‘The Forgotten Army’ is the First Ever Script I Wrote: Kabir Khan
Director of blockbusters like New York, Ek Tha Tiger, Tiger Zinda Hai, Kabir Khan is all set to make his digital debut with The Forgotten Army. In 1999, Kabir made a documentary where he travelled with Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon and Captain Lakshmi Sehgal who were one of the many leaders in Subhas Chandra Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj.
Talking to The Quint, Kabir Khan recounts how the story of The Forgotten Army never left him.
‘The Forgotten Army’ is something you have been associated with for years now and you made a documentary and you have come back with a web series now. Why did you want to tell this story again now?
Kabir Khan: It’s just one of those stories that never left me. I think I was really lucky and privileged that this story came to me when I was only 25 years old. I was just out of film school and there was this amazing story that landed in my lap. I had the opportunity of taking Captain Lakshmi Sehgal, who was the commander of the Rani Jhansi Regiment, and she was 86 at that point in time. There was also Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon, who was also 86.
We went with them, drove from Singapore through Malaysia and Burma, retracing the route of the Azad Hind Fauj, and hearing the history of this army through them. After that experience and seeing what I did with them, the story never left me. It just got embedded in me and I realised that I have to tell this story at a larger scale. I have to tell this story for a wider audience, which unfortunately in our country is a very small section. So it went on to become my first script. I can say that this is the story that made me want to become a filmmaker. After every film, I would dust this script and bring it out and say this is what I want to make. I would go to Aditya Chopra, with whom I was working in my first three films. He loved the story but said that this is an ambitious story, but let’s do this a little later. And that’s how it went on and finally, I thought of making it as a series. To really mount a series of this scale, without stars, with newcomers. This is larger than any of the films in terms of scale. I think it was truly a very refreshing and empowering experience for me.
But was it difficult also? Because when you’re making a documentary, it’s about capturing what happened. But when you’re making a web series or a film there’s the degree of dramatisation involved.
Kabir Khan: I wouldn’t say it was difficult. Also, my experience over the years, having made six-seven films, helped me. Because you’re right. I think when I go back to the first draft that I had written of The Forgotten Army, fresh from my documentary experience, I think I was a slave to history at that point of time. I was not being able to tell thematically enough. I was too stuck up in okay…is this true, is this the way it happened? And then I stepped back and looked at it after 20 years. I was like, okay do I really have to be true to every last detail of the brick and mortar of this building and where it went, or do I have to be true to the soul of this story or the ethos of this story? And that helped me then rewrite it in a more dramatic form, in a manner that will engage the audiences. See, nobody is going to give me brownie points because it’s a true story. You have to engage them as a story and then after they are engaged with your characters and they know that it’s a true story, it’s that much more enriching for them.
And was budget a problem? Sriram Raghavan actually, interestingly, said in an interview that he dreads that conversation over the budget. So what was that like?
Kabir Khan: I was very lucky because they heard the story, realised that it was a big one. Sometimes, the scale is the story. And what I mean is, what we were just discussing that history is written by those who win the war. INA has often been described as guerrilla fighters who were irrelevant. But when you actually see the footage, you read about them and see their number and what they did, you realize that it’s a false narrative. For me to show that no, no they were not a bunch of ragtag soldiers who were irrelevant. It was a huge movement and for that, you need to show the scale. When I see the original footage, the footage of the first military review in Singapore that Netaji took of the soldiers and you see 30,000 soldiers standing from the Singapore City Hall till the sea and 30,000 rifles go up in the air and they say “Chalo Dilli”, you get gooseflesh. You realise that no this was not a bunch of ragtag soldiers who just decided to go up. That’s a properly structured army with a cause and an ideology that went into battle with the British empire. They lost, yes. They didn’t make military gains, they lost in the Battle of Imphal and that was the end of the road for them, but you have to tell the story.
Cameraperson: Sanjoy Deb
Asst. Cameraperson: Gautam Sharma
Video Editor: Veeru Krishan Mohan
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