Patriotism in cinema of the millennium—Part 2

Vicky Kaushal plays Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw in Sam Bahadur. Photo: Hype PR.

Hindi cinema in the millennium has explored varied genres of patriotism, both in the retelling of real events and total fiction, character-based or otherwise. Let us first take the real events and films based on them.

URI—The Surgical Strike, released in January 2019, conclusively proved that both the subject and script were together decisive in a film’s prospects, not its starry content. In the anticipatory fervor of the country’s general elections, it also hinted which way the electoral wind was blowing. This narration of Pakistan’s URI outrage that sparked this real-life masterly surgical strike was welcomed by the public with open arms.

A year earlier, Raazi had been a huge hit as wetooll. Featuring Alia Bhatt, it told the true story of Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agent Sehmat, who, on her father’s request, marries into a family of Pakistani military officials to relay important information to India prior to the incipient Indo-Pakistani 1971war.

The Ghazi Attack (2017) explored another 1971 narration—of how an Indian submarine destroyed the Pakistani sub that was going to hit the pride of the Indian Naval seas, INS Vikrant. While the original Telugu version was a big hit, the Hindi dubbed one did moderate business.

A chest-thumping exercise for India was the John Abraham production, Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran (2018), a realistically-told, highly engrossing drama of how India, against many odds, joined the nuclear club by performing a successful test in Pokhran.

Yet another film that made Indians proud was Mission Mangal (2019), on the life of the female scientists at the Indian Space Research Organization who contributed to India’s first interplanetary expedition Mars Orbiter Mission. The 2014 event had seen India as the fourth nation in the world to successfully achieve this, and the first country to get it right in the first attempt.

Last but no means the least was The Tashkent Files (2019), an authentically researched story on Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s mysterious death in Tashkent in 1966. Again reflecting on the mood of the nation then, this April 2019 release did smash business despite its low budget and non-star cast.

Inspired by the 2010 Adarsh Housing Society scam, director Neeraj Pandey directed Aiyaary, a 2018 thriller with a classic blend of espionage, politics and army officers. The film’s complex structure, however, undid its potential, though it remains a classic that inspired the format of Neeraj Pandey’s super-hit web franchise Special Ops on the 1998 Parliament attack. (The web has also had its series of patriotic stories, headed by the real The Forgotten Army—Azaadi Ke Liye and MOM: Mission Over Mars and the fictitious The Family Man series).

Neeraj, in fact, has become the czar of patriotic movies in Hindi cinema—he had also co-produced Rustom and Toilet—Ek Prem Katha. He began his career with the outstanding 2008 thriller A Wednesday!, a story magnificent in concept as well as execution: that a common man can do his bit to exterminate a pest within the house, that is, a terrorist. The film did humongous business. Neeraj later made a slick and fictional espionage thriller, Baby, and made a spin-off on a key character in it with Naam Shabana. Both films studied the emotional and other intricacies of agents who work anonymously for India—so much so that their arrests by the enemy or deaths see them being disowned in the larger interest of the same nation for whom they toil!

Other films that got the desh-prem angles right among fictional fare—even if partly inspired in some cases by real people or incidents—included those two concurrent releases in 2001—Lagaan (set in the 19th century British India) and Gadar—Ek Prem Katha. Gadar… remains the highest-viewed (in tickets sold) movie of the entire 2000-2009 decade, possibly thanks to Kargil and the nation;s mood.

Then there was the Rohit Shetty tribute to the cops and espionage officers in his famous quartet of Singham, Singham Returns, Simmba and Sooryavanshi, each a major hit. Today, Shetty has the first Indian cop universe of his three super-cops.

Rohit’s debut showed his flair for patriotism with his debut film Zameen (2003). Termed a flop then, it has now grown into a much-repeated cult film on TV, and was a fictional story of a hijack by extremists. Another film that tackled hijacks was 2021’s BellBottom, which was a partly dramatized story of the multiple hijacks in the 1980s.

Memorable trysts with patriotism included also the 2002 espionage drama, 16 December (this date of India’s victory in 1971), the 2004 Khakee, 2005’s slick espionage thriller Dus, 2006’s Rang De Basanti (which messed up in the end by showing whistleblowers as terrorists in effect but packed a wallop before the climax!), 2007’s  Namastey London (which highlighted Indian culture overseas) and yet another Akshay Kumar film, the 2015 Gabbar…Is Back, arguably Hindi cinema’s most effective vigilante film on social evils.

At his peak, Salman Khan also went on to do the espionage blockbusters Ek Tha Tiger and Tiger Zinda Hai, showing, however, how an Indian and Pakistani agent together countered evil. The third film in the franchise, Tiger 3, is now on the way. As is Gadar 2, the sequel to the 2001 blockbuster.

Other patriotic sagas—mixing real and fiction—lined up include Pathan (with Shah Rukh Khan), Akshay Kumar’s Operation Cinderella, Prithviraj and Gorkha, a biopic on Major General Ian Cardozo, Ajay Devgn’s Runway 34, Maidaan and Singham 3, Varun Dhawan’s biopic on Param Vir Chakra Arun Khetarpal—Ekkis, Sidharth Malhotra’s spy thriller Mission Majnu, Shahid Kapoor’s Bull on Brigadier Bulsara,The Kashmir Files on Kashmiri Pandits, John Abraham’s Attack, Kartik Aaryan’s Captain India, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw biopic, Sam Bahadur, Hrithik Roshan’s Fighter and Ishaan Khattar’s Pippa.

Clearly, as India celebrates its achievements on its 73th Republic Day, we see desh-prem at a high in the cinematic times to come.




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