Mumbai: Independence Day week is synonymous with movies designed to evoke the spirit of patriotism and this year is no exception, the lineup of marquee big star releases reflecting the mood of muscular nationalism rather than the struggles and preoccupations of the early days of India’s nationhood.
Dharma Productions’ Shershaah, Ajay Devgn starrer Bhuj: The Pride of India and Akshay Kumar’s Bell Bottom, releasing on our screens this week, continue the tradition of cinema mirroring the concerns of the day, far removed in tonality from films such as Naya Daur, Upkar and Shaheed of the 50s and 60s that spoke of the freedom struggle and farmer concerns.
Earlier, it was about how India fought British, how new India needed socialism, equality, secularism for progress. Now these things have been made redundant, said film historian S M M Asusaja.
The patriotic narrative has changed along with the meaning of nationalism, Asusaja told PTI.
The 70s came with films like Purab Aur Paschim, Roti Kapda Aur Makaan and Balidaan, glossy multi-starrers centred around Indian culture and the threat to it. The 80s had Kranti a fictional account of India’s freedom struggle, as well as the sharp and satirical Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron and Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai and the intense Ardh Satya that focused on corruption across sectors or discussed the evils of capitalism.
The mood shifted in the late 90s and early 2000s with Border, Lakshya and Gadar, films that were shriller in their projections of patriotism.
The 2000s also saw the success of “Rang De Basanti”, “The Legend of Bhagat Singh” and “Swades: We The People”, sober, emotive portrayals of the past and the hopes and dreams of an aspirational India.
And in the last few years, a sub-genre of celebrating unsung heroes has emerged with Raazi, Uri: The Surgical Strike, Mission Mangal, PadMan and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha.
While Akshay Kumar celebrated the achievement of a Tamil Nadu-based social activist who revolutionized the concept of menstrual hygiene in Padman and of space scientists in Mission Mangal, Alia Bhatt‘s Raazi revolved around the valour of an Indian spy and Uri: The Surgical Strike was based on the surgical strikes carried out by the Indian army.
It has almost become like a driven narrative of forceful nationalism. It is not just limited to ISRO doing a great job or some other great Indian seen in a biopic, it is also about the celebration of what the current government is doing, that is deliberately linked to nationalism. The idea of nationalism has been diluted, Ausaja told PTI.
Film critic Ajay Brahmataj agreed that films with patriotic themes have undergone a change in Bollywood.
We have seen films being made on historical heroes like Shivaji Maharaj in ‘Sher Shivaji’ and they are known as national heroes. It is all about India’s freedom movement… Today, there is a new way of displaying nationalism and this is in sync with the political party BJP. This is beyond jingoism, Brahmataj told PTI.
Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar, who currently tops the list of transporting real-life heroes to the reel world, courtesy Holiday: A Soldier is Never Off Duty, Baby, Airlift, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Kesari, Gold, Padman, Mission Mangal and now Bell Bottom, said unsung heroes of the country deserve praise for their service.
Cinema does play an important role in showing nationalism. It is essential that we tell everyone about these people who do so much for the country, the risk they take, Kumar told PTI.
Even if there is more glorification being shown (referring to unsung heroes), I don’t see any problem in that. I feel it shouldn’t be less, if it is more then it is ok. They deserve praise, he said.
The line between patriotism and jingoism is thin.
Devgn, who has come up with “Bhuj: The Pride of India” after “Tanhaji”, which revolved around Maratha warrior and Shivaji’s general Tanaji Malusare, said, “You keep characters and screenplay very real. You should know where to draw the line. In our film ‘Bhuj: The Pride of India’, there’s no jingoism.
“In ‘Tanhaji’ also, there was no jingoism. They were fighting for the country but not crying that they loved their country.”
Responding to the debate, he told PTI that stories should be brought forward in cinema without overt dramatisation.
“Bell Bottom”, an espionage thriller set in the 1980s and revolves around one of India’s unnamed forgotten spies, also stars Lara Dutta and Vaani Kapoor.
“Bhuj: The Pride of India” is a period war-action movie is set in the backdrop of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War. It follows IAF squadron leader and then Bhuj airport in-charge Vijay Karnik, played by Devgn, who reconstructed an entire IAF airbase along with the help of 300 women from a local village in Madhapar, Gujurat, to protect the country.
“Shershaah”, produced by filmmaker Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, chronicles the life of Kargil hero Captain Vikram Batra. The film, which takes its title from the martyr’s codename, features actor Sidharth Malhotra in the double role of Captain Vikram Batra and his twin brother Vishal Batra.
Malhotra said his film does not tread the path of jingoism.
This is a very special film and it has got a lovely heart and the intention is to portray things in the truest form and without covering it with jingoism or patriotism because we don’t need to. Everybody knows what happened, who we fought and what it is, we didn’t have to play it, Malhotra told PTI.
Several more films in the pipeline have patriotic fervour at their heart — up next are biopics on field Marshal Sam Manekshaw by director Meghna Gulzar and the youngest Param Vir Chakra recipient Arun Khetarpal to be directed by Sriram Raghavan, Kangana Ranaut-starrer “Tejas”.
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