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Independence Day 2018: How the face of a patriot changed over the years in Bollywood

This Independence Day, how about taking a look at the changing face of patriotism in Hindi cinema? At its best, it has reflected a benign and heartfelt call to love your land and at its worst, it is a loud and shrill cry of a chest-thumping bravado.

bollywood Updated: Aug 15, 2018 12:38 IST
Nivedita Mishra
Nivedita Mishra
Hindustan Times
Bollywood,Independence Day,Chitrahaar
The face of independence is changing, as are the movies.

At its sanest, patriotism is being indebted to the land which has given us food, clothing and shelter. However, from long, it has been invested with a variety of sentiments ranging from veneration to jingoism, some time embodying devotion and sacrifice but at others, hating the “other” and deifying one’s own. Whatever form it takes in a society, very soon finds reflection in its popular culture too.

This Independence Day, how about taking a look at the changing face of patriotism in Hindi cinema? At its best, it has reflected a benign and heartfelt call to love your land and at its worst, it is a loud and shrill cry of a chest-thumping bravado.

If you have been an avid watcher of Doordarshan’s Chitrahaar, you might have occasionally heard a song ‘Chal chal re naujawan, rukna tera kaam nahin...’ This is from a 1940 film called Bandhan, starring Ashok Kumar and Leela Chitnis, and so old that even my 80-year-father only has faint memory of it. It was however a hit song in my grandfather’s era.

The song is a gentle nudge to the young to strive for Indian independence - which was still seven years away.

Legendary filmmaker Sohrab Modi made films on historical characters, such as Sikander (1941), starring Prithviraj Kapoor as Alexander and he himself as Porus and Jhansi Ki Rani (1953), inspiring an entire generation into nation-building.

Then there was Pradip Kumar and Geeta Bali starrer Anandmath, portraying the sanyasin rebellion against the British in the late 18th century and was set during the Bengal famine (1770 CE), and based on the book by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. The film features the song, Vande Mataram (as in the original), composed by Hemant Kumar and sung to perfection by Lata Mangeshkar.

In the years to come, viewers could watch few deeply moving films like Satyen Bose’s Jagriti (1956), Manoj Kumar’s Shaheed (1965), and Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat (1964). While the first was about an idealistic teacher inspiring a group of students to contribute to the country, the second was an inspiring story of life and sacrifice of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh and the last one a searing tale of India’s Himalayan disaster during the Chinese aggression of 1962, a fictionalised account of the battle of Rezang La in Ladakh.

Take a look at the lyrics of songs like ‘Kar chale hum fida aye jaan-o-tann sathiyon, Ab tumhare hawale watan sathiyon’ (Haqeeqat) and non-film song ‘Aye mere watan ke logon’. Both stir strong emotions of love for the land and the necessary sacrifices to protect it but seldom talk ill of the other. The song from Jagriti - De di hamein aazaadi bina khadag bina dhaal, Saabaramati ke sant toone kar diya kamaal is a stuff of legends.

However, from the 1960s, the standards set by the previous generations, in terms of treatment of the films, underwent a sea change. Melodrama started to make strong inroads into films.

This was the era of Manoj Kumar brand of patriotism, where, while the sentiment was sincere, the manner of displaying it was loud. Films like Upkar, Purab Paschim and Kranti, much later, fell in this category. These were films that also showed the ‘other’ in not-so-good light, while all the time, portraying the native patriot as a glowing, inspiring figure.

Come 1970s and KA Abbas’ Saat Hindustani (which also marked the debut of Amitabh Bachchan) was a fascinating tale of Goa’s liberation from Portuguese role, cast in the 50s mould.

Through much of this decade and the next, which saw the angry young man phase of Hindi cinema flourish, patriotic fervour took a backseat, save a few exceptions.

In the 1990s, patriotic-themed films made a comeback of sorts. The genre got a fresh new push and leading the way was Aamir Khan starrer Sarfarosh (1999). Now, the enemy was both outside and within. The film, was perhaps, the first of its kind to explore themes like cross border arms dealing. It was noticeable for its realistic drama, a far cry from Gadar brand of film-making and a welcome relief. During this time, Nana Patekar too made two films that stirred nationalistic fervour. While Prahar (1991), which also had Madhuri Dixit in a small role, was realistic film on the making of a soldier, Krantiveer (1994) was about social change.

The highlight of this era was Mani Ratnam’s Roja (1992), which also boasted some haunting melodies by A.R.Rahman.

Anil Sharma’s Gadar (2001), which starred Sunny Deol and Amisha Patel, will remain one of the shrillest films made on the subject. Meant for the front benchers, the film made money but marked the decline in patriotic film genre.

The late 1990s and early 2000s also saw the emergence of JP Dutta, a modern-day Manoj Kumar. With films Border and LOC, he would take us back to films with high dose of melodrama.

Thankfully, soon another lot of films, hit the screen, which brought semblance of restraint to this genre. Leading the charge was Shah Rukh Khan with films like Swades and Chak De! India, both of which celebrated Indianness, one by bringing development to grass-root level and the other, celebrating India’s sporting glory.

With Rang De Basanti, Aamir was back on the silver screen, fighting many other ills that plague the nation—systematic corruption and political apathy—a band of college goers who take it upon themselves to set things right. All along, the narrative takes us back to the revolutionaries (Chandrasekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru, Ashfaqulla Khan and Ram Prasad Bismil) of the national movement.

Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s Pinjar (based on Amrita Pritham’s novel of the same name) was a poignant partition tale. So was Farhan Akhtar’s Lakshya, a realistic narration of the Kargil war with a love story thrown in.

However, a major shift in perspective was waiting to happen and leading this change was the duo - Akshay Kumar and Neeraj Pandey. When A Wednesday released, it signalled a complete change in perspective. Innocence made way to newfound assertiveness. Sacrifice and valour acquired a whole new complexion. Fighting for the nation acquired a distinct cold and calculated demeanour. It wasn’t about singing paean for the dead; it was about finishing off the ‘enemy’ with assertiveness, not seen before. However, there wasn’t any vindictiveness, just a crazy resolve (aided by some gritty filmmaking techniques).

Akshay’s Baby and Holiday and Rana Daggubati’s The Ghazi Attack fell in this bracket.

Of late, movies of this genre have gone a step further, projecting the ‘enemy’ in not necessarily in a negative light. Films like Raazi, which starred Alia Bhatt as an Indian spy in Pakistan, has its heart in the right place. Love of one’s land doesn’t necessarily have to be at loggerheads with intrinsic goodness or hating the enemy as a matter of fact.

With films like Mulk, the notion of identity has been turned on its head, with an attempt to show that the ‘other’ can be every bit nationalistic.

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First Published: Aug 15, 2018 12:09 IST