Is The Patriotic Card in Bollywood Getting Stale?

Patriotism is reduced to a mere formula in films that still go in that direction
Is The Patriotic Card in Bollywood Getting Stale?

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.

Still from 'Gold'

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 that 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. Finger 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  inspiring  means  to  inculcate  a sense of nationalistic  fervour in  the audience, has lost its sheen.

Still from 'Bhaag Milkha Bhag'

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. 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 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  a serious  reinvention. Just waving the  flag is not enough. The Indian  patriotic cinema needs to ensure that our interest  level doesn’t flag.

Still from 'Rang De Basanti'

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 opened  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.