Independence Day 2020: From Gandhi to Uri, a selection of all-time great patriotic films
On Independence Day today, we bring you a selection of films that hold up the idea of India. From the brawny Uri: The Surgical Strikes to the gentle Swades that asks you what you can do for your country.Updated: Aug 15, 2020 07:18 IST
To celebrate India’s 74th Independence Day, the HT team decided to collate their favourite films that want us to wave the Tricolour and marvel at the multicultural, multi-religion hotpot that is our country. From hyper-patriotic flag waving cinema to a more gentle reminder of how a country is a sum of its people, we bring you a mixed bag this August 15. There is no method to this list other than films that make us well up with pride and tears for being a part of India.
So grab a box of tissues and get ready for a binge watch...
As a country evolves, so does the idea of nationalism. History has shown that it is only in moments of insecurity, or of tremendous upheaval, that cinema is used as a tool to influence the masses - either to indoctrinate or to resist. Director Amit V Masurkar’s 2017 satire is perhaps the greatest film about nationalism of the last decade; a movie that comes up with the seemingly alien notion that nationalism doesn’t mean declaring ones allegiance to a political party, but standing up for the ideals upon which one’s nation is built. Like another Rajkummar Rao film, Shahid, it points the spotlight in the direction of a systemic problem in our nation that we simply have not paid enough attention to. It is an inspirational ode to the idealism with which our nation was built.
Main nahin manta ki humara desh dunia ka sabse mahaan desh hai...lekin yeh zarur manta hun ki hum mein kaabliyat hai, taaqat hai, apne desh ko mahaan banaane ki.
At a time when we want to even choose the religion of our nationalist film heroes, Mohan Bhargava’s words from Swades sound so alien, so impossible. Ashutosh Gowariker’s Swades showed how to love ones country, truly and without any false, blinding notions of patriotism. A NASA scientist given up on the idea of India’s greatness, returns to the motherland. During his time back home, seeing the people, meeting the people, his cynicism turns to empathy, his easy disregard into a resolve for taking matters into his own hands.
Those around him are aghast at his less than devotional love for the country at first but realise later that he was the true patriot of all of them. Swades shows a man and a community’s journey towards the perfect balance. The cynic becomes a believer and the fanatics become rational. The change is electric.
Patriotism has always meant the film Gandhi (1982), starring Sir Ben Kingsley. The expansive canvas of the film, its evocative performances, a subject like India’s freedom struggle and director Sir Richard Attenborough’s realism has meant that this film will always remain fresh and special. I don’t recall seeing anything, encapsulating the essence of our freedom struggle under the guidance of the Mahatma, as this film did. This Independence Day (as always), Gandhi is my pick.
To, at least, two generations of Indians, no national holidays like Independence Day or Republic Day, went by with Doordarshan not airing this film. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s life and his philosophy has and, always, will form the essence of Indian life. Watching Ben (born Krishna Hariji Bhanji to a Gujarati-speaking British Indian and an English mother), one has always been spellbound at how this actor could internalise a character as complex as Gandhi. But he did.
I was born years after India gained independence. In many ways, Rohini Hattangadi as Kasturba Gandhi, Roshan Seth as Jawaharlal Nehru, Saeed Jaffrey as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Alyque Padamsee as Muhammad Ali Jinnah are perfect for the roles they played in the film, as visualised by me. Such was the casting and so stellar were the supporting actors!
However, the film is special also for another very personal experience - one that my father would narrate. During his stay at a place called Therubali, he had met one of Gandhi’s co-producers, Rani Dube.
My father had asked her about a particular scene from Gandhi that had stayed with him. It showed a middle-aged Gandhi who, on reaching India, decides to travel across the length and breadth of India by train. At one moment, the train stops on a bridge over a river ghat - we see travellers go down to the river for a breather to beat the oppressive Indian summer. As Gandhi sits on his haunches and washes his face at tiny stream of water on the mostly dried river bed, he notices a destitute woman washing a cloth, with a child sleeping on her lap. She has barely anything on; on noticing a man looking at her, she tries to cover her modesty with the worn-out piece of clothing. Gandhi then takes his upper cloth (like a chaadar, worn with dhoti) and lets it float towards her, downstream. As it reaches her, the woman immediately pulls it to take it.
Was this an episode from Gandhi’s life, my dad had asked. No, Rani had replied. It was piece of fiction introduced to show the empathy Gandhi had for the teeming millions of India - dispossessed and downtrodden. The image is a haunting one - a woman so poor, she can barely cover herself. Purists may frown at such liberty, but I’d differ - sometimes a tweak in the narrative can highlight the philosophy, the principles and the life’s mission well of man as great as Gandhi.
This is one such incident.
Much before Akshay Kumar made patriotism all about fighting the ills within our society, Neeraj Pandey came up with a novel idea and made an impressive debut film that was all about the love for the country. Starring Naseeruddin Shahn, Anupam Kher and Jimmy Sheirgill, A Wednesday raised questions about the basic injustices and corruption rampant in our society as seen through the eyes of a common man (Naseeruddin, unnamed character). The film also won the Indira Gandhi Award for Best Debut Film of a Director at the National Film Awards in 2008. The not-so-subtle digs at communal prejudices, inequalities and injustices in the current system and society make it a bold and rebellious, yet patriotic film.
Rang De Basanti
The most important moment in this film comes before it has even introduced us to all the dramatis personae. As Sue (Alice Patton) goes asking for funds from her boss to make a film the lives of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ashfaqullah Khan, Durga Vohra and Ram Prasad Bismil, she advises him to make it on Mahatama Gandhi instead; ‘Gandhi sells’, you see. She dismisses the suggestion, as does the film. If there is one subversive idea that Rang De Basanti is committed to, it is this -- this is the time for rebels who root out the ills from within our society. This audacious film made the past throb and pulsate as it passed the message of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ to the generation of today who only wants to leave India for greener pastures. It takes time but they realise: Jo Desh Ke Kaam Na Aaye Wo Bekar Jawani Hai.
Chak De! India
Shimit Amin’s sports drama Chak De! India is a reminder of nationalism the way it should be, transcending parochial borders to love the idea of ‘India’. In an early scene, Shah Rukh Khan schools the members of the Indian national women’s hockey team for introducing themselves as belonging to their respective states, reminding them that these distinctions fade into insignificance when they represent Team India. With sports - which cuts across all barriers and differences - at its core, Chak De! India is a rare film that is patriotic without any hysterical chest-thumping and a true mirror of democracy.
Uri: The Surgical Strike
Brawny and an example of the ‘new India’ it so passionately champions, Uri is perhaps different from all the other films in the list in one key area. While patriotic films in India has equated sacrifice with patriotism, Uri reflected the thoughts of a country that wants to fight back. After the 2016 Uri attack, which claimed the lives of 19 soldiers, India launched a surgical strike that became the inspiration of the Vicky Kaushal starrer. Directed by debutant filmmaker Aditya Dhar, the film’s fight sequences very expertly choreographed as it gives the viewer an insight into what happened behind the scenes.
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