By Vinod Mirani
When the film industry started in India, the best and the safest theme to draw audience was to make mythological films or films with a religious story to tell. Dada Saheb Phalke, the founder of the film industry in India, made his first film, “Raja Harishchandra”. The first Indian talkie film, “Alam Ara”, also dealt with a religious theme.
While the religious/mythological films held sway as it had a captive audience that was familiar with the stories told on screen, the narrative soon shifted to family socials. That again was a subject everybody identified with in the joint family era.
During the 1940s, the freedom struggle reached its peak and, as an alternate way to build up on patriotism and promote the freedom movement, films were used as a medium to promote these fervour.
The censoring of films was rather strict, and the patriotically fired up filmmakers had to take recourse to surrogate promotion of patriotism. Patriotism was the flavour, all pervading and all over India. And, we had some great films promoting patriotism.
This mood lived on till, say, the end of the 1950s. It waned gradually all over except on the streets of the cities. Every August 14 and January 25 — on the eve of Independence Day and Republic Day, respectively — patriotism blurted out of microphones on the streets of every city and town.
As the films gave up on patriotism, so did the street celebrators. Patriotism took a break from films and, hence, also from public life. This was till it was revived momentarily following the 1965 war with Pakistan, and the ensuing Indian victory that revived patriotism in films, but only briefly.
Since the wars of 1948 and 1962, India had, for the first time, outcomes that were emphatically in the nation’s favour. Taking cue from the slogan ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’, coined by the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Manoj Kumar scripted a perfect film, “Upkar”.
Dara Singh, the wrestler-actor, and some others were also inspired to follow patriotism as the theme. But, patriotism in India and, hence, in Hindi films, seems to be a seasonal trend.
After the 1962 India-China war, the feeling was that of delusion. India was humiliated and the limited patriotism that followed was that of self-pity. So, what we had in the aftermath was the depiction of how a badly ill-equipped India lost in the war in the film “Haqeeqat” and the song “Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon” rendered live by Lata Mangeshkar. None of the two were inspiring for the masses.
Today, people even feel that the song should not be played anymore because it has a depressing narrative about a losing nation.
“Haqeeqat” failed despite entertainment exemptions from various state governments. Its music lived, not the film. Another attempt by the director with “Hindustan Ki Kasam” also did not work.
Patriotism resurfaced one again post the Kargil operation. Producer-director J.P. Dutta, who has this bend towards war films (his brother was an Air Force pilot who died in action), directed “LOC: Kargil”, immediately after India regained the peak.
The film was screened for the leading financiers and diamond merchants of Mumbai along with other trade leaders a few days before its theatrical release. It was unanimously declared a boring dud. May be, their observations were on the merit of the film, but they failed to read the national mood. The film emerged as a hit.
As mentioned earlier, patriotism is a seasonal trend in India. Because, after its first run, when “LOC” was released in cinemas as a gap filler (when a cinema hall has no new film listed, an old hit is repeated as a gap filler), it could not even recover the theatre rental. Dutta followed up with some more patriotic films, but to no avail.
Over a period of time, a lot many patriotic films have been made like “Jeevan Sangram”, “Saat Hindustani”, “Shaheed”, “Vijeta”, “Border”, “LOC: Kargil”, “Swades”, and “Mangal Pandey”.
People were not quite aroused and remained indifferent to most of these films. The one hit was “Shaheed” after which the man behind this film, Manoj Kumar, established himself as the best filmmaker of patriotic films as he followed it up with movies like “Upkar”, “Purab Aur Paschim” and “Kranti”, after which his expertise stopped working.
Things have changed. Patriotism has now broadened its scope and is described as nationalism. And, this seems to be in tune with the people’s state of mind. We have had a line-up of films in recent years that promote nationalism and many of them met with a favourable response. There are films that are event based. These are: “A Wednesday!”, “Airlift”, “Uri: The Surgical Strike”, ” Mission Mangal”, “Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran”, “Raazi”, “Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi”, “The Ghazi Attack” and, this year’s biggest hit so far, “Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior”.
In fact, one of last year’s biggest hits also happens to be one such film, “Uri: The Surgical Strike”. Another way to inspire nationalism is through films that make the nation proud. These are films like “Dangal”, “Gold”, “Dhoni: The Untold Story”, “D Day”, “Rang De Basanti”, “Padmaavat”, “Mary Kom”, “Kesari”, “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, “Ek Tha Tiger”, “Super 30” with many more in the offing.
As they say, reel life is a reflection of real life. Post-Independence, all kinds of films were made, and romance and family socials with music worked well till early 1960s. During the mid ’70s, the trend was of anti-establishment films. This was followed by a period of uncertainty when nobody knew what will work. Only making romantic musicals was considered safe.
But the decade that just got over has rekindled the spirit of nationalism. It is all about how the nation is made to feel.
@The Box Office
* The latest release of the week, “Love Aaj Kal”, juxtaposes two love stories, one from 1990 and another in 2020. The 140-minute attempt fails to find cohesion in its script and becomes tiring on the viewer. The music, a must for a love story, too is lacking. The Valentine’s Day opening helped the film with decent figures. Sustaining after the opening weekend is what will matter.
* “Malang” remains average. The film had a weak opening weekend, followed by steady but low collections through the rest of the week, which ended with a total of about Rs 37.6 crore.
* “Shikara”, a Kashmiri love story, fails on all counts. It holds no appeal for the viewer and fails to draw enough footfalls. The film collected a meagre Rs 6 crore in its first week.
* “Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior” continues to do well in its fifth week to put together another Rs 9 crore, and taking its five-week tally to Rs 257 crore.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)