Anti-Pakistan sentiment: Not a Bollywood gimmick anymore?

  • Rohit Vats, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 28, 2015 15:46 IST

A man of pure heart and pious virtues leaves Pakistan, and a huge crowd gathers to wave him off back to India. He is Bajrangi and he is Bhaijaan. A beautiful blend of humanity and righteousness. People who have grown up watching Deols and Devgns bashing Pakistan for silliest reasons are silently wiping their tears. Director Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan was all about that common accord which the politicians of the two neighbouring states have failed to achieve since their independence.

Interestingly, Kabir Khan, who was simultaneously shooting for Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif-starrer


, is back, but this time the scenario is different. Based on S Hussain Zaidi’s bestseller Mumbai Avengers, Phantom features some undercover agents who are in Pakistan to carry out the most important assignment of their life. The emotion which is sailing them through is patriotism. A mostly misunderstood sentiment in the Hindi film industry.

This is also the time when Pakistan is constantly breaching the cease fire in Kashmir. We have just survived a gruesome attack in Gurdaspur, Punjab. Concerned authorities are constantly sending warning signals to Pakistan. But, can all these things together create the same environment for Phantom which was during the release of Border (1997) and Gadar (2001)?

Initially, Pakistan wasn’t our enemy number 1 in Hindi films. That place was reserved for China. Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat (1964) showed Chinese Army as a group of ruthless people. It was understandable because we had just lost a war to China despite being fair in our demands. Prior to that V Shantaram’s Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946) made us familiar with a doctor who worked in the interiors of China. Rajendra Kumar’s Shatranj (1967) also had an anti-China undertone. By then, the situation was not the same with Pakistan.

The tussle with Pakistan was there, but till then both the countries were ruled by people who shared a common history. The pain of partition was still dealt with compassion. Probably Bangladesh’s freedom movement changed that view. Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children (2012) documents the ferocity and hatred with which the armies of India and Pakistan dealt with each other inside Bangladesh.

For a good long period in the ‘80s, which is possibly the worst phase of Hindi films, we saw heroes dealing with social evils such as unemployment, poverty and illiteracy. Prominent Hindi film directors kept shooting in Kashmir which would soon be affected by the insurgency. It was a byproduct of Pakistan’s new found love for all things Islam-ised. Once militancy started, it swiftly became one of the prominent election issues. The Bhartiya Janata Party was also rising simultaneously and the conflict with Pakistan turned into the battle of egos. It was bound to affect the films.

Randhir Kapoor’s Henna (1991) was one significant film released during this period. The hardship faced by Rishi Kapoor inside Pakistan was felt deeply by the masses. Coupled with good music, Henna set the ball rolling for films such as Border (1997) and Gadar (2001).

JP Dutta left no stone unturned in presenting Pakistan as the ultimate evil. The recreation of the battle of Longewala gave Sunny Deol the opportunity he always craved for. His heart-felt acting became the representative voice of the nation which was sick and tired of its neighbour’s cunningness. Pakistan was loathed, bashed and defeated. The audience couldn’t ask for more.

And then Kargil happened. And


too. When Tara Singh entered Pakistan, we all accompanied him. Today, it may seem a bit odd, but Gadar gave Lagaan a good run for money at the box office. There was something in it which appealed the viewers. Gone were the days when Pakistan was referred through metaphors. Now, our filmmakers were aggressive and they were in no mood to spare Pakistan.

The super-success of Border and Gadar couldn’t be repeated with LOC Kargil (2003), but it gave out a loud and clear message to filmmakers who wanted to attempt a film on Indo-Pak relationship. Films such as Train To Pakistan (1997), Khamosh Pani (2003) and Pinjar (2003) released meanwhile and got noticed, but they were not as impressionable for the common masses as Ajay Devgn’s Hindustan Ki Kasam (1999). At one point of time, this film was among the costliest Hindi films. More or less, Pakistan kept consolidating its position as India’s enemy through these films.

It seemed things would change with the advent of new-age filmmaking in India, but Pakistan’s unwillingness for a compromise on border issues left our filmmakers with no choice. As a result, Lahore (2010), Ek Tha Tiger (2012) and Agent Vinod (2012) voiced the expected sentiments. However, these were the example of smart filmmaking. They packaged their content as thrillers, but maintained the same undercurrent.

It’s only now that we have seen different takes on Pakistan through Filmistaan (2014) and Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015). But, will things go for an unusual turn with Phantom. Let’s wait and watch.

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