What happened to all the great patriotic films that would light up our movie theatres every year, and not only for Republic Day and Independence Day? All the great films of Manoj Kumar from Upkar to Roti Kapada Aur Makaan now seem greater than ever, as patriotism is reduced to a mere formula in the films that still go in that direction.
Admit it. This Independence Day, the supposedly patriotic films look extremely predictable and somewhat dull. I am not doubting the patriotic integrity of Reema Kagti's Gold, a film that recreates the Olympian zeal of the first Indian hockey team to win a gold medal. It has Farhan Akhtar as producer. He did the patriotic classic, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Milkha ran. But the theme of nationalism is on the run.
Everything in desh bhakti genre since then is honourable but bland. We've seen the sportive spirit wrapped in the Indian flag over and over again, most recently in the underrated, underperforming gem, Soorma, where Diljit Dosanjh took proprietorial control of hockey player Sandeep Singh's life.
Gold, the Independence Day release this year, is again about hockey, and that too just weeks after Soorma. I don't know if the game is gaining any credence. But we are certainly being force-fed too many motivational sports films that follow the familiar trope of 'Reluctant Player(s) - Motivational Incident - Daunting Setback - Ultimate Triumph'. Applause, fingers crossed, tax exemption.
It wouldn't be wrong to say the patriotic card has become dog-eared. Akshay Kumar, who owns the patriotic slot, now looks jaded doing the same old self-righteous flag-waving in film after film. I am not sure whether he needs a change, or whether the patriotic genre, once a thriving and inspiring means to inculcate a sense of nationalistic fervour in the audience, has lost its sheen.
The other Independence Day release this year goes by the blatantly jingoistic title of Satyamev Jayate. I remember Vinod Khanna made a comeback with a film by that title, after serving Rajneesh. This Satyamev Jayate has John Abraham taking on corrupt politicians, etc. I am sure the gardens that Vinod Khanna tended in Oregon were far more interesting.
This is so familiar, it can actually work. Sometimes the comfort of the familiar pays off. Akshay Kumar has been basking in that comfort for years now. Last seen selling the idea of economical sanitary pads on Republic Day, he is now gone parodically parochial, sporting what he thinks is a Bengali accent in playing the hockey coach Tapan Das.
I still prefer Akshay's alleged Bengali accent to Kangana Ranaut's royal arrogance. Yes, patriotism for Republic Day 2019 would entail a bedecked, haughty and hopefully fiery Kangana Ranaut as Jhansi ki Rani, in Telugu director Krissh's Manikarnika.
I can hardly wait… to see Kagana get off that high horse this January.
Pandering to patriotism is all very fine. But the formula needs serious reinvention. Just waving the flag is not enough. Indian patriotic cinema needs to ensure that our interest level doesn't flag.
It is time to stop portraying only one aspect of patriotism - the jingoistic aspect. There are many obfuscated sides to the patriotic conundrum. Anubhav Sinha's Mulk, which opens week in advance of Independence Day, is according to me a truly patriotic film. It shows the subversion of patriotic zeal by an aggressive majority, who feel they own the nationalistic sentiment. But as Rakeysh Mehra had shown in the last truly remarkable patriotic film Rang De Basanti, if you push the patriotic impulse in the wrong direction you get anarchy chaos and annihilation.
Be warned. Patriotism in our cinema is now at the brink. A revolution is pending.
(Subhash K Jha is a film critic and movie expert)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)