It all started way back in 2001 with the release of Lagaan, an epic movie that depicted unwavering resistance against the taxes imposed by the British on a tiny village in Gujarat through the medium of cricket. Of course before Lagaan, there have been many movies made on the subject of the freedom struggle in India and atrocities committed during the British Raj. Lagaan’s limitless success in India and its recognition abroad set the stage for the dawn of a new era of Bollywood movies, portraying resistance in many forms.
The Legend of Bhagat Singh starring Ajay Devgan in the lead role of Bhagat Singh, which released in 2002, showcased a fiery display of resistance to the tyranny of the British rule. While the film was largely a biographical film on this famous freedom fighter, it was an attempt by director Rajkumar Santoshi to awaken people’s patriotic feelings for their nation. In the same year, Bollywood released several other films on Bhagat Singh that sadly failed to garner much appreciation from audiences. In 2005, Mangal Pandey-The Rising was Aamir Khan’s shot at reviving the Sepoy mutiny of 1857. This film, flawed at many levels and largely publicized by the film’s lead actor, failed to win hearts across the nation.
In 2006, Rang De Basanti depicted a new form of resistance- a motley group of youngsters, inspired by the powerful story of Bhagat Singh; assassinate the nation’s corrupt defence minister when their best friend, a flight lieutenant in the Indian Air Force, dies. A revolutionary Bollywood film that portrayed large-scale protests by the youth was a deeply-moving film that filled us with anguish and anger simultaneously. It traced the powerful transformation of happy-go-lucky college students into activists seeking justice for their dead friend. The film, skilfully crafted, was beautifully justified by its lead actors who symbolized the passion and angst of the millions of youth across India. This radical-resistance film spoke to our nation’s leaders and to the country’s disillusioned youth. One possible reason behind making this film was to showcase the power of the youth; to grab the attention of our nation’s doddering old leaders and make them realize that a life must be lost in battle only to bring honour to the country and not as a consequence of government negligence and corruption.
With Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, Bollywood set out to explore the Chittagong Uprising of 1930, an under-rated historic struggle for freedom from the British. A resistance movement against the British led by a group of teenagers and a school teacher, the Chittagong Uprising received true recognition with another film in 2012; Chittagong that was artistically balanced by the presence of Indian actor, Manoj Bajpayee. Chittagong has been one of the few films that has broken the boundaries of Indian cinema and showcased an alternate side of the people of this country. A country that is known for its traditional and conservative values, India has produced Bollywood films such as Chittagong and Rang De Basanti that have exemplified the strength of the common man. Another such truth-seeking film, No One Killed Jessica- a political crime thriller, brought to light two women’s resistance and resolve to ensure justice for Jessica Lal, a young bartender cum model, murdered in 1999 in a New Delhi restaurant. While Vidya Balan portrayed the reticent Sabrina Lal, Rani Mukherji played the role of a fiery yet compassionate television journalist to perfection. It was another rebellious Bollywood film that displayed the passion and the power of the youth with gusto, something that we have seen in recent times with the Delhi gang-rape case that occurred in December, 2012. Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh went the mass resistance way with the story revolving around the Naxalites and Maoism. It was yet another attempt by a filmmaker to provide a comprehensive view of the Naxal-issue.
While Bollywood has shown to us the mutinous side of the common man, it has also portrayed a more compelling side — that of the silent resistance showcased beautifully in the 2012 film Shanghai starring Emraan Hashmi and Kalki Koechlin.
As Bollywood sets to stretch the boundaries of resistance and struggle with films such as Satyagraha — Democracy Under Fire in 2013, I, as a citizen of this country, can only wish that such films help in changing the way our society thinks and functions. With Bollywood filmmakers pushing themselves to create more compelling scripts and stories, one can only hope that our nation’s leaders listen to these strong voices of resistance.