Two Hindi films, Bhuj and Shershaah, began their streaming journey on the OTT platform a few days before India celebrated its 75th Independence Day. In the name of patriotism, these two films exhibited nothing but jingoism.
The following week three feature films Gandhi (1982) by Richard Attenborough, Ghare Baire (1984) by Satyajit Ray and The Making Of The Mahatma (1996) by Shyam Benegal were streaming for free from August 15 to August 17 on the NFDC’s website www.cinemasofindia.com. I opted to watch Benegal’s cinematic version of an important chapter in the world’s political history that did not mitigate its authenticity and the compactness of politics of the era at the cost of playing to the gallery.
The entire narrative evokes a kind of concern in our psyche where we start realising that just by shouting slogans in praise of our motherland does not make someone a patriot. One has to cross lots of hurdles and sacrifice his comforts to achieve the desired result. One can argue that The Making of the Mahatma is an English film and a joint production of India and South Africa, so the treatment of the subject does not match with the emotional responses of an average Hindi film viewer. Which I will say is true. But the point that I am trying to make is that to make a film that displays the protagonist’s devotion towards his/her country filmmakers should not always restore to tried and tested but cliched templates. The onus is always on the filmmaker to help the viewers develop a taste toward sensible films.
So, does that bring us to the conclusion that the current trend of making patriotic films in India has lost the mojo? I do not think so. Aditya Dhar’s debut Uri (2019), though a pre-election propaganda endeavour is somewhat less flawed in structure than its successors, had a style and taut action sequences that kept the viewers hooked.
However, under the present situation of creative deficiency and lack of grit, a film like Chetan Anands’ Haqeeqat (1964) or the patriotic acumen of Manoj Bajpai, is next to impossible. The reason behind such artistic bankruptcy is not due to lack of resources but allegiance to the medium of storytelling.
In this context, one can also cite the example of filmmaker JP Dutta who understood the grammar of popular filmmaking and respected viewers’ mindset, which is evident in his 1997 multi-starrer blockbuster Border. Even Rakesh Om Prakash Mehara’s vigilante drama Rang De Basanti (2006), with its’ technical excellence was able to capture the angst of the younger generation with flair and imagination.
However, in comparison, Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan (2001) stands out as an exceptional film that kindles the spirit of patriotism through the game of cricket. As the film aged it gained such a status that till today it has no befitting competitor.
So, coming back to the current pitying situation of the films that deal with the theme of Desh Bhakti, it would be better if filmmakers mull over those aspects of filmmaking that would enrich their content and have regard to the wit of the viewers, rather than being manipulative with their gimmick like strategy.