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August - September 2009


Film India: Picturing Patriotism

by Nikhil Gajendragadkar

It is a feeling, yes, and a grand business opportunity also. Patriotism means big buck, well, sometimes, for the celluloid world.

Nationalism, love for the nation; call it anything, but patriotic feelings are real. In India it has a background of freedom struggle. Fight for independence to becoming a Republic; the journey is fascinating. It evokes nationalist emotions in nearly every Indian; resident or non-resident. Naturally it is reflected through Indian cinema. Nearly all filmmakers will say their film is a nationalistic one. Who will make an ‘anti national’ film? Every hero, righteous police /military officer, simple worker ,all work/die for our beloved nation. Still, many films in nearly all-major languages can be classified as ‘patriotic’ films.

Patriotism in Hindi films did come much before independence. ‘Kismet’ (1943) for instance, had a song-“ door hato ai Duniawalo Hindustan hamara hai” ( o world keep away [from us] Hindustan is ours) which was clearly directed towards the British power. We can see a map of India before partition, in the background in the scene .No wonder the song was a hit all over India.

British rule in India provided a good topic to filmmakers, so there are plenty of films, which are anti British, from Shaheed of mid 60’s (which launched Manoj Kumar as the patriotic son of soil-Bharat in later films)to the recent Mangal Pandey. The oppressive nature of British rule, people’s revolt and martyrdom of a hero is the common theme. Bhagat Singh is a well-known personality but history does not know much about Mangal Pandey. Of course film people can rewrite the history, don’t they? and they can create heros/heroins also.

Nearly every region of India has a rich history and a person who is a national hero/heroin. ‘Rani of Jhansi’ (Queen of Jhansi) is a subject of Hindi and other regional language films, to name an example. ‘Historicals’ can evoke or whip up, nationalist

sentiments. Such films use metaphor to define villains and hero’s .So today’s corrupt politicians turn evil general, and so on. This genre was much in vogue till mid 60’s. Though they tell a tale from history, these films can ‘hurt sentiments’of some community or a group or an individual also. In today’s environment of ‘political correctness’ nobody is ready to attract wrath of any body. Hence, no more historicals.

But that will not deter our filmmakers from making films with Patriotic sentiments. West bashing is one ‘idea’ they employ to create such films. So whatever the ‘west’ offers is deplorable, as it is against Indian culture. They take care not to define in clear terms what is “Indian Culture” as it is very difficult to do so. Provocative dresses (of women); drinking, smoking etc. are shown as vices and are related to the western society. ‘ Purab aur Paschim’ of Manoj Kumar is a classic example of this type of films.

Now large number of young Indians want to go abroad (read USA or UK) and –if possible- settle there. Then you cannot bash west openly, but make fun of their life style and tell the audience how preserving ‘Indianness’ at the core is good and important. So ‘Pardes’ and ‘Namastey London’ and many more “crossover films” are new versions of this idea.

In late 90’s films on war started to hit theatres. War not only stirs up but also creates a kind of frenzied nationalism. India has seen it more than once. Filmmakers want to cash in on the mood. ‘Border’ was the first film that named Pakistan as the enemy state, which turned to be the main selling point of the film. Its depiction of war was an added feature. The film proved a hit. ‘Sarfarosh ’was more into “espionage” genre with strong performances that caught viewer’s fancy. Same cannot be said about many other films released during 1998 –2002. Even after Kargil war, films dealing with terrorism, insurgency, prisoners of war etc. failed to attract viewers. Fida, Khakee. LOC, Kargil, Deewar are few glaring examples.

‘Haqeeqat’ by Chetan Anand remains the best war and anti war film. It shows many faces of patriotism and also takes a look at the lives of families of those soldiers we hail as ‘martyrs’. Partition was the single most important happening in modern India. How many films were made on it? M.S.Sathyu’s ‘Garam Hawa’made in 1973 remains the only noteworthy film. ‘Tamas’ by Govind Nihalani was excellent as a t v serial, but some how it failed as a film on theatrical release. But these films do not belong to the ‘pop patriotism’ but are more serious and take a realistic look at the history. . There is only ‘Saat Hindustani’ by KA Abbas, which deals with struggle to free Goa from the clutches of Portuguese Regional cinema dealt with nationalism and patriotism with much more serious ness compared to mainstream cinema.

Films like ‘Mother India’ and ‘Naya Daur’ are not only patriotic but they propagate some philosophy too. Of course that is a bygone era. To attract new viewers now, filmmakers are ‘remixing’ the thought of old films and presenting in a palatable manner .So we get ‘Rang de Basanti’ , ‘Swades’ and ‘Munnabhai’.

Perhaps patriotism has also become a seasonal activity in India. Like some religious fests, we celebrate Independence and Republic day, listen to ‘Ai mere watan ke logon’ and enjoy the holiday. We are no more interested in reality of the past. So our films cannot be different. They will package and present Patriotism in a consumable way. Nationalism, Patriotism, are also commodities in the market. Aren’t they?

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