When Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi” released, I was hardly 7 years old. On a rainy day my brother took me to a theatre where the film was running to a packed house….show after show. After a few hours I left the theatre with a faint understanding and a nightmare. The sequence of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, unnerved me and haunts me to this day. The gory details of people running around like trapped animals within the precints of the garden, of men and women jumping into a well, of helpless children crying beside the corpses of their parents rattle my thoughts whenever i remember the film or the incident.
On the eve of the Republic day there is no dearth of patriotic movies on television…as of this minute two versions on the life of Shaheed Bhagat Singh are being aired on alternate channels. Besides biographical accounts there are neo-patriotic demonstrations which take potshots across the borders….some feeble and others in ballistic proportions.
Yet I wonder if the at the end, the characters and narration do manage to touch a chord with the audience. These days people go to plush multiplexes, align themselves on reclining seats, stretch their legs and munch their caramel popcorns while they watch a chained Bhagat Singh helplessly tortured and beaten by the police. Or sip their colas as houses blaze and trainloads of dead people are carried across the border during the partition riots.
The sequences on-screen are all staged and the characters are all actors, but does the enormity of the horror not cross their minds? A generation of Indians who have been born and brought up in a free country are perhaps incapable of imagining otherwise. The horrors of partition, the massacres, the fights for freedom, the tortures are all fables from the past. They have hardly touched our ‘sheltered lives’. Alongwith it, it takes away the ability to feel the pain, humiliation, anger and fear. Perhaps the blessing of a painless freedom weaned us away from some very basic human emotions.

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