A wave of patriotism began sweeping across Bollywood in the 2000s. And seasoned actors including Sunny Deol, Shatrughan Sinha, Sanjay Dutt, Ajay Devgan and Nagarjuna were lining up to woo the die-hards with their brand of celluloid patriotism in 2000. However, although it was “I love my India” campaign at work here. Instead, it was time not just to love your own country, your own people but also to hate others, to beat the living daylights out of the enemies. At least on the silver screen.
In the 2000 decade, patriotic films in India have taken a different turn. More than concentrating on patriotism and capitalizing on the nationalist sentiment, filmmakers were trying to woo audiences by propagating the “hate the enemy nation” sentiment. For India to be good, others had to be evil, for “us” to be virtuous, “they” had to be vile. Indeed, Bollywood has undertaken a prolonged self-adulatory exercise, which leaves little room for debate, absolutely none for peaceful negotiations. And plenty for the mythical foot soldiers as perfected by Sunny Deol in films such as Gadar: Ek Prem Katha and Maa Tujhe Salaam to cover themselves with glory after three hours of fire-fighting in Kashmir.
The message obviously being that it is Indian to show off a bit of skin but it is more Indian to peel off the skin of the enemy, as Arbaaz Khan so arrogantly announced in Tinu Verma’s film, Maa Tujhe Salaam, Dhoodh maango gey to kheer denge, Kashmir maango gey to cheer denge. The unabashedly pedestrian dialogue stoked up the embers of patriotism among a section of the audience not intelligent enough to know the difference between steady, unswerving nationalism and ugly jingoism.
All this over-the-top patriotic fare veers dangerously close to xenophobia, elicits loud whistles, louder applause and frequent comments from the frontbenchers seeing a reflection of their thoughts on the big screen. The fabled foreign enemy is no longer anonymous. It is named.
Unabashedly. And it is not Britain or Angrez ki Hukumat anymore. The Britishphobia is over, if one ignores the odd Lagaan, which anyway was not so much a patriotic film but the story of the triumph of a tiny Indian village against the representatives of a mighty empire.
It is time now to tackle and tame Pakistan sending misguided youth with truckloads of RDX and sophisticated weapons as in Indian or Maa Tujhe Salaam, now training militants and attempting to win over Kashmir, as in Ashok Tyagi’s film Bharat Bhagya Vidhata and LOC J.P. Dutta’s tribute to the Kargil heroes.
More recently, Sunny completed his trilogy of patriotic films with Maa Tujhe Salaam, which played it safe by having a Muslim as a key fire-fighter with the destructive elements from Pakistan. This time, the director talked of how gullible youth fall a victim to foreign trap. Around the same time, Kuku Kohli came up with Yeh Dil Aashiqana. Again, on paper, it was just a love story. But it was set against the backdrop of an Indian Airlines plane’s hijack from Kathmandu to Kandahar. The producers made a concession to the audiences by changing the route to Bombay-Pune. Though the hijack drama lasted only a few minutes, the film was sold on that base and managed decent returns in some pockets.
There was more of the same in many other films. There was Ashok Tyagi’s Bharat Bhagya Vidhata in which Chandrachur Singh played the militant, who kidnaps Home Minister Shatrughan Sinha’s wife, Jaya Prada, and asks for a handsome ransom. The parallel with the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnap drama is hard to miss. And the lines: Roti yahan ke khate ho, gun wahan ke gaate ho. You earn your living here but your heart beats for the other place are again likely to be a favorite with the frontbenchers. Next was Sunil Shetty’s Ek Hindustani. Again, it was directed by Tinu Anand.
Then there were others, not big names to reckon with but still in the hunt to grab a few crumbs. There was Sarhad Paar. Then there was Ratan Irani’s Kashmir Hamara Hai with Mukul Dev and Mayuri Kango. Ram Khanna, meanwhile, was readying Kargil: The Border. And yes, there were other patriotic films on Bhagat Singh, one on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The Shyam Benegal-directed Netaji etc., which had the freedom struggle at the fore front.
In many of these so-called patriotic films, violence always overpowers reason; peace is attained not through love but through a false sense of bravado. Again as Sunny Deol mouthed in Indian: Hum haath milana bhi jaante hain, haath todna bhi. The trouble is that the handshake does not come about at all. And the audience is left to watch scenes of haath todna and shooting bullets into the enemy’s quarter. Patriotism today means minting money.
For Bollywood producers, it is time to peddle strident jingoism masquerading as pulp patriotism to an audience tired of tearjerkers on the small screen and chocolate boy romances on the big screen. And laugh all the way to the bank.
However, there were also films which tried to portray a different face of patriotism. Fiza (2000) portrayed a more humane side of the ill effects of riots, terrorism on people and their families. It received critical appreciation. Then there was Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission Kashmir (2000) the movie deals with the India-Pakistan-conflict and especially with the tragedy of children suffering from war. A little later, Sunny Deol’s Indian (2001) by N. Maharajan was a hit at the box-office. The film again only ostensibly tackled the enemy within but had long shots of militants in snow-capped mountains seeking aid from across the border. However, Sunny’s Indian was one of the examples where patriotism took a back seat while the “hate the enemy” sentiment was more forthcoming.
