Politics of Patriotism: In The Age of Fighter, Celebrate A Swades & Newton

If your character's name is Khan, you're probably a terrorist in the film in today's times.

Hot Take
7 min read
Hindi Female

"POK ka matlab hai Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Tumne occupy kiya hai, maalik hum hai" - Siddharth Anand's Fighter, starring Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone in lead roles, is set to land in theatres on 25 January. The trailer has come under heavy criticism for dialogues such as the one mentioned above.

For decades, Hindi cinema has been witness to this aggressive devotion to one's country. Wave the tricolour or play the National Anthem, and our heroes will come all guns blazing. Manoj Kumar's Upkar (1965) popularized Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri's wartime slogan 'Jai Jawan Jai Kisan.' The 50s and 60s also saw films like Naya Daur, Shaheed that spoke about the freedom struggle and farmers concerns. We also had a movie like Chetan Anand's Haqeeqat, that did look at the horrific consequences of a war.

The mood shifted in the late 90s and early 2000s with Gadar, Lakshya and Border, which where shriller in their projections of patriotism.

The recent times have been more volatile. Now it's not just celebrating "the sons of the soil," it's also making those sons screaming who the "maalik" and "baap" are.

While there's no getting away from the vicious cycle of violent patriotism, let's look at some films that adapt a different lens:

Chak De! India & Swades - All About Making Our Country Proud

These two films, starring Shah Rukh Khan in lead roles, showed us that when it comes to proclaiming one’s love for their country, it doesn’t need be screamed in every second sentence.

Chak De! India follows the journey of an underdog women’s hockey team, led by a resilient coach Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh), and their roaring victory in an international tournament. By coming together, the women (hailing from different states) and Kabir shed their prejudices as well.

If your character's name is Khan, you're probably a terrorist in the film in today's times.

Shah Rukh Khan in a scene from Chak De! India.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

The film shows that it's not just the outside world that is racist and biased, the women in the national hockey team are equally blind. We see the girls fight and bicker amongst themselves, and it takes Kabir to teach them otherwise.

In one of the scenes, Kabir guides the team on how to play a game the right way. When he asks the players to introduce themselves, they do so by mentioning the names of their respective states and regions. To which the coach responds, "Mujhe states ke naam na sunai dete hai na dikhai dete hai, sirf ek mulk ka naam sunai deta hai... INDIA", reminding them to let go of their individualistic pride and ego when they have signed up to play for a national team. Patriotism doesn't just mean going to war, it also means letting go of deep-rooted notions and being kind towards each other.

At the core of the film is also the story of the victory of a man who had been labelled a traitor and ostracised years back, solely on the basis of his religion. It's not enough for a Kabir Khan to form a great team for the World Cup, he is expected to win too.

It's ironic that the same expectations aren't placed on coaches who are the "majority". In a country that's currently being split in half by the sword of religion, it's stories like Kabir Khan's that must be narrated again and again.

If your character's name is Khan, you're probably a terrorist in the film in today's times.

In Swades, Shah Rukh Khan harnesses the power of water to create a power generation facility in his village.

(Photo: UTV Motion Pictures)

On the other hand, Swades narrates the story of an NRI’s return to India. Mohan Bhargava’s (Shah Rukh) main objective for the brief visit to his country is to find a loved one, Kaveri Amma, and take her back to the US with him, but with time Mohan realises that the village where Kaveri Amma lives needs him and his skills. Swades takes us back to the hinterland and acquaints us with the struggles and little joys of this mundane existence. Given that a majority of India’s population resides in smaller towns and villages, we need more stories of people who actually form the backbone of the country.  


Newton - The Common Man’s Fight For Democracy

If your character's name is Khan, you're probably a terrorist in the film in today's times.
Rajkummar Rao in a still from Newton
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

If you are talking about patriotism, there’s nothing more poignant than a regular government employee trying his best to preserve democracy. The Amit Masurkar film shadows Newton (Rajkummar Rao), who travels to two villages in the Chhattisgarh jungles to conduct a Lok Sabha election. The villages, which comprise of 76 eligible voters, are stuck between the armed conflict between Naxals and the government. Newton wants to infuse democracy and order in the jungles, but as the layers peel he realises how removed he is from the realities of these people and we also discover that he is no hero. 

Unlike other ‘patriotic’ movies, there’s no victory in Newton. Many of us have lost the hope for a fair and just world. There are too many gulfs that need to be bridged, but there are still people like Newton who are clinging on hard, waiting for the tide to turn.

Rang De Basanti - Rebelling For What's Right

If your character's name is Khan, you're probably a terrorist in the film in today's times.

A still from Rang De Basanti.

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's audacious film contended that the system is as corrupt today as it was enslaving in the British era, and freedom will only come if we rise in rebellion. In the fight to do what's right, Mehra does not ask anyone to kneel before Gandhi's altar. In one of the most telling scenes from the film, Mehra takes a stand through Sue, a filmmaker from London who wants to make a documentary on the lives of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ashfaqullah Khan, Durga Vohra and Bismil. She is asked by her bosses to consider filming something on Mahatma, because "Gandhi sells." But she rejects the idea because the need of the honour is not non-violence, it is standing up for what's right. And the youngsters uniting leading the march belong to all religions, unlike a lot of the films we see nowadays, wherein the villain is invariably a kohl-eyed Muslim.


Gunjan Saxena and Raazi - Our War Heroes Are Humans Too 

Though the Kargil War was undoubtedly one of India’s defining moments, we don’t often speak about how the lives of the people who took part in it went beyond just fighting at the border. The Janhvi Kapoor-starrer Gunjan Saxena narrates one such story - that of India’s only female IAF pilot to fight in the war. At one point in the movie, Gunjan questions whether she is a true patriot because she became an Air Force pilot to live her passion of flying aeroplanes.

If your character's name is Khan, you're probably a terrorist in the film in today's times.
Janhvi Kapoor in a still from Gunjan Saxena.
(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

Cutting through the noise of the war, the story became about a little girl’s ambitions and showed how intricately one’s identity is informed by their love for the country.

In Raazi, Sehmat (Alia Bhatt) is sent to Pakistan as an undercover RAW agent. She has to adopt a double life, and while most Bollywood films tend to glorify portrayals of spies Raazi shows the gritty reality. Sehmat realises that every action of hers will have dire consequences. She isn’t unaware of the downside of giving up her whole identity to fight for the country. 

If your character's name is Khan, you're probably a terrorist in the film in today's times.
Alia Bhatt in a still from the movie ‘Raazi’.

The personal struggles and the stories of these two women make the movies all the more real and humane. The films also show that 'true patriotism' doesn't equate with sacrificing one's self for the country, it's also questioning what those sacrifices entail.


Is It Very Important to Demonize Another Nation to Proclaim Love For Our Country?

If your character's name is Khan, you're probably a terrorist in the film in today's times.

Hrithik Roshan in a still from Fighter.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube screengrab)

Fighter joins the long list of movies that are completely overshadowing the genuine love for the country. There was a time when the youth were growing up to songs like 'Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon,' 'Saare Jahaan Se Achchha,' 'Mere Desh Ki Dharti,' 'Yeh Desh Hai Veer Jawaanon Ka.'

Today, it's a grimmer picture. The brand of uber nationalism in films like Gadar 2, Uri,, Baby, Holiday, Fighter is not simple love for the country, it is infused with a superiority complex that mostly comes with hating Pakistan and one-upping China. It's violent, and the decibel of jingoism increases with each passing day. We are already living in a polarized world, is it very important to keep demonizing other nations to proclaim our love for the country?

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Topics:  Swades   Gadar 2 movie   Fighter movie 

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