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When Indira Gandhi wore a burkha to meet Gen Shah Nawaz Khan

The former Indian Prime Minister wore a burkha to meet the jailed Indian soldier during the 1945 Red Fort Trials.

Gen Shah Nawaz Khan

Mayur Lookhar

Tigmanshu Dhulia's Raag Desh had opened with positive response. The film is based on the 1945 Red Fort Trials of the Indian National Army soldiers – Gen Shah Nawaz Khan, Prem Kumar Sahgal and Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon.  In the film, the three characters were played by Kunal Kapoor, Mohit Marwah and Amit Sadh, respectively. Raag Desh has the distinction of being the first Bollywood film to be have a premiere at the Rashtrapthi Bhawan. The film is co-produced by state run, Rajya Sabha TV.  The makers also invited the descendants of Khan, Sahgal an Dhillon for the screening. Cinestaan.com spoke to Nameera Nawaz, the grand daughter of the late Gen Shah Nawaz Khan.

“It was great honour for the family to be invited to Rashtrapati Bhavan and for the film to be premiered there. We like to thank Rajya Sabha TV, the director Tigmanshu Dhulia and all for inviting us," said Nameera. 

The 1945 Red Fort Trials have not been discussed much when it comes to Indian history, thus, most Indians remain unaware of the event as Nameera said, “This is a forgotten chapter from the history of India, I don’t know why it never came into public domain before. While there have been films made on other national heroes, we hardly even read about these men in history books.” 

While Nameera never saw her grandfather, who passed away in 1983, she learnt of his great deeds through her parents and relatives. Khan had left the army and begun a political career. He won the first Lok Sabha election in 1952 from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh and went on to have a long career in Parliament and government during which he headed different ministries like agriculture, steel and mines, and labour between 1965 and 1977.

“I did grow up listening to heroic tales of my grandfather. He was a very strong and honest person, He’d sacrificed his entire life for the nation. I was told how tough time the family went through when he was sentenced to death by the British,” she added.

Nameera stated that her family really liked Raag Desh.  How did they rate Kunal Kapoor’s performances?  “He was good,” said Nameera, “I’m told that to get the accent, mannerism right. Kapoor had consulted my brother to know about Gen Khan. My brothers had also passed him The Springing Tiger (book and film) and Raj Se Swaraj  (TV series) as references. We are happy with the way Raag Desh has come out and the way Kapoor performed.”

Kunal Kapoor in Raag Desh

With three central characters in the film, it was always a difficult challenge to cover all aspects to the story. Though not disappointed, the young Nameera hoped to see things about Gen Khan that was passed on to her by her parents and relatives.  Khan, Sahgal and Dhillon were defended by Bhulabhai Desai in the 1945 Red Fort Trials.  “Bhulabhai Desai wasn’t keeping well when he defended the trio. After the court ruled in the favour of the soldiers, Desai had gifted his Parker Pen to my grandfather, who would then pass it on to my father Akbar. That pen holds special memory for the family” Nameera recounted. 

The young girl also shared a more interesting story. Khan was loyal to Indira Gandhi. This bond was formed before Khan entered politics. “When they were jailed, no one other than the blood relatives were allowed to meet the prisoners. Indira Gandhi had worn burkha, disguising as a relative. That’s how she managed to meet him. Perhaps, it would have been nice to have this in Raag Desh. Nevertheless, we are still grateful to Dhulia, Rajya Sabha TV for making a film on Gen Khan. It is one of the most proud moments of my life,” Nameera signed off.

The journey of Raag Desh is not over yet as at the trailer launch, a Rajya Sabha TV executive had told reporters that they intend to make a TV series on the 1945 Red Fort Trials. That woud perhaps help the viewers know more about Gen Shah Nawaz Khan, Prem Kumar Sahgal and Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon.