Bollywood is often associated with India’s national identity. According to economist and Bollywood biographer Meghnad Desai, “Cinema actually has been the most vibrant medium for telling India its own story, the story of its struggle for independence, its constant struggle to achieve national integration and to emerge as a global presence”. Patriotism has been a recurring theme in Bollywood movies for decades. For years, Manoj Kumar has been the undisputed torchbearer of Bollywood patriotic films. Titles like Shaheed, Upkar, Purab Aur Paschim, Roti Kapda Aur Makan, and Kranti in his filmography; embody his passion for patriotism in cinema. On the eve of India’s 75th Independence Day, I present names of seven Bollywood patriotic films; that may be watched to arouse patriotic fervor.
Haqeeqat is a Hindi-language war drama starring Dharmendra, Balraj Sahni, Sanjay Khan, and Vijay Anand in major roles. The film is based on the events of the 1962 Sino-Indian War; showcasing a fictionalized version of the battle of Rezang La in Ladakh. Touted as India’s first ‘real’ war movie, the film is widely considered one of India’s greatest war films to date. In spite of major progress in the field of graphics and technology, war films produced in India have rarely been able to match the reputation that this move had earned. The song, “Kar Chale Hum Fida”, written by Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi and composed by Madan Mohan had achieved the status of an anthem.
Set during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, this film written and directed by J. P. Dutta was an adaptation of real incidents that happened at the Battle of Longewala. Loved by the audience and praised by the critics, the film was a blockbuster at the box office. Dutta, who had borrowed tanks and aircraft from the forces, choreographed some extraordinary sequences. They brought alive the fury and chaos of the war. Along with strong performances by an ensemble cast, melodious music by composer Anu Malik and lyrics by Javed Akhtar; this was a landmark cinema in Bollywood. Over the years, it has in fact achieved cult status with the telecast of Border on television channels being synonymous with the 15th of August.
Lagaan (2001) was a fictional story of a group of Indian peasants in British-ruled India. Burdened with taxes and several years of drought, they find themselves in an extraordinary situation as an arrogant British army officer challenges them to a game of cricket. The male lead Bhuvan, played wonderfully by Amir Khan, assembles a team from amongst the villagers and triumphs over the British Team in the climactic tournament that takes up the whole of the third act of the movie.
Ashutosh Gowariker’s film combined classic elements of a musical with the thrills of a sports drama, adding clearly defined villains, a love triangle, and tropes of an underdog theme. To depict the 1890s era, the crew required a village that lacked electricity, communication, and automobiles. A typical old hamlet was thus built by the local people four months before the arrival of the crew in the Kutch region of Gujarat. Lagaan went on to create history at the box office and it put Bollywood on the international map. It was nominated in the Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars in 2001.
Rang De Basanti (2006)
Bhagat Singh was an Indian revolutionary whose dramatic acts of violence against the British in India and execution at age 23 made him a folk hero of the Indian independence movement. His story has inspired filmmakers for decades since Manoj Kumar’s portrayal in Shaheed (1965). As many as three Bollywood films based on the life of Bhagat Singh were released in the year 2002 itself. Celebrated filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra retold the story of Bhagat Singh, juxtaposing it in a contemporary setting. The clever non-linear narrative, AR Rahman’s soulful melodies, Prasoon Joshi’s dialogues, and a stellar performance by the cast made it a favorite amongst the cinema-goers. The film won the National Film Awards for the ‘Best Popular Film providing wholesome entertainment. It was also the official entry of India to the 2007 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.
In recent years Akshay Kumar has been a champion of nationalism with his films like Namastey London, Baby, Airlift, and Mission Mangal. In 2021 too, he has blocked the Independence Day weekend with the release of Bellbottom, the trailer of which seems to have elements borrowed from Baby and Airlift. Perhaps Kesari is the most distinctive and strongest of his patriotic films in recent years. One of history’s most stunning last stands was the Battle of Saragarhi in 1897. It is the legendary tale of a mere 21 Sikh Soldiers who fought against an Afghan Army of 10000 men. Director Anurag Singh’s film is a compelling war drama with strong emotional moments and tragedy; interwoven with blood-soaked action choreography. Kesari is one exceptionally written screenplay that had a sensationally rousing impact on its audience.
Directed by Meghna Gulzar, this film is an adaptation of Harinder Sikka’s 2008 novel ‘Calling Sehmat’, a true account of a female Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agent during 1971. The film was particularly praised for being grounded in reality, unlike the spies of Bollywood films like Agent Vinod and Tiger Zinda Hai. With the right blend of thrills, suspense, and human emotion, the film is fairly engaging. Raazi is a sensibly written and finely performed film. It takes a close look at the ordinary lives of extraordinary people. It evokes the right sense of patriotism and national pride without being jingoistic.
Gunjan Saxena (2020)
Love for one’s MOTHERLAND is way more than being proud of the Army, the National Flag, or any Political Ideology. Expression of the love for independence is not merely about hoisting the flag or sharing quotes on social media. It is about acknowledging the individuals who have had to fight society and systems to emerge, winners; who have had “to break free of the cage and fly” – in the words of Anup Saxena played by Pankaj Tripathi in the Netflix movie – Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl.
Breaking all stereotypes of chest-thumping jingoism and fierce masculinity in Bollywood war films, the film redefines patriotism. In one particular scene, a father explains to his daughter that the sincerity and unwavering dedication towards the work that we do in our daily lives serve the nation plentifully. The screenplay stays honest to the personal tale of Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena. She is the first woman to helicopter into combat for the Indian Air Force during the Kargil War.
One of the most anticipated films of 2021, ‘Shershah’, released on 12th August, is also an addition to the list of Bollywood patriotic films. It is the story of another Kargil War Hero, Major Vikram Batra.
Patriotism is interpreted differently by different filmmakers. Be it the sensitive iconography of freedom fighters, or the inspiring stories of army persons; patriotism has inspired generations of filmmakers of Bollywood. Newer sagas and shades of nationalism will continue to emerge in Bollywood patriotic films. Thus, we shall always have a list of films to watch on 15th August and fuel the emotions of nationalism within ourselves.
An honest SCORPIO who is crazy about movies, and overly passionate about travel.
Believes in immortalizing the moment, either by way of the photograph or literal documentation of the journey.