Patriotism in cinema of the millennium

In Shershaah, Sidharth Malhotra played Capt. Vikram Batra, the Kargil hero. Photo: Hype PR

Over 75 significant patriotic films of all hues have been so far seen in the 21 years gone by of the millennium. The colors of patriotism have long changed since the time we had oriental faces depicting the Chinese or the unknown “dushman” (enemies) that hinted at Pakistan. The only genuine patriotic dramas both came in the 1960s as Manoj Kumar’s Shaheed (on Shaheed Bhagat Singh) and Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat (about the 1962 Indio-Chinese war), with espionage hitting a high in Ramanand Sagar’s Ankhen (1968), which became the biggest hit of that year.

Otherwise, but for Manoj Kumar acquiring the tag as well as screen name of Bharat in Upkar (the highest grosser of 1967, not surprisingly after the 1965 war and the death of prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966 and the public mood), there was nothing cinematically standout in that decade.

In the 1970s, Manoj Kumar’s now-cult Purab Aur Pacchim (1971) and Roti Kapada Aur Makaan (1974) dealt with timely social issues. In the 1980s, politicians as rogues first spawned political actioners (Meri Awaaz Suno, Andhaa Kaanoon, Aaj Ki Awaz). These were followed by movies on the terrorist threats from the mid-1980s onwards (Karma, Hukumat) to the 1990s, that are still around.

But the 1990s also showed a major change for the better when Nana Patekar’s Prahaar (1991) spoke of the internal enemy, Border (1997) saw the authentic depiction of the Longowal battle in the 1971 war, and along with Sarfarosh (1999), which also spoke of internal foes, boldly mentioned Pakistan by name. These three films were the harbingers of a more naturally intense, not-necessarily-pop tenor in patriotism.

Happily, in the millennium, most of these jingoistic films nosedived badly (Ab Tumhaare Hawaale Watan Sathiyon despite its Gadar-hot Anil Sharma as director and Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar heading the cast, Deewaar—Let’s Bring Our Heroes Home, Halla Bol, Jai GangaaJal, Thugs of Hindostan, Tango Charlie and Satyameva Jayate 2 among them).

Patriotism in Hindi movies now took on hitherto unexplored and novel shades. A unique one was a biopic, dramatized or otherwise, of key people involved in representing the nation, from its freedom struggle to the wars, social issues and otherwise exemplary acts of bravery.

While the three Bhagat Singh biopics made in 2002 (The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Shaheed-E-Azam Bhagat Singh and 23 March 1931—Shaheed) hit the dust, Veer Savarkar, a year earlier, did well in the only two states it found release—ironically due to dirty real-life politics—Maharashtra and Jammu & Kashmir! Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mangal Pandey—The Rising also flopped, commercially and cinematically, as did Netaji Subhash Chandra BoseThe Forgotten Hero and the very recent Sardar Udham.

These failures convinced the industry and even a sizable chunk of the media and analysts that the audience was simply not interested in people who lived before their times and pre-Independence! But then came Tanhaji—The Unsung Warrior and Kesari (on the Battle of Saragarhi and its hero, Havaldar Ishar Singh) and they became blockbuster and major hit respectively! And so the axiom that a film and its script are again paramount despite the genre was crystal-clear again!

On the bio-pic front, Akshay Kumar, in fact, dramatized several real people across eras, in films as assorted as Pad-Man (on a man Arunachalam Muruganantham, who went on a mission to make sanitary pads affordable for poor women), Toilet—Ek Prem Katha (on a man who fights for toilets for women in villages, which was endorsed by Bill Gates as one of the six most positive things about 2017!), Airlift (on an Indian tycoon, Mathunny Mathews, in Kuwait, who takes responsibility to fly fellow Indians back safely when Iraq invaded it in 1990), Gold (on Padma Shri Kishan Lal, who brought Gold for India in hockey in 1948) and Rustom (on the patriotic naval commander, K.M. Nanavati).

Examples of raw courage were also seen with Raid (a story that blended the real saga of three courageous Income-Tax officers in Uttar Pradesh into the hero played by Ajay Devgn), Mary Kom (who won Gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, portrayed by Priyanka Chopra Jonas), Neerja (with Sonam K. Ahuja as the courageous airhostess who gave her life during a hijack) and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (on India’s legendary sprinter Milkha Singh, played by Farhan Akhtar, who won several Golds).

Two modern-day soldiers have also been similarly honored:Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl on India’s first woman air-force pilot, and Shershaah on Captain Vikram Batra, the Param Vir Chakra-winning Kargil hero. Janhvi Kapoor and Sidharth Malhotra respectively won acclaim for their performances here.

But Hindi cinema in the millennium has explored varied other films of patriotism as well, both in the retelling of real events and total fiction, character-based or otherwise.

…To be continued.




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