Whatever happened to the patriotic films of yore? There was time when Manoj Kumar made a series of patriotic films beginning with Shaheed and Upkar. Today after a long period of hibernation he is all set to return to filmmaking with a film on genealogy rather than desh–bhakti.
So is filmy patriotism dead?
Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, who directed one of the last and finest patriotic film Rang De Basanti in recent times, recalls the heartbreaking assault on his spiritual and emotional connectivity with the theme.
“There were 4-5 Bhagat Singh films that didn’t connect with the audience. Then there was Ketan Mehta’s Mangal Pande
Recalls Mehra, “In school I wanted to join the air force. It didn’t work out for me. In college in Delhi I was predominantly a sportsman. It didn’t work out because I was from a lower middle-class family. And the first priority was to bring money back into the family….As kids in Delhi on August 15 when we flew kites, we could hear India Gandhi speaking…On the other side there were the patriotic songs on the loudspeaker….Ae mere watan, Mere desh ki dharti…We were looking at the idea of our country through a kite….Films like Mother India, Do Bigha Zameen, Naya Daur
Bedobrata Pain is the director of the only patriotic film in the past few years. His Chittagong is a take on the well-known Chittagong uprising against the British Raj in 1930 .Pain feels patriotic films have run out of steam. “I think one of the problems with our patriotic films is that it focuses more on sacrifice and hero worship and less on the victory. I tried to get away from that.In my film there’s this feeling that it won’t end in sadness rather than on an uplifting note.I think today’s India wants to hear stories of winning.they also feel that a patriotic film will not be very exciting.Take a film like Braveheart .I think we have not been able to create such a big canvas. I don’t believe people have become apathetic to nationalism.I think the challenge for filmmakers is to keep it exciting .I wanted to see if I could tell the story of a boy growing up in an age of optimism – and tell it in a very simple way,and keep the audience engaged much like what our puranas or our epics have done.”
Pain feels the patriotic fervour of Manoj Kumar’s cinema has run its course. “The patriotic cinema of ManojKumar type does not evoke the same sentiments today.That was the era of optimism, of hope, of vision , of anticipation of something big that was going to happen , for which people were willing to lay down their lives.But after some 65 years of independent India that story of hope and vision has been replaced by cynicism.
Very few films dare to talk about creating a new society.The pervasive theme is of cynicism The heroes are the marginalized of the world ,or the lumpen proletariat.Anurag Kashyap’s films are a classic example.Even Rang De Basanti succumbs to that. Despite their valiant resistance and their rebellious acts, the film’s protagonists run out of ideas at the end.And despite their fabulous actions the film ends in a despair. I think we live in an age where we don’t see solutions,where we don’t see inspiration.In Chittagong I wanted to tell a story of inspiration. If we compare M.S.Sathyu’s Garam Hawa with S
Pain feels today’s generations in India are averse to history. “Just see how many films were made on WWII or the Irish uprisings.But ours can be counted on our fingertips. At the same time, it’s not that the genre doesn’t work. Ashutosh Gowarikar had given us a hit movie with Jodha Akbar. Despite my misgivings about the film it worked.”
According to Pain the Emergency during Mrs Indira Gandhi’s regime was the turning-point in cinema’s relationship with history. “ I think the concept of India underwent a change with the onset of 1975 emergency. The India that we dreamt of culminated in and ended with emergency.It almost feels like India had to be re-imagined.And then came the era of new economic policy in 1992.The last connection with the past was gone.So the quest for India took a very different turn. It’s almost as if a new discovery of India had to be written.Our present generation is a product for good or for worse (mostly worse I feel) of globalization.Their head is much stuck in the glitter of international wealth and American way of life than rooted in India. Most of the middle class urban youth today has no concept of slums and those who are in the lower rungs (or say in smaller towns) don’t want to change their situation, they want an escape from it. We don’t want to create a new India.We want to escape it.And that’s what has caused our young generation to be disconnected from the present and the history of India.”
Says Irrfan Khan cynically, “Patriotic films are replaced by T20 and 1-day matches between India and Pakistan.”
Says filmmaker Sanjay Chauhan who directed Lahore, a film on Indo–Pak amity, “In contemporary cinema the definition of stereotypical patriotic films has undergone a change.It is believed that one-dimensional flag-waving films studded with themes sacrificing one’s life for the beloved nation, like Anil Sharma’s Gadarhave lost their audience. I beg to defer.Filmmakers are imbibing them streak of patriotism in subtle ways and blending them effortlessly into themes depicting myriad realities of life. Rang De Basanti with its candle-light protest stands tall in its support of how cinema can impact the mindset of society.Even my film Lahore which many thought was anti-climactic because it showed Pakistan’s victory on a sports platform,, is a quintessential example of new-wave patriotic cinema.Spoon-feeding the audiences with preachy patriotism is out.”
Mulling over his long absence from direction Manoj Kumar says, “I never intended to be a director in the first place. I became one by default when during Shaheed I had to direct the film unofficially. Then LalBahadur Shastri raised the slogan of Jai Jawan Jai Kisan. That’s how I made Upkar. I give credit for my success to my parents. My father was a poet philosopher. I came to Mumbai with two targets .One was to be a hero, the other was to make 3 lakh rupees,1 lakh each for my two parents and 1 lakh for my siblings.When I had left home in Delhi in 1956 to come to Mumbai to become a hero my father gave me a letter . In that letter he said, ‘My blood can never commit blunders, only mistakes’. I made mistakes in my career. But not blunders
Recalling the grenesis of one of his most well-known films Roti Kapada Aur Makaan M
Manoj Kumar recalls the genesis of one of the most popular patriotic songs Mere desh ki dharti in his directorial debut Upkar.”That song is imperishable. When Mahendra Kapoor–ji, who sang ‘Mere desh kidharti’, expired our prime minister Manmohan Singh said he would always be remembered for ‘Mere desh kidharti’. It hurts to know so many people connected with that song – Kalyanji, Mahendra Kapoor
The veteran actor remembers how the song “Meri desh ki dharti” was conceived.
“Meri desh ki dharti happened when we had gone to a shrine to pay our respects. When we returned from the shrine in the car, lyricist Gulshan Bawra was singing ‘Mere desh ki dharti sona
Filmmaker Ananth Mahadevan
Subhash Ghai, who made the fiercely patriotic Karma, doesn’t believe Manoj Kumar’s brand of patriotism to be dead. “It’s still there in Indian cinema. But the definition of patriotism has changed.Audiences don’t want empty slogans, false pride and bogus dreams.Today cinema is addressing itself to Real India.You may see some reflection of that reality in my next film Kanchi.”
Writer Prasoon Joshi feels patriotism remains unchanged in our films. “It’s still about love and loyalty for the country.Earlier perhaps it was more tangible in terms of an external enemy and striving to get freedom for your country. This is where the Shaheed genre of patriotic cinema came in. Then it was about building your country, the Naya Daur and Upkar genre of patriotic cinema. Today’s patriotic cinema is about changing our country, purging it of the corruption and others ills that have set in.The enemy is within. Today Gandhian ideals are again finding a resonance in our cinema, e.g Raj Kumar Hirani’s Munnabhai. Be the change you want.”
Dr Chandraprakash Diwedi who crafted that fine film Pinjar on the theme of patriotism feels the definition of patriotic cinema has changed over the years. “Yes, there has been a decline in films depicting past A patriotic film needn’t be historical in content.Any film that strengthens and integrates society ,cultivates peace and harmony is patriotic.For me Salim Ahamed’s Malayalam film Adminte Makan Abu, Gautam