Mother India To Uri: The Evolution Of Patriotic Cinema In Bollywood

Is it cool to be patriotic? Wear it on my sleeve or keep it in the deep recesses of my heart, lest I am judged with some adjective by the liberals or the conservatives if it does agree with their brand of nationalism.

Patriotism and Nationalism in Bollywood has been through it’s own journey. A country still under the British Raj, fighting valiantly for her freedom slogans of “Inquilab Zindabad” aroused deep sentiment amongst people as was witnessed in the 1943 hit Kismet. Soon after independence came Shaheed in 1948, and Jhansi ki Rani in 1953, that showcased the valor and spirit of those who lead from the front.

In the 1950’s as a young India built herself, the progressive nationalism and socialism reached out to the masses through tear-jerkers such as Do Bhiga Zameen, Boot Polish, Ab Dilli Door Nahi and Mother India.

As India was attacked by her neighbors, the armed forces and their bravery echoed through films like Haqeeqat, motivating the nation and the youth. As Lata Mangeshkar sang Aye Mere Watan ke Logon, there wasn’t a single dry eye including that of Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru whose eyes welled up with tears.

Patriotism in the 1960’s became synonymous with the ‘son of the soil’ Manoj Kumar. From Upkaar, which highlighted Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan of ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’, to Purab aur Paschim addressing the youth waylaid by Western culture.

JP Dutta’s war films like Border showcased the strength of the Armed forces on one hand and on the other there was a Gadar that came laced with jingoism.

Patriotism didn’t need to be a heavy duty fare, a few filmmakers turned it around to make it cool and entertaining. And my favourites from that crop are: First on the list Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Lagaan in 2001, which brought in the country’s favourite past time, rather a national obsession cricket, as the point of reference. A bunch of villagers fighting against the unfair tax or ‘lagaan’, by challenging their colonial feudal lords to a game of cricket. The film was a winner all the way.

A few years later Ashutosh Gowarikar brought the story of a disgruntled  NASA scientist played by Shah Rukh Khan who returns home to work for his people, in Swades. The film was inspired by the true life story of an American Indian Vikram Ahuja who came to be known for his work amongst the rural masses.

Farhan Akhtar’s Lakshay showcased an aimless young man played by Hrithik Roshan who finds his calling and mission as an army officer in Lakshya.

But it was Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti which sent a wave of neo-patriotism amongst the youth with the Gandhian motto of “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

The story of four college students whose narrative alternates between that of the revolutionary freedom fighters, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Chandrashekar Azad and Sukhdev. The film became a reference point for what we see as a people’s movement and the candle light marches that swept the country.

Shah Rukh Khan as a Muslim hockey player who is falsely shamed for throwing away a match, builds the women’s hockey team from scratch and scores the winning goal.  The film spoke about racism and sexism, and Chak De India became a roar on and off screen.

Meghana Gulzar’s Raazi inspired by true life events behind the 1971 war showed Alia Bhatt as a spy who is conditioned to thing about nothing but her duty to her ‘Vatan’, then there was  a Mulk which told the story a Muslim family reclaiming it’s honour. Mulk made pertinent points regarding issues of polarization and national integration.

And lastly how’s the josh, high sir! Well the Josh has been high ever since Vicky Kaushal’s Uri on the surgical strikes set the cash registers ringing.






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