Surge of nationalism or political promotion: What is wrong with Bollywood’s recent blockbusters?
If the audiences are lapping up films that reinforce a sense of patriotism, why is it being talked about as effective propaganda?
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Every Independence Day brings to mind images from films over the years that celebrate India and what it means to be free.
The most potent of the delivery tools amongst the arts, the film has played a significant role in building up passion for the nation right from its early days. If Kavi Pradeep’s words, ‘Door hato duniyawalon Hindustan humara hai’ from the 1943 film Kismet instilled an urgency within the audience to fight for the motherland, Manoj Kumar’s Upkar (1967) inspired thousands to join the armed forces in response to the late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s call ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan.’
A tinge of nationalism
For decades, the thought behind nearly every milestone film that pushed ‘the idea of India’ was quite simply to create within the mass of the people the sense of a common nationality. It was this thought that made people feel proud while watching a film across any genre that evoked a tinge of nationalism. Ironically, the same sentiment today is seen as a big no-no from film critics and even frowned upon.
The recent spate of patriotic movies in Bollywood has evoked extreme reactions. (Photo: Movie Still/Uri: The Surgical Strike)
What further adds to the degree of irony, is how while on the one hand, a significant chunk of critics and commentators lament the loss of simpler times where audiences were not as nuanced, on the other hand, they deride the simple reaction of an average Indian feeling proud while watching a film such as Uri: The Surgical Strike, Manikarnika and the recently released Mission Mangal.
With each passing year, days such as 15 August bring forth a debate that suggests mainstream Hindi films of yore were less complicated and celebrated simpler times. It’s intriguing to see how a film like Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) has been analysed by scholars as a treatise on “religious pluralism, secular nationalism” where the story of three brothers being separated at birth on 15 August mirrors the partition of India, and the manner in which they are reunited in the end, completes the nationalistic allegory. The film begins with one of the greatest symbolic odes to pluralism in Hindi films — three strangers belonging to three different faiths giving blood to a blind woman, who, unknown to them is their real mother, at the same time and the blood mixes before reaching the receiver.
This feel-good movie from the 70s may not have the same effect on the modern audience. (Photo: Movie Poster)
The passage of time has made an Amar Akbar Anthony sweeter but something similar today would fall flat on its face and charming as it is, there is no denying that it’s high nonsense too. Could then everything about the past that makes earlier times seem simpler is just our ignorance of their complexities? Beginning with the 1980s, films truly shifted gears where niceness and simplicity were not the things that made you cool.
An evolving audience
This was a period where everything right from how romance or the society was depicted needed to be complex, and individuals that were consumed by themselves were celebrated. Remember the ‘Greed is good’ credo immortalised by Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (1987)?
During Border's release, the patriotic fervour in Bollywood had declined considerably. (Photo: Movie Still/Border)
This notion came a little late to India but by the 1990s; ‘simple-is-stupid’ was fully ingrained. Gone were days where the leading man could be the Bharats or Satyapriyas as played by Manoj Kumar and Dharmendra respectively, the upright Ravis from Deewar, the everyman played by Amol Palekar in Middle Cinema or even the Prems imagined by Rajshri films. This was the time of smart-aleck Rajs and Rahuls, and for them nothing was simple. This was also probably the era where the least number of A-list patriotic films such as Border (1997) got made and the genre got relegated to the less fancy bracket.
As good as it gets
If the films of this period got written about as a sign of times of the upwardly mobile average Indian, then why the same isn’t applied today? If the audiences are lapping up films that reinforce a sense of patriotism, why is it being talked about as effective propaganda?
One might not agree with the slant of a film or even the preconceived belief system that could have shaped its narrative but there is no denying that contemporary mainstream cinema has never had it so good in India. It not only has added new platforms of distribution and exhibition but the sheer range of audience makes it possible for nearly everything to get made. At the same, and more importantly enough, it’s for the first time that the medium is being truly guided by the market (read the audience). What could be more liberating, and, yes, simpler?
(Courtesy of Mail Today)