Patriotic flavour

For the people

Patriotic flavour

Shah Rukh Khan in ‘Swades’If there is one theme that has been resurrected in Hindi cinema from time to time, it is the genre of patriotic films. It need not be necessarily after an armed conflict with a neighbour, though, that too has been a trigger point.

In the pre-independence era, many patriotic films were made by socially-conscious filmmakers. Gandhi became the central force. They used every possible device available to arouse the national sentiment against the British yoke. But, after India’s independence, many of these films became a flagship for Nehruvian socialism. A new nation bubbling with dreams and aspirations charged filmmakers as well. For instance, Jagriti (1954) gifted masses with a song like Hum laye hai toofan se kishti nikaal ke, is desh to rakhna mere bachon sambhal ke; and it seemed to enthuse them. It was, after all, the beginning of a new era in films showcased through Naya Daur, a rallying point to raise the clarion call — Chodo kal ki batein, kal ki baat purani, naye daur mein likhenge ham milkar nayi kahani.

This attempt at arousing popular sentiment, as also a sort of reminder, has generally been reflected in these kinds of films — on the life of heroes of independence; armed conflicts with China and Pakistan; terrorism (particularly Kashmir militancy), national integration and the religious divide. There has been another kind of patriotic cinema as well and the almost exclusive practitioner of that in the ‘70s was Manoj Kumar. He introduced a purely indigenous variety of patriotism despite his films being labelled by some critics as being schmaltz. But, till date, the promoters of all these patriotic films have been commercial filmmakers. Not one of those purveyors of serious cinema have ever dared to make a go at it, except for the issue of national integration to some extent in terms of the Hindu-Muslim divide.

Creating awareness

According to Manoj Kumar who, after a long sabbatical, is returning to his brand of patriotism in India in America, he was put on this path by Lal Bahadur Shastri after a preview of his Bhagat Singh-inspired Shaheed. “He asked me to adopt his slogan, ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’, for a film. This inspired me to make Upkar, Purab Paschim, Roti Kapada aur Makaan, Shor and Kranti. In all these films, I tried to emphasise issues that needed to be addressed, but were forgotten. Later, I took up corruption in public places but, unfortunately, by the time Clerk eventually got made after a long delay, everything about the film except the theme got lost. The same happened with my film on terrorism in Kashmir, Jai Hind –The Pride. It would have been the first film on the subject, and a tribute to our armed forces, but many other films had come and gone by then.”

There seemed to have been a conscious attempt in 1997 and thereafter to revive the spirit of patriotism by highlighting the contribution of both actual and fictional heroes. Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi had been forgotten. Basu Bhattacharya and Shyam Benegal’s attempts at Nehru never really got the exposure they ought to get. The same has been the case of the long, meandering narratives in films on Subhash Chandra Bose and Sardar Patel. But the most endearing hero of the freedom struggle, who has been sought to be invented and reinvented, is Bhagat Singh. As many as four films starring Shammi Kapoor, Manoj Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Bobby Deol have sought to immortalise the revolutionary and his compatriots. Lagaan and 1942: A Love Story tried to highlight the India-British conflict in colonial India while Pardes and Swades tried to give a clarion call to the NRI youth to come back and contribute to nation building despite odds and adversities. Sushmita Sen is, reportedly, still trying to resurrect the contribution of Rani Laxmibai.

No one has tackled war more convincingly than Chetan Anand in Haqeeqat. He tried to return to the theme in Hindustan Ki Kasam, but it lacked fire. Brother Dev made Prem Pujari with a weak storyline and a confused screenplay. J P Dutta has been another filmmaker obsessed with the theme of war, as was evident in Border and Refugee. Terrorism in Kashmir and proxy war has been successfully undertaken in Roja, Sarfarosh, Mission Kashmir, Main Hoon Na, Fanah, Lakshya, LoC, Border and the lesser known Dhoop, among others. In this context, one should not forget films like Bombay, which focused on the national rather than a regional problem.

In Hindi cinema, films dealing with social and political corruption as well as smuggling can also be called patriotic cinema. The highpoint of this was Deewar. In fact, much of Amitabh Bachchan’s post-Deewar films belonged to this category. The police-underworld-politician-hoarder nexus became the subject of every other film in the ‘80s and ‘90s. But the theme was never tackled more effectively until Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra made Rang de Basanti.

Cinema is a reflection of life; a reflection of our times. But Indian audiences are not yet ready for wholesome, engaging patriotic cinema of the western variety. Here, primarily, it has to be a means of entertainment. Whenever someone has tried to make a realistic film, it has been an unmitigated disaster. Govind Nihalani’s Tamas has, perhaps, been the sole exception where the narrative was never allowed to be ignored. Therefore, to make patriotic films more entertaining, stories and issues have to be circumvented, romance has to be added and songs and dances must be titillating. Again, the most successful in incorporating these elements in films was Manoj Kumar in his heydays — Dulhan chali aa pahen chali teen rang ki choli from Purab Paschim and Zindagi ki na toote ladi, pyar kar le ghadi do ghadi from Kranti.

So, no matter which patriotic film a filmmaker works on, right from Shaheed to Fanna, song and romance has been an intrinsic part of the project. It has and will continue to be.

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