Celluloid patriotism

Celluloid patriotism


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. The 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 the mid-60s (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 revolts and martyrdom of a hero are the common themes. Bhagat Singh is a well-known personality but history does not know much about Mangal Pandey.

Nearly every region in India has a rich history and a person who is a national hero/heroine. An example would be ‘Rani of Jhansi’ (Queen of Jhansi), a theme in Hindi and other regional language films. ‘Historicals’ can evoke nationalist sentiments. Such films use metaphor to define villains and heroes. So today’s corrupt politicians turn evil in general, and so on. This genre was much in vogue till the mid-60s.

Though they tell a tale from history, these films can ‘hurt the sentiments’ of some community or a group or even an individual. In today’s environment of ‘political correctness’ nobody is ready to attract wrath of any kind. 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 ‘Indian Culture’ is as it is difficult to do so. Provocative dresses (on women), drinking, smoking etc are shown as vices and linked to 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. In that case you can’t bash the west openly but make fun of their lifestyle and tell the audience how preserving ‘Indianness’ at the core is important. Pardes, Namastey London and many more ‘crossover’ films are new versions of this idea.

In the late 90s films on war started to hit theatres. War not only stirs people 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 out 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 the ‘espionage’ genre with strong  performances that caught the viewer’s fancy. The same cannot be said about many other films that released between 1998 to 2002. Even after the 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 led by the 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 television serial but somehow failed as a film.

These films do not belong to the ‘pop-patriotism’ category but are more serious, and take a realistic look at history. There is only Saat Hindustani by K A Abbas which deals with the struggle to free Goa from the clutches of Portuguese. Regional cinema dealt with nationalism and patriotism with much more seriousness when 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 ideas in old films and presenting it 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 festivals, we celebrate Independence and Republic day, listen to ‘Ai mere watan ke logon’ and enjoy the holiday. We are no longer interested in the reality of the past. So our films cannot be different. They will package and present patriotism in a consumable way. Nationalism and patriotism have also become commodities in the market, haven’t they?