Cinema, in the time of nation (re)-building, has always been about taking a stand

Hyper-nationalism or screen politicking is certainly not new to Bollywood. So why are we debating it for 'The Accidental Prime Minister' or 'Uri'?

 |  4-minute read |   23-01-2019
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The new year has treated politics and movie buffs alike to two simultaneous releases that don't really seem that serendipitous.

'Commercial' and 'offbeat' cinema have usually been reflective of various policies of successive governments. However, with the recent intellectual-cum-ideological slugfest about the overarching as well as underlying themes of Uri: The Surgical Strike and The Accidental Prime Minister, one would think that art was almost never political.

Certainly, that is not the case.

The Accidental Prime Minister turned out to be a prolonged pre-election mud-slinging TV advertisement.

That too, one which heavily deviated from its finely crafted source material by the former PM’s Media Advisor, despite assurances of authenticity by the filmmakers.

Far more engaging than that abysmal adaptation is Aditya Dhar’s slickly written and directed Uri: The Surgical Strike. Based on the Army’s retaliation to a cross-border assault on a military base camp in Uri, the trailer of this film stirred quite the debate as to whether the film should be seen as a tribute to the Armed Forces or simply as toxic hyper-nationalism.

inside_012219075005.jpgHyper-nationalism is certainly not new to Bollywood. (Source: YouTube screengrab)

Albeit to different degrees, things weren’t exactly different in the 1950s and 1960s, with Dilip Kumar playing the 'socially conscious hero' embodying Nehruvian ideals.

Be it eschewing feudalism while shunning capitalistic industrialisation at the cost of social and collective good (BR Chopra’s Naya Daur), or maintaining a secular fabric as certain external and internal forces impede post-colonial nation-building (Ram Mukherjee’s Leader), Jawaharlal Nehru’s essence was cemented within those films.

About six decades later, Uri has Rajit Kapur playing an unnamed, thinly-veiled Narendra Modi, who heralds in a 'New India,' along with an aggressive Ajit Doval-esque personage, essayed by the Arundhati Roy-loathing Paresh Rawal.

Plus, who can forget Dhool Ka Phool’s song, “Tu badle hue waqt ki pehchaan banega, tu Hindu banega na Musalman banega, insaan ki aulad hain insaan banega?”

There are similar tendencies in Aditya Dhar’s debut, as Vicky Kaushal’s fiery character walks by three Muslim soldiers bowing in prayer during their training to carry out the strike in Pakistan Administered Kashmir.

collage1_012219075508.jpg1950-60 was the decade of the 'socially conscious hero' embodying Nehruvian ideals. (Source: Film posters/Wikimedia Commons)

The same cannot be said about The Accidental Prime Minister — besides Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, Ahmed Patel is depicted as the cunning miscreant, for obvious reasons. Similarly, the same Ahmed Patel, along with Manmohan Singh, were deemed to be apparently Pakistani agents prior to the 2017 Gujarat Assembly Elections. In the film though, the latter is, instead, shown as a well-meaning, intelligent reformer whose wings were clipped by Sonia Gandhi.

After Nehru’s death, Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘angry young man’ persona symbolised a sort of national angst in the Emergency-ridden tenure of Indira Gandhi. Although by 1991, with the Ayodhya dispute, India’s economic liberalisation policies favoured individualism over Nehruvian Collectivism, as the newly liberalised market, mandal and mandir featured heavily in celluloid.

However, one doesn’t have to go back more than 15 years to a time when Shah Rukh Khan’s paean for a sustained Indo-Pak bonhomie after a peace process that began in 2004, Main Hoon Na. For better or worse, once peace doves, Sonu Nigam and John Abraham’s political views about India and Pakistani celebrities have recently taken a hawkish turn. Long before the former shaved his head in response to the Azaan controversy, he crooned his Bollywood classics live in Karachi. The John Abraham-Strings bromance could not have been apparent as the star appeared in two of their music videos.

Plus, seeing as how Prime Ministerial candidates have a knack for generating employment for thespians whose careers did not take off for various reasons through their biopics, is getting worked up about these recent releases really worth it?

pmmodimovie-1_660x45_012219080314.jpgBrace yourself. PM Narendra Modi is coming soon. (Source: Vivek Oberoi/Twitter)

Whether it is Vivekanand Oberoi as the incumbent 2019 candidate in the upcoming Narendra Modi biopic or Jacky Bhagnani as scion of a political dynasty, mentored by a Gujarati Muslim Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist almost five years ago.

While political messaging in movies today might be more brazen than before, it surely isn’t new — cinema was always an avenue for different regimes to create and disseminate their diverse ideas of India.

As keyboard warriors and armchair activists alike spar over these films and their lead casts, let’s not forget that Paresh Rawal also starred in a Nandita Das directed film about the 2002 Godhra massacre. Also, only a few months ago, audiences saw what some considered a more nuanced portrayal of a Pakistani military officer by Vicky Kaushal in Raazi.

If the budding talent is worried about his fan following across the border, he need not, as Aamir Khan is very much a household name there despite his cross-border terror film, Sarfarosh. And the Pakistani Bollywood lover who divulged her two cents on Uri will still ardently consume Hindi cinema.

Also read: Why casting Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Balasaheb Thackeray is a whiplash of brilliance


Daneesh Majid Daneesh Majid @majiddan

The author is a Washington DC-based writer and South Asia aficionado.

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