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Soviet troops raising their flag over the Bundestag in Berlin, May 1945. Vladimir Putin, presiding over the largest military parade since the end of World War II (the West was absent), said nations like the U.S. have tried to "rewrite (war) history". He's absolutely right, the rewrite starts with the comics and books we read as children, and the blockbuster films we saw. What Russians? All I can remember was a 1966 comedy, “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming” featuring Alan Arkin. The title is attributed to U.S. Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, who also added “They’re right around. I’ve seen Russian soldiers". He said that while suffering from mental illness, not long before committing suicide. It sums up the American paranoia of communism, which made them disregard all Russian bravery.

In the 1942 battle for Stalingrad, Axis forces had about 800,000 casualties, compared to over a million on the Soviet side. In addition, about 40,000 civilians died. And, at the Siege of Leningrad, fought over the course of years, a span of time commonly rounded up to 900 days, the Soviet army lost more than 1 million lives once again, not including more than 2 million sick or injured and 1 million civilians dead. And yet, except for a rare film like Enemy at the Gates, when they showed the epic confrontation between the Russian Vasily Zaytsev and the Germans in Stalingrad, they have kept the Russians out of popular folklore and legend.

From the late 1940s, talented storytellers have given us thousands of comics showing the English, Americans, and even the Australians winning WW II. Generations have grown up on these tales, and Hollywood movies. What chance does history have? But Putin and communism should look inwards, they too are at fault. In its need to ascribe victory to the collective, they have lost the riveting and rousing narratives that come from individual valour. They made epic films that may be studied at film school, but don't give you that tingle down your spine. The 'I' has surrendered to the 'We', and that is not good for story telling. Consider David Lean's films, the vast Arab conflict told with the personal story of Lawrence, the entire Japanese attitude to war, told in the story of a man who build them a bridge on the river Kwai, and the Russian revolution unfolding with the personal story of Zhivago. Could the Russians have made that film? No, they will say we will show you a thousand Zhivago's, and right there Putin, you lost the war to the Americans and the British. And, to the capitalist art of story telling. Americans and the British. And, to the capitalist art of story telling.

Vladimir Putin says the West has robbed Russia of the bravery, grandeur, and legendary heroism that are his nation's due after her epic contribution in World War II, he says they have rewritten history to hog all the glory. He's right, and we in India can say the same. The twin WW II clashes of Imphal and Kohima were named as the greatest ever battle involving British forces, in a poll in 2013, run by the National Army Museum, to identify Britain’s Greatest Battle. Sure a Sikh sapper appeared in the English Patient, in Italy, but we've been largely absent, like Russia, from the great fiction war books, films, and even the humble comics. In second place in the poll was D-Day and Normandy, and look at a few of the outstanding films made about that battle: The Longest Day, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, The Big Red One, and films peripheral to the battle, like Eye of The Needle and Where Eagles Dare. If you're curious, in third place was Waterloo, 1815, followed by Rorke’s Drift, during the Zulu War, 1879, and finally Aliwal, during the First Sikh War,1846.

We Indians, are terrible at telling stories about individual valour in the freedom struggle, wars, or sports. In a way it's good that these films have not been made by the Bollywood bunch. Who wants to see Aamir Khan leading a charge shouting, "Attack boys", or Faran Akhtar, muscles rippling, doing Balle Balle with a machine gun, singing a song and dancing in an army mess. Like a kid hiding chocolate under his pillow in boarding school, let's save these stories for another day when we are better storytellers, and have the money to tell them with flair. And that day will come. Meanwhile, while heroic individual still pictures of American, British and even Russian soldiers fighting bravely in WW II abound, it's not easy to find one of an Indian soldier doing something classically heroic in the great battles of Imphal and Kohima...



Roy Daniels

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