Time was when the entire country was glued to the television set to watch Ben Kingsley as Gandhi or Manoj Kumar as Bhagat Singh, almost every year on Independence Day. Patriotic films were synonymous with national holidays and the theme struck an emotional cord with the audience.
But the themes of our movies have changed considerably since those heady days. Are filmmakers dictating the genre of films or are there simply no takers for patriotic movies any more? Is the young generation, a huge market for Hindi films today, no longer connected to our glorious past?
Post-Independence, many Hindi filmmakers made movies revolving around the theme of patriotism. The occasional patriotic film even went on to become a cult classic, and songs like Kar chaley hum fida, jaan-o-tan saathiyon impacted even the youth back in the day. But it was only in 1957 that Mehboob Khan’s Mother India gave a new meaning to patriotic cinema. After that, Chetan Anand’s first war film Haqeeqat in 1964 created waves and captured the true essence of nationalism.
The year 1965 gave rise to a new patriotic hero, Manoj Kumar, with the film Shaheed. After this, his directorial venture Upkar won accolades for Best Film, Story and Dialogue. It also won him the Best Director award. The song, Mere desh ki dharti from the film, became a hugely popular patriotic song. And later he did another film, Purab Aur Paschim.
Manoj Kumar, an icon of Indian patriotic cinema and fondly called ‘Mr Bharat’ thanks to his vast filmography of patriotic movies, recently told us, “Patriotism is a depleting emotion. We don’t get to see a lot of patriotic films these days. That kind of cinema faded years ago.”
Somewhere down the line, the audience’ tastes and cinematic trends changed. But patriotic films didn’t altogether go out of style. J P Dutta’s film Border, starring Sunny Deol, gave the actor the image of a macho patriotic hero. After this, he did yet another patriotic film Gadar: Ek Prem Katha.
Other recent actors who have featured in films with patriotic flavour are Aamir Khan: Sarfarosh, Lagaan, Rang De Basanti, Mangal Pandey: The Rising; Shah Rukh Khan: Swades; and Ajay Devgn: The Legend Of Bhagat Singh. Each of these films took a different approach to patriotism. While in Sarfarosh, Aamir Khan played a Hindu police officer who defends his Muslim subordinate against insinuations of disloyalty to India, in Swades, Shah Rukh Khan as an NRI was drawn to his Indian village by love for his country. And Ajay Devgn portrayed Bhagat Singh as a suave freedom fighter.
Another director who presented a patriotic hero with a twist was Raj Kumar Hirani. His film Lage Raho Munna Bhai showed Sanjay Dutt use the principles of Gandhigiri to teach people a lesson. The film had a sense of humour and the feel-good factor. It showcased patriotism with a modern take.
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti too presented the subject in a unique way, where a foreigner comes to India to make a film on the legendry fighters who struggled for the country.
From heavy, action-based patriotic films to patriotism with a twist, the Indian film industry has churned out a large number of such films. But, the number of films based on this theme has plummeted. The last successful patriotic film was Rang De Basanti (2006), which was well received by the audience. After this, there was a brave attempt by Ashutosh Gowariker with Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey showcasing the Chittagong Uprising of 1930 but the movie failed to stir the audience.
At a time when genres like action, comedy and romance have laid siege to the box office, have patriotic films taken a back seat? The industry responds…