A film on INA veterans in Malaysia

Bengalurean Choodie Shivaram’s film is produced by the Indian High Commission

Choodie Shivaram has been a freelance journalist for 35 years now. She’s written extensively for Deccan Herald and was a columnist for Prajavani for a few months. She has worked with Doordarshan and has scripted documentaries. Her latest and most ambitious film ‘At the Altar of India’s Freedom’ — a 30-minute documentary about Indian National Army (INA) veterans of Malaysia, has made it IFFI  this year.

She tells Showtime why this movie was so important to her.

Tell us why this subject interested you.
For more than five years, I’ve been studying and researching about Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, and I spent almost four years at the national archive researching on INA and Southeast Asia during World War II. I used to write a column every Sunday for Prajavani at the time. It went on for five months and the topic was Netaji. The column eventually got published as a book, ‘Nigoodha Netaji’.

And then you decided to turn that into a documentary?
Well, during the research process, I got to know about people living in Southeast Asia, people who were part of the World War. I went to Malaysia because I wanted to document and talk to the veterans. Each of them is a piece of history.

What was that experience like?
The beauty of it is that these people were only about 14 or 15 years old when they joined INA. They were second or third generation Indians living there and they have never seen India. But they were so passionate (that’s a mild word to use to describe them, to be honest) and they, boys and girls, joined the army just to liberate India. They were trained under the Japanese Army.

What all does the film highlight?
These veterans talk about why they joined INA, their mission, training and the challenges. It’s a film about Netaji through the eyes of these veterans.

It took you a while to get someone to produce it…
I had the footage with me for almost a year and no one wanted to produce it. Many brushed it off saying they are an entertainment channel and aren’t interested.

How did it finally happen?
All credit goes to the Indian High Commission of Malaysia which offered to produce it. The concept, direction and script are by me. It was finally released in Bengaluru and Malaysia in January 2018 at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. It was then screened at BIFFes, Rotary Clubs and educational institutions.

What do you most love about the film?
It’s a big chunk of history that’s not documented in our texts. It highlights women empowerment in 1942 where young girls went to the war fields. From working in the kitchen to holding guns, it was as rigorous for them as it was for men. The valuable message is their feeling and their desire to die for their country. A woman I spoke to was married only for six months. Both, she and her husband, joined the Army and told themselves that they would meet each other if they are alive or it’s goodbye. That kind of passion was a great eye-opener for us.

Apart from producing the film, we hear the Malaysian government did something else for the veterans…
They renamed their Indian Cultural Centre ‘Netaji Cultural Centre’ in 2016. It’s the first-ever centre to be renamed like that. 

 

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