaheed’s” $149,000 since the films bowed June 7.

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