A new Indian film that releases this Friday has a burly hero on a mission to destroy a dark evil. But instead of the usual corrupt politician or mafia don often seen in Bollywood, the villain is an elusive entity which is also being pursued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – black money.
With a nationalist party in power and frequent tensions with neighbour Pakistan, Bollywood is increasingly trying to cash in on a new wave of nationalism and take a cue from the government’s agenda for a film’s storyline.
“Action films are getting limited in terms of subject. There is just a villain and a hero or a police officer who fights against him. But that has become very common. We wanted a story that was relevant to India and worked for audiences emotionally,” Vipul Shah, who produced “Commando 2 – The Black Money Trail”, told Reuters.
In Deven Bhojwani’s action film, the hero hunts for people who stash large sums of unaccounted money abroad, commonly known in India as black money.
Modi has repeatedly vowed to bring back billions of dollars of ill-gotten wealth his party claims are stashed by Indians in banks and tax havens abroad. The government is also targeting tax evaders inside the country – it abolished high-value banknotes last November, making black money the conversation starter at almost every dinner table in the country.
“After demonetization, the entire country has started talking about black money and how it affects the poorest of the poor. This is like a mix of fantasy and reality. What our government cannot do, ‘Commando’ can,” Shah said.
If the promos are anything to go by, Commando aka Vidyut Jammwal certainly leaves no stone unturned in his mission to bring back India’s untaxed wealth. Jammwal plays a disgraced army officer who goes on a mission to bring back the man who helped launder money for some of India’s richest men.
Towards the end, the prime minister, who looks uncannily similar to Modi, asks the hero to transfer all the black money that he retrieved to “the poor farmers in our country”.
The film is the latest in a string of Bollywood films which have discovered that it pays to show a bit of patriotism on screen. In October last year, as the debate surrounding Pakistani artistes in Bollywood reached its peak amid tensions along the border, the makers of espionage thriller “Force 2” released a promotional song dedicated to the Indian army.
Aamir Khan’s 2016 film “Dangal”, the highest-grossing Hindi movie of all time, had the national anthem playing at crucial moments during the film. Ditto with last month’s war film “The Ghazi Attack”. In last year’s “Dishoom”, actor Varun Dhawan played a self-confessed fan of the prime minister.
“If you can inject some sort of national pride in a subtle way, then it is always a good thing,” said Shah.