Lagaan in 2001 encompassed the spirit of human triumph. The film dealt with a challenge undertaken by the British officers against poor Indian villagers. Cricket a much revered game in India was the game of challenge. The film did well at the box-office. The reasons for its success were the incorporation of the cricket sport that has always fascinated Indians. Also it did not make use of violence, instead used a much loved sport of the country to put across its message.
Then came Sunny Deol’s Gadar (2001). Now Bollywood producers and directors are hoping, yet again, that the awakened sense of nationalism among us will translate into long queues at the turnstiles. First to take the plunge was Anil Sharma with Gadar: Ek Prem Katha. Though actually a love story set in the times of Partition, it married love for the nation with love for the beloved. And hatred for others. The film opened remarkably well, encouraging others to follow suit in the industry characterized by the sheep-flock mentality. This film again promoted the sentiment of hating the enemy nation through its love story with the two lovers being from India and Pakistan.
However, there is one place where these films fail badly. That is in conveying the message of peace. War and violence primary, love and peace secondary. Anil Sharma’s Gadar was the worst in this regard. The film, set in the disturbing times of Partition, did little to underplay the human trauma and sow afresh the seeds of love. And one cannot quite forget Karan Johar’s not-so-subtle bid to evoke patriotic sentiments in his family drama, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. With no scope to indulge in a vituperative language for the foreign enemy, Johar got a young child to chant the national anthem in England and lo and behold, even the whites were awed!
The year 2002 alone saw five films added this series! Two of them featured mega stars in the lead role – Ajay Devgan in The Legend of Bhagat Singh and Bobby Deol in 23rd March 1931 – Shaheed.
Then in 2003 came the critically acclaimed Pinjar, a film about Hindu-Muslim problems during the time around the partition of India. Another sensitive and humane story. In 2004 Shah Rukh Khan’s Swades was the voice o
f Non-Resident Indians and their love and longing to return to India. It may not have hit the box-office successfully but it did receive critical appreciation. And it inspires a new brand of patriotism for many NRIs, who love their country just as much as any other resident Indian. Lakshya (2004) is a fictional story based on the historical events of the 1999 Kargil Conflict. This year also saw two other big hits, which inspired patriotism in their own way. In Main Hoon Na (2004) an army officer goes undercover as a college student in order to combat terrorists. However, Main Hoon Na tries to walk the middle ground and does not directly take pot shots at “the enemy nation.”
Veer Zara (2004) An Indian man and a Pakistani woman share a love that surmounts years and obstacles. This hit film openly hits out at Pakistan and makes it the bad and oppressive guys. It uses its love story to camouflage the negative sentiment towards Pakistan depicted in the film. However, in 2006, even Aamir’s Fanaa had shades of hatred for the enemy nation. It was a love story with the main protagonist being a terrorist from Pakistan. It was comparatively subtle as compared to earlier films with “hate the enemy” sentiment. It did not use as much violence, or crude dialogues that would further show Pakistan or any other nation as the bad guys. Rang De Basanti (2006), however, encapsulated the true spirit of patriotism in its own ways, although with its own set of flaws. In the film college-age slackers in Delhi get involved in making a film about the Indian independence movement and shed their cynicism. The film was a super hit and inspired a strong patriotic sentiment especially amongst youngsters due to the feeling of being able to empathize and sympathize with the young protagonists. Nonetheless, the film was not perfect as the protagonists are shown taking the law into their own hands. But it was indeed partly inspiring.
The year 2007 was of sports flicks inspiring the patriotic sentiment. There was Shah Rukh Khan’s Chak de India which revived the nationalist sentiment through the inspiring game of hockey. The film was a super hit and also received critical appreciation. It once again depicted the rise of the underdog through sheer hard work and effort. Another 2007 sports flick was Goal which dealt with the soccer sport. Although it did not do too well at the box-office, it did manage to promote the patriotic sentiment for Indians as well as NRIs.
A Wednesday this film has unbeatable performances by Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher. This movie proves the ability of a common man. The hero of this film, played by Naseeruddin Shah, proves even a common man can fight the enemies of the country ie, the terrorists. Anupam Kher, who plays the role of a police commissioner, suspects the hero wants to remove corruption from the system. Overall, A Wednesday is a perfect combo of thrill, class, innovation and the performance of actors.
The 2000 decade may have had its fair share of films which merely tried to propagate the negativity against Pakistan and other enemy nations. But, there were also a few films which managed to portray the heart of patriotism which is genuine love and respect for one’s country be it through sports, love stories etc. The violence, over emphasized action, crude dialogues, etc., seem to have been replaced with sensitive, witty stories and smart, crisp screenplays. Filmmakers no doubt have moved away from the trend of simply bad mouthing other rival nations towards more peaceful and subtle ways of putting across their message. And since it is often said that life imitates cinema or vice-versa, we hope that the mentality too of people across the nation is what comes across in these movies. People no longer wish to hate Pakistan or other nations, but are seen trying to simply instill a sense of pride and respect for one’s own country through our own actions.