IIFA continues with its list of Indian cinema highlighting different aspects of patriotism, and how it deals with the new realities of war and national leadership.
J.P. Dutta’s Border can be classed as the most successful war movie till date. Made on epic scale with an ensemble cast, the film was based on the events of the Battle of Longewala in the Indo-Pak war of 1971. Although the director faced criticism from some quarters for his biased presentation of historical facts (Indian army faced minimal loss with the loss of two lives), the film was a blockbuster hit.
The film plot traces the heroism of a band of 120 soldiers of the Punjab regiment of the Indian Army headed by Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri (Sunny Deol) and their all night defense of the Indian post in the Western front of Rajasthan until assistance came from the Indian Air Force the next morning. The film cemented newcomer Akshaye Khanna as one of the most promising star sons. The film also won the ‘National Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration’ from the President of India.
Dutta had conceptualized the movie as a tribute to the immense sacrifice made time and again by the Indian Armed Force. And he had full support of the Indian army who lent him real weapons and ammunition during the filming. Even now, the song “Sandeshe Ate Hain” is played regularly in every Indian Army celebration.
Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001)
The year 2001 saw the release of two films which made history in Indian cinema for their own reasons, and both find mention in this list. First up is Gadar: Ek Prem Katha; the plot revolves around the love story of Tara Singh (Sunny Deol), a Sikh truck driver and Sakina (Ameesha Patel), a Muslim girl belonging to an aristocratic family. The protagonists’ stories unfold against the background of the partition of India and the Sikh/Hindu and Muslim massacre that went with it.
Although it had its share of jingoism and pop nationalism, the film did show the after effects of the partition and the dilemma of the common man whose loyalty towards a nation was to be judged by his religious belief. The film proved to be the biggest hit of Sunny Deol’s long career and is the fourth highest grossing Hindi movies of all time.
Interestingly, Gadar: Ek Prem Katha was set up for a clash at the box office with Amir Khan’s first home production Lagaan. Industry traders were skeptical about the audiences’ reaction towards two movies with patriotic themes. But, the overwhelming support of cine goers towards both these movies put such fears to rest.
Aamir Khan’s first home production was an ambitious one. The script required a mixture of Indian and international actors and a dry arid agricultural location, finally Bhuj in Gujarat’s Kutch district was selected. The script also demanded that the film had a mixture of Avadhi (for the farmers) and Hindi/English (for the Britishers) dialogues. But the cast, crew and the producers’ completely backed director Ashutosh Gowariker and a new chapter was written in Indian Cinema, a chapter which celebrated the power of a good script above everything else.
Set in the British Raj, the film is narrated in flashback by the “Sutradhar” (Amitabh Bachchan) and tells the tale of how a bunch of peasants led by Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) defeated the Britishers in a game of cricket and saved their village from three years taxation by the British Government. All native experiences were woven into the fabric of the script. So you have the crippling land taxes, the endless wait for the monsoons, the impoverished peasants, the fascination with the “English” game of cricket and finally the win of the underdogs over the white man in their very own game.
The film had a World Premiere at the 2001 IIFA Weekend in Sun City, South Africa and opened to tremendous Indian and international response. It was the first Indian film to have a nationwide release in China. The film won 7 National Awards and 10 IIFA Awards and also got nominated for the 2002 Academy Awards under the category “Best Foreign Language Film”.
Lakshya is essentially the coming of age story of a young man set against the Indian Army’s attack on the Tiger Hills during the Kargil conflicts between India and Pakistan. Penned by Javed Akhtar and directed by his son Farhan Akhtar, Lakshya tells the story of Karan (Hrithik Roshan), a product of his generation, directionless and confused, and how a stint at the Indian Military Academy helps him find his focus in life. The film traces his growth from a confused kid to a mature officer culminating in his mission to recapture an Indian post after scaling 1000-ft wall of rock and attacking the enemy stronghold from behind during the night.
The film also stars Priety Zinta in a role which had similarity to journalist Barkha Dutt who had reported the Kargil conflict for the erstwhile Star News network. Most of the film’s shooting was done in Leh and Ladakh under extremely trying conditions with Hrithik Roshan having to go in for training to fit his role as an Army official. Lakshya was a turning point in Indian cinema. For a movie dealing with the events of the Kargil war, there was no jingoism or pop nationalism in the film. Instead, it focused on how the youth of today dealt with the concepts of nationalism and freedom, when faced with the immediate realities of war in their lives. This fascination from the youth’s point of view would be explored at length by by Rakesyh Mehra in “Rang De Basanti”.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2005)
Shyam Benegal’s Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero tells a tale of a freedom fighter who has always held an ambiguous position in our national history. Probably the most contentious figure in our struggle of freedom, Bose’s life and death has always been surrounded by controversy. The film starts as a flashback and attempts to reconstruct his life during the 30’s and the 40’s starting from his resignation as the president of the Indian National Congress (I.N.C.) and his subsequent attempts to form a revolutionary Army to oust the British.
With Sachin Khedekar playing the main lead, the film is almost a biopic delving into his romantic relationship with his German secretary, his meeting with Adolf Hitler and ends with a radio announcement of his death. Historically, Bose’s ways of raising support for an armed struggle earned him quite a bit of notoriety. The film does not whitewash these facts, but shows that it was patriotism and love for his mother nation that made him follow the unorthodox means of accepting support from Germany and Japan. A long time in the making, the film also had U-Boat (Deutsche: ‘Untersee Boat’) submarine scenes. Although not one of the most successful films on nationalism, it did succeed in reminding the audience that the struggle for Independence did have heroes other than the Nehrus and the Gandhis.
Rand De Basanti (2006)
Range De Basanti was a film born from Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra belief that the sense of “patriotism had blurred” in the young generation. And from that perspective he wrote about a script which dealt with the modern youth of India played by Aamir Khan, Siddharth, Sharman Joshi, Kunal Kapoor and Soha Ali Khan. Products of their generation, none of these characters have any concept of the immense sacrifice made by their fellow Indians to secure their independence. Political freedom is something that they take for granted. All this changes when struggling British film maker Sue (Alice Patten) comes to India to film a documentary based on her grandfather’s diary.
The diary deals with the Indian revolutionary movement led by Chandrasekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru, Ashfaqulla Khan, and Ram Prasad Bismil. She convinces Aamir and gang to play the parts for her documentary and while essaying the characters, the idealism of India’s revolutionary heroes seeps into the protagonists. They start identifying with the characters they portray in Sue’s film and realize that the state of affairs that once plagued the revolutionaries continues to torment their generation. The controversy of importing cheap MiG-21 aircraft spare parts is woven into the script with the death of Flight Lieutenant Ajay Singh Rathod (R. Madhavan), Soha’s fiancé is killed in a flight crash.
This film touched the chords of the youth of India had an immense social effect. For the first time, the issue of freedom and the apathetic political situation was shown from their perspective. The film could also be seen as a comeback for music maestro A.R. Rehman who hadn’t had a hit since 2002’s “Saathiya”. The ease with which the 40 year old played the part of a 20 year old proved beyond doubt that Aamir could mould himself into any role, thus being a true “actor” instead of just a “star”. All other actors including Sharman, Kunal, Atul Kulkarni and Siddharth also received great reviews for their work.
Each of the films which finds a mention in this list shows how every director and actor brings something new to the table. Everyone’s personal perspective colours how they see their own national history and that affects their creative vision as well.
Although its difficult to include every film made in the spirit of patriotism, we hope that this list is at least indicative enough of the great tradition of cinematic tradition that Indian cinema has to offer.