On the Republic Day weekend, Amazon Prime Video will release a five-part miniseries called The Forgotten Army, which charts the valiant efforts of the Indian National Army — also known as the Azad Hind Fauj — that fought for Indian independence from British colonialism under the leadership of Subhas Chandra Bose. For its creator and director Kabir Khan, it marks a return to the topic that he tackled in a six-part documentary over 20 years ago. Except Khan doesn't really see it as a return personally, he told Gadgets 360 earlier this week, because it “was always fresh in my mind.”
“After every project, I would pick this up and say, ‘I'm going to be doing this',” Khan added. “For me it was not really, ‘Okay, I'm going back to something that I left 20 years ago.' It was always constantly with me.” That long gap, though, has afforded him scale and objectivity: “I think maybe 20 years ago if I'd made it, I would have been slave to the history and tried to just recreate everything the way that happened.” And since The Forgotten Army is also not slaved to the box office, Khan found it both liberating and refreshing to work with a new set of actors.
As for the narrative, Khan insisted it's not about Subhas Chandra Bose, often referred to as Netaji, but the soldiers who made up the Indian National Army (INA). Khan thinks they were treated badly by the British and independent India and doesn't subscribe to the viewpoint that they were a “ragtag bunch of rebel soldiers who amounted to nothing.” Still, they are remembered poorly because Bose had aligned their cause with the Axis powers, led by the fascist Adolf Hitler and his Nazis. Khan thinks it's okay to judge them but it's also important to look at what they did.
On INA's politics and their erasure from history:
“For me, [The Forgotten Army] is for the first time that you're telling the story of the Azad Hind Fauj through the eyes of the soldiers who went into battle. And so yes, there were these larger politics being played out and that had a certain sort of bearing on their lives and that the all that has been discussed. See the part of history where Netaji makes an alliance with Hitler in an attempt to create an army there, that is before this show because this show is basically from the Battle of Singapore, and it stays with the soldiers till their last stand in Burma. So, Netaji actually comes into picture later, to take over that army in 1943, so that's not part of it.
“But yes, the alliance with the Japanese, that definitely forms the scope of this series. And yes, we have definitely spoken about it from the context of, 'How did it affect the soldiers? What was the friction between them and the Japanese, the atrocities that were happening in Singapore by the Japanese? How did the soldiers get to know about it? What were their views?' All that is definitely there, but most importantly for me, it's not an in any way trying to justify what they did, or in any way, trying to criticise what they did. My attempt is: sit in judgment on what they did for sure, but at least get to know what they did.
“We do not know anything about what happened in those three years. It's just a dark hole when it comes to the history of INA. You know, it's one of those chapters of our history, which I feel is an important chapter, but the fact that it happened outside the borders of India and was affected by the British censorship in those times. 70 years later, that censorship is still affecting us, because they blocked out all news, and we still don't know about it.
“Especially in their context, history is written by those who win the wars and INA was hugely embarrassing for the British because it was 55,000 men and women who suddenly became traitors. And that label is still with them. They're still known as traitors because for two years after independence, the British were still in control of the army as an institution. At the Red Fort trials, they were found guilty. For 45 years after Independence, they were not given freedom fighters' pension or even recognised as freedom fighter. I am saying, 'How can that perspective still be affecting us? How can we not be recognising the sacrifices, however large or small, you might want to have an opinion on?' At least let's get to know what happened to them, what did they do.”
On the truth behind the British narrative of the INA:
“Why I keep talking about the scale, and why the scale was important, is actually to answer this question. In the British narrative, they have been written off as this ragtag bunch of rebel soldiers who amounted to nothing, were irrelevant and none of the actions really amounted to much. When I'm presenting this story, why I need scale is, sometimes scale is a story. The first military review parade that Netaji took for example of Azad Hind Fauj; 30,000 soldiers standing from Singapore City Hall to the sea. 30,000 soldiers yell, with the rifles going up, 'Chalo Delhi!' You realise that they're not a ragtag bunch of soldiers.
“It was a very structured army; they had an idea what they were doing. They had a strategy. [Their last stand at] The Battle of Imphal. Yes, they lost that battle and therefore, history completely went against them. But the point is that I don't subscribe to that that point of view that the British have left behind, that this was a puppet army.
“They knew they're not enough to take on the British Empire, but what they were wanting to do is capture the imagination of the Indian population, in a certain sense trigger off a revolution. It didn't happen because they didn't reach the Indian mainland. It's one of the big ifs of history, that had they won the Battle of Imphal, had the Japanese not decided to wait — which is again something that's been discussed in the show — and gone in before the monsoons, how would it have played out?
“The whole sort of British imperialism being sort of more benign than Japanese imperialism debate. I mean these are things that you can you know obviously go on debating about, but the whole attempt being that we really need to know what happened in those three years with this army. And the whole purpose of this series is that. Show what happened and then we can have all these debates. Oh, was this right? Was this wrong? Or the way that they've been perceived in history, was that correct? I mean all that can only happen after you know what happened with it.”
The Forgotten Army is out January 24 on Amazon Prime Video.