There are films that take a sledge hammer to pummel us with their patriotic fervour and then there are films with brilliant understated moments that creep up on us gently filling our hearts with pride and hope. This piece is about the latter.
Chak De India
“Mujhe states ke naam na sunai dete hai na dikhai dete hai … sirf ek mulk ka naam sunai deta hai I-N-D-I-A.” (I can’t hear or see names of states. I can only hear the name of this nation – India)
The entire theatre burst into applause when Shahukh Khan as the quietly confident coach Kabir Khan admonished his players who made the mistake of introducing themselves by their states. He was not interested in individual state glory. He was looking to build a national team. The comment was as relevant for Kabir Khan’s team then as it is true for the fractious times we live in today. So this coming weekend, set some time aside to watch the sports film that taught us as much about hockey as it did about nation building. Let a sense of pride wash over you as you watch the girls overcome an obstacle course riddled with sexism, red tape and personal insecurities to lift the hockey world cup.
Pakistan and terrorism are recurring themes for Indian filmmakers. But usually it turns out to be more chest thumping than heart warming. One of the few nuanced films that deals with the complexities of India Pakistan relations is Sarfarosh.
Both Ghazal maestro Gulfam Hassan (Naseeruddin Shah) and Inspector Salim (Mukesh Rishi) are byproducts of violent communally charged times. But each responds very differently, primarily because of their support group and individual moral compass. One chooses to define his patriotism by actively fueling an arms war that will kill many innocents while the other overcomes personal setbacks to join the team trying to stop that very arms war. In highly polarised and charged times that the world is witnessing, such a well crafted portrayal of conflicted characters resonates with viewers on all sides of the ideology divide. A perfect film for this weekend.
Aamir Khan’s Lagaan is a cricket film like no other. In a country that worships its cricket stars, it was a masterstroke to use cricket as backdrop for the freedom struggle.
As thrilling as the nail bite finish of the cricket match was, the real draw of this film is how the script cleverly galvanises a bunch of bumbling villagers who’ve never played cricket. Armed with nothing other than his desperation, Bhuvan (Amir Khan) starts his team selection. What follows is pure magic. From an inspired moment of spotting the ball catching ability of a chicken farmer to harnessing the bowling potential of a man with a crippled arm, who is considered an ‘untouchable’ because of his caste – the film makes many socially progressive comments. Getting together a bunch of amateurs to build a winning team is an old cinema trope but Lagaan does it really well. By the end of it all when even the village rebel has a change of heart, you’re rooting for this team of united underdogs ready to lock horns with the might of the British empire. So grab your popcorn, gather your friends and cheer for the team of Lagaan this weekend.
For an entire generation of Indians who had never seen a war, Kargil in 1999 brought home the sobering truth of war. For weeks, India stayed glued to its television sets following the news. We won the war but lost a few brave hearts along the way.
5 years later, the film Lakshya was released and to date remains one of the best tributes to the Indian Armed Forces. Directed by Farhan Akhtar, this coming of age film follows slacker Karan Shergill played by Hrithik Roshan who has no real motive or Lakshya in his life. A series of events leads to his joining the Army and eventually graduating as a soldier. As the Kargil war unfolds he discovers his motivation in life. Without any screechy jingoistic sloganeering, Lakshya manages to showcase with sensitivity the patriotic pride that propels a soldier forward as well as the grim reality of war. Another film that makes one proud and thankful to be an Indian.
The cult classic that most of India grew up on might have been high on laughs but tackled some very serious themes. Released in 1987, sadly the issues that plagued India back then like food adulteration, corruption, terrorism and poverty still remain grave concerns even in 2018.
But the film gives you hope. As the joyous generosity of Anil Kapoor and the innocence of the children makes a believer even out of a jaded journalist like Sridevi, we find our cynicism melting as well. By the end of it all, when Mr India with his superpower of invisibility defeats the man who derives sadistic pleasure in crushing India – we are ALL cheering for a win, no matter how far fetched the premise. This film has a lot of heart and really never gets old. So gather all the kids and watch Mr India, because they don’t make ‘patriotic without propaganda’ films like this anymore.
The story of an NRI moved by a sense of duty towards his nation, Swades had the perfect balance of idealism and reality. As a privileged Indian who’s received the best education and currently works with NASA, Mohan Bhargav played by Shahrukh Khan is never preachy or condescending. Instead he provides solutions, subtly and with great insight. That’s really what this country needs. Enterprising skillful individuals who can provide answers to all the questions that India with its unique cocktail of chaos keeps throwing up. So watch Swades this Independence Day and awaken the dormant idealist in you and hit your office with renewed vigor next week