Somewhere in 1945, at the dead of the night, the British intelligence intercepted a suspicious-looking seagoing trawler near the coast of Mumbai. A team of police raided the trawler but could find only kitchen utensils and gunny bags. The trawler was travelling from Yangon in Myanmar and the cargo belonged to a Gujarati engineer, B. C. Mehta. As soon as the trawler reached the coast Mehta took all the bags and utensils with him and went straight to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
Why would a man coming from Yangon take those insignificant utensils and gunny bags to one of the tallest leaders of the Indian freedom struggle?
Mehta was, in fact, on a very important mission. The mission was to tell the tales of bravery of valour displayed by Azad Hind Fauj on the battle field. Those gunny bags were hiding reels of a documentary film made by the propaganda unit of Fauj.
When Fauj led by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose started suffering reverses in the war it was felt that Indians living in India needed to know the real story of Netaji. The British government had put severe censors on any news of Azad Hind Fauj. Indians were fed with a narrative that Netaji was a Japanese agent and Fauj was nothing but the Indian Japanese Fighting Force formed to establish Japanese colonialism in India. Though Fauj had a propaganda unit, its penetration into the Indian mainland was not much.
The propaganda unit of Fauj on the orders of Netaji made a documentary film that showed Netaji, soldiers on the battlefield, Rani Jhansi regiment, and other engagements of Fauj. Netaji might have left India after bitter differences with Mahatma Gandhi but he still had his sympathizers and allies in the Indian National Congress. These pro-Netaji leaders were contacted so that the film could be shown to the Indian public.
Mehta was a Gujarati engineer belonging to a business family who would, several times, drive Netaji in his vehicle in Myanmar. Sardar Patel was contacted by Azad Hind Fauj regarding this film. He pledged his support to smuggle the film into India and Mehta was given the responsibility to bring it into Indian territory.
Sardar Patel took the reels of the film with him and rushed to New Delhi. The film needed to be watched by all the senior Congress leaders. Patel asked Congress activists to arrange for a public screening of the film. Rajeshwar Dayal, owner of Regal Cinema at Connaught Place, was requested to allow screening at his theatre. He agreed and screening was arranged.
On the scheduled day Sardar Patel, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Maulana Azad, and each of the members of the Congress High Command watched the film. The outlook towards Azad Hind Fauj and Netaji was changed. People realized that Netaji was on a national mission to free his motherland and evil propaganda of the British that he was a Japanese agent was a lie. Gautam Kaul writes, “The film showed sequences of the members of Azad Hind Fauj training in the jungle and also the work of Rani of Jhansi Brigade of Indian women based in Yangon and Singapore. It also featured Bose moving around on inspection and meeting with other leaders of the region as well as exhorting his workers to prepare themselves for a long march to Delhi.”
After the screening, as expected, Dayal received a notice from the government for violating the law. Rajinder Narain, who also argued at the famous Red Fort INA trials, was asked by Dayal to help him. Narain took him to Kunwar Mohinder Singh Bedi, who was the city magistrate then, and asked for his help. Bedi knew how to help a patriot within the ambit of colonial law. After the first hearing, he declared a long vacation. He did not list the case for hearings until India got independence.
On the other hand, Sardar Patel asked his loyalists to arrange for more material on Netaji. He wanted a complete feature film on the great son of India. In 1947, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was released. The film was produced by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, directed by Chhotubhai Desai, and had all the film reels smuggled from Yangon by B. C Mehta.
The film that was smuggled into India by Sardar Patel in 1945 played an important role in turning public opinion in support of Netaji and Azad Hind Fauj. It led to widespread protests against INA trials, police mutinies, army mutinies, and naval mutinies. All these events ensured that the British left India at the earliest.