There was a time when patriotism in Bollywood generally meant a war drama, packed with the emotions of glory and valour and the loud assertion of nationalism that often bordered on jingoism. The trend seems to be changing slowly but steadily of late. Bollywood’s new patriotism is challenging the traditional formula by driving the narrative towards celebrating heroes and incidents that have made Bharat proud, in the process having stirred a sense of love and pride for the nation.
Films are a reflection of society — they say — and it’s true since any piece of art is influenced by the surrounding environment it’s creators have grown up in.
“The narrative of storytelling has changed. We know what happened during the freedom period and we have seen lots of movies, documentaries on that. Now, we are exploring individualistic stories and their challenges,” analyst Girish Johar told IANS.
For many years, Manoj Kumar was the first name that popped into one’s mind at the thought of films that come with hues of patriotism. The next notable big of patriotism came with Sunny Deol. His larger than life brand of patriotism was based on taking the enemy (Pakistan) head-on in cross-border dramas, best seen in classics such as Border and Gadar: Ek Prem Katha.
There were the Bhagat Singh films of that era, one with Sunny and his brother Bobby Deol that celebrated rhetoric, and the more subtle, The Legend Of Bhagat Singh, that won Ajay Devgn a National Award.
Bollywood’s new patriotism has moved away from such in-your-face assertion of love for one’s country. Akshay Kumar is among actors who have tried the formula in projects where patriotism is defined by various actions beyond fighting for one’s nation in uniform in films like Airlift, Gold, Pad Man, Mission Mangal, Baby and even the fiery Kesari.
Then there is Rajkummar Rao fighting to instil democracy in Newton, Alia Bhatt using marriage as a tool to carry out cross border espionage at the height of the Indo-Pak war in Raazi, John Abraham’s Parmanu — tracing the momentous slice of history when Bharat became a nuclear nation. The idea to explore patriotism in varied hues also reflects in the tone of recent successful historicals like Ajay Devgn’s Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior and Kangana Ranaut’s Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi.
Controversies apart, Netflix’s Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl uses women empowerment as the idea to forward a spirit celebrating Bharat, the same way Mary Kom did a few years ago. Both women raised the glory of the Tricolour by making Bharat proud with first-in-their-field achievements. Mission Mangal highlighted how a group of women, represented by Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Nithya Menon on screen, helmed ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission, would also belong to this league of films.
So when the narrative in Bollywood films changes from patriotism being about war and jingoism to people who have just done things that actually portray patriotism in its true essence, it has a huge impact on the way we view patriotism. The perspective and attitude towards what patriotism is all about are changing from fighting a war, which is obviously still there, to the ways you can prove love for your country in many different ways.
I’m glad that we can celebrate not just our victories in wars over other countries and other people, but victories, which do not have to be about defeating someone else. You don’t have to be good because someone else is bad; you can be good because you are good.
Over the years, there have been other films that have celebrated patriotism this way, like Dangal, Satyamev Jayate, Chak De! India, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Mulk, among others.
Few films have celebrated patriotism at a more layered level like Rang De Basanti, which tries to understand modern India and the modern youth using the nation’s history. It’s a good strategy as long as the story has some power and people identify with it.
The traditional brand of patriotism, propped by war and stories of India’s battle for independence, also continue to be explored, of course. Vicky Kaushal scored his career’s biggest hit with the drama of new-age war dynamics in Uri: The Surgical Strike. From earning more than ₹200 crores at the box office to the viral dialogue — “How’s the josh” — on everyone’s lips (including Prime Minister Narendra Modi ), the film made history.
Defining patriotism is important, and there is a fine line between patriotism and jingoism. Patriotism comes from a love for your motherland, for the place you come from, and it holds a sense of belonging. It does not come by hating a community or people or land. It has to be about love and not about hate.
Among the biggest and most anticipated films coming up that is bound to stir the nationalistic emotion in every Indian is Kabir Khan’s 83, starring Ranveer Singh. The film traces how an underdog Indian team went on to win the country’s first cricket World Cup in 1983. In a nation that worships Cricket, the famous victory still fills every Bharatiya chest with pride.
I hope that more such stories are explored by our media industry that brings to light erstwhile unknown stories of patriotism. With the changing times that we live in, it is all the more important that we shift our perspective from a militaristic understanding of nationalism and patriotism to a broader understanding of the subject — not in a preachy way but enjoying it on the big screen in light doses.