Recently, the Indian Air Force (IAF) raised objection to actor Anil Kapoor wearing the wrong uniform and using abusive language in his recent film, AK vs AK. The IAF also urged the streaming platform Netflix to remove the scenes with the discrepancies. “The IAF uniform in this video is inaccurately donned & the language used is inappropriate. This does not conform to the behavioural norms of those in the Armed Forces of India. The related scenes need to be withdrawn,” read a tweet on the official Twitter handle of IAF.
This is not a military dictatorship, as ignorant netizens were quick to call it. Enough is enough. Right from its inception, Bollywood never depicted the Defense services the way Army, Navy and Air Force must be shown on the celluloid. First of all, civil society has precious little knowledge of the Services. Army has an altogether different culture and a well-guarded set of ethos that can come only through the uniform donned by a soldier.
That’s the reason all war and military-based Hindi movies have never been acknowledged by the soldiers and officers because of the lousy and loud acting of our actors, who’re unaware of military mannerisms (MM) and how an individual in the Services carries and conducts himself.
Even when they understand some aspects of military life, they blow it out of proportion, like in the movie Border, where tanks just jump up like toys after going on an anti-tank mine. It’s pathetic to see the unnecessary glorification of serious things like being hit by a bullet or spilling blood all over the face with loud background music and VFX effects.
The actors who essayed the roles of army personnel on the marquee hardly looked like soldiers or officers. Even Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat (1964), set against the Sino-Indian War of 1962, didn’t impress Poona-based General GG Bewoor, who tellingly said, “Though Major Ranjit Singh (Balraj Sahni) looked and acted like an Army Major, his junior Captain Bahadur Singh (Dharmendra) didn’t appear like an army officer despite having a build of a soldier.”
Mind you, Haqeeqat is an all-time military classic in the history of Indian cinema. There’s a term, OLQs (Officer Like Qualities) in the Army parlance. The OLQs are inculcated in young cadets who later command units and regiments. Officer Like Qualities aren’t acquired overnight. The cadets imbibe the military spirit in the academies. It’s nurtured there.
As we say, Rome wasn’t built in a day; these special and specific qualities aren’t also drilled in a brace of days. That military demeanour and soldierly discipline come after years of inculcation and become integral to an officer’s consciousness. All these things are unknown to the civilians (though no offence is meant to them), much less to our actors and directors who can’t even differentiate between a Major and Major General or a Group Captain and Air Commodore.
To them, all are the same, with no emphasis on the insignia and epaulettes on the shoulders of an officer. Directors and actors have no understanding of 2-Star/3-Star Generals and how they carry themselves in the corridors of defence and battlefield and real life. Apropos, how many actors and directors in India are aware that a 3-Star General is a lieutenant General rank officer, whereas a 4-Star General is the General in Indian Army or an Air Marshal ranks above the 2-Star Air Vice Marshal in Indian Air Force?
An Army officer is never supposed to be shown to abuse on the screen, and here Amitabh Bachchan nonchalantly says ‘bloody civilians’ in the film Major Saab (2000). That scene is still there in the movie and hasn’t yet been deleted. That a senior actor like Amitabh using such cuss words as an officer is not just unbecoming of him, it also humiliating to the Army as a highly respectful establishment.
Actors with long hair become Army officers in films, and no one objects. Even the film Uri which otherwise was appreciated had continuous sloganeering of “how’s the josh” without conveying its meaning, context and depth attached to it. When a commando is all broken – physically, mentally and almost reached a point where he may give up, that’s when his commander comes and asks, “HOW’S THE JOSH?” – to see what stuff he is made of and how much he can sacrifice for the operation.
Go to Hollywood and see the level of discipline and dedication of the actors and directors. Actors have to spend a minimum of three months at West Point (the US Military Academy) to essay the role of an Army officer/soldier. Not only that, Hollywood Film Association screens the war movies for the parallel Military Censor Board. If the Military Censor Board suggests changes or deletions, directors have to abide by them. Then only those movies are released to the general public.
Yet, when From Here to Eternity (starring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, 1953) depicted the US Army, all actors, including Frank Sinatra, had to face the wrath of the US Army. The same rules are applied in England where the military veterans at Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst watch the movie, and then it is released in theatres.
Furthermore, all actors in western cinema wanting to work in war movies join military academies to understand the fundamentals of military life. In 1970 while making a film on USA General George Patton, the actors spent a year at the West Point Academy and studied mannerisms of higher officials very closely. Alas, no actor here in Bharat is eager to do the same before essaying the role of a military officer.
On this count, Nana Patekar must be admired for, he spent a considerable time at Commando School, Belgaum and got trained as a commando for his movie Prahaar released in 1991. He underwent strict military training for 3 years and was even honoured with the rank of honorary Captain.
Actor Raj Kumar spent hours with the top brass of IAF, especially fighter pilots, before acting in Chetan Anand’s film Hindustan Ki Qasam, 1973, in which he became an Air Force officer. His perfect body language and an officer-like gait lent credibility to the role he enacted on the silver screen. In other words, he got into the skin of an Air Force officer with dignity, elan and éclat.
He didn’t abuse like Anil Kapoor, who, even at this age and despite having worked in Hollywood cinema, didn’t learn the basics of the military ethos. In short, the Army has had to suffer a lot and tolerate too many shenanigans from the ham-handed Bollywood directors and actors. There’s a limit to it.
Agreed, nothing is and should be so sacrosanct as unimpeachable, but Army, Navy and Air Force also have their valid point. We can’t demean them. By unwittingly degrading and denigrating Army officers on the screen, somewhere we degrade ourselves as a society for, the Army is an extension of the society.
Finally, all these actors may not have intentions of malafide. But it’s time; they stopped taking the Services for a ride. Lastly, I nudge, nay urge, our actors and directors to read a book written by Gita Vishwanath, The Nation in War: A Study of Military Literature and Hindi War Cinema. The book will help them understand and imbibe the ethos of military vis a vis cinema in the Bharatiya context.
(Major parts of the article have been referenced from The Hitavada Editorial )