Over the last few years, I have reduced the frequency with which I visit movie theatres. The reason behind this is not just the fact that as a twenty-something working their way through their first full-time job I am perpetually broke, but also because I have come to dread those few moments before a movie is about to begin and the national anthem starts to play. It is at this point in time that middle aged uncles and aunties start to not just stand but also look around, glancing angrily to check that there are no defaulters in the audience, as if to haul them up in front of their RWA to ask for a fine akin to that of parking a guest car in the resident’s parking area. Needless to say, as someone who went from being a very unaware child to a sceptical adult, nationalism that is forced down my throat is something I often SMH (shake my head) to.
So when on a Monday evening, I decided to go watch Raazi, not only was I worried about being coerced into standing up for the national anthem, but I was also slightly worried about watching a film that casually threw around the word “watan” quite a few times in the trailer. Anyone who has grown up on a steady dose of Bollywood knows that when that word is uttered in our films, the films almost always become about national pride. Yet, I had heard quite a few good things about the movie, so I decided to break the patterns of my social anxiety and get out of the house on a weeknight to watch the film with my flatmate.
An hour and a half into the film and I began to kick myself for getting out of bed for this. There seemed to be a lot of talk of national pride and the importance of one’s duty as an Indian and the need to protect it from the enemy that is Pakistan. I instantly reached for my Insta-story to tell my Insta-fam about how my fear had manifested itself. Yet, I waited and hoped and prayed that something would come out of this film that would not leave me feeling so disappointed.
About 10 minutes or so before the film drew to a close, that moment did come though. Well, er, somewhat. There are a few brief moments when the protagonist cries out traumatically about the dehumanising nature of warfare and how imagined nations can ruin lives and take away someone’s personhood for a ‘just’ cause that one may or may not understand fully. And that is the moment of subversion in the film that I was looking for. And there it was, staring me in the face. I was satisfied for a few brief moments.
But a few minutes later, just as the end credits started to roll out, a message on the screen began to flash about how the war had been won by India due to the sacrifice of people like Sehmat. And it was then that the RWA uncles and aunties began to clap on behalf of their country with nationalistic fervour.
This got me thinking. In a world as polarised and ultra-nationalist as ours, do we need a film that seems to glorify it all, just to subvert it for a few seconds before launching back into the dominant narrative once again? Was the subversion enough to get the message across to those of us who weren’t hoping and praying to find it? I wonder.