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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Nationalism Soars With ‘The Kashmir Files’

It is said that there are only seven genres of stories on which films could be made. Bharatiya filmmakers too followed that tenet. When television came along, these genres were divided by them. Mythology, crime and social dramas were taken over by television serial makers. Filmmakers keep struggling with the rest — comedy, romance and action.

There is one more genre that makes seasonal appearances on the screen. It is patriotism, which brings to the fore suppressed nationalism. Patriotism stirs up on occasions such as August 15, Independence Day, or on Republic Day, January 26, when Bharat’s culture and military might are on display in New Delhi. People are glued to television and patriotism surges through them. It is as momentous as when an Bharatiya sportsperson wins an international sports event.

Patriotism for Bharatiya people has been a seasonal experience. Before Independence, the fervour was at its peak when Bharatiyas were led against the British Raj by leaders held in high esteem. The Swadeshi and later the Quit India movements had stirred up the masses.

The filmmakers did their bit too. There may have been two reasons. That the filmmakers were as much affected by the fervour for freedom prevailing all around and also because a maker needs to cater to the national mood if his film has to work with people. It had to inspire and fuel the spirit of the freedom struggle.

Going against the public mood is not conducive to a film’s success. Take for example these three films — ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’, ‘The Kashmir Files’ and ‘Bachchan Pandey’. ‘The Kashmir Files’ has stirred up such emotions, created so much anger among the people that the film’s release instantly drove ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ out of circulation. The film was suddenly irrelevant.

One week after the process of ‘The Kashmir Files’ rewriting box-office history came ‘Bachchhan Paandey’, a film starring the reigning super star, Akshay Kumar. There were just not enough cinema screens available for ‘Bachchhan Paandey’ (they had been diverted to ‘The Kashmir Files’), nor the audience that cared for the film enough to wean the audience away from ‘The Kashmir Files’.

Post freedom, since 1947, the feeling of patriotism started waning. The patriotic songs that started blaring from the midnight of August 14/15 have stopped, so has the illumination of city landmarks on January 26. And for filmmakers, it was back to routine films. Family drama, romance, a rare comedy and mythology.

Some films worked, most did not. The season of patriotism was over, and we had no heroic stories to tell. History depicted us as losers. In sports we emerged as losers, be it in cricket, hockey or any other sport. Even our national heroes of the freedom struggle era were not the hero material to make films on. Efforts to make films on just about every leader, be it Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose, Baba Ambedkar, Veer Savarkar, you name it, they all failed to generate veneration or interest in the moviegoer. The one film that worked to an extent was ‘Gandhi’, made by Sir Richard Attenborough. The acceptance was very limited.

The feeling of patriotism was rekindled in the mid-1960s, when the then Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, won a war for Bharat against Pakistan and gave the slogan: Jai Jawaan Jai Kisan. This phase brought back some patriotic feelings. Producer, director and actor Manoj Kumar used the occasion to reignite the same feelings in the public with his film ‘Upkar’.

The film was a runaway hit, oozing patriotism, as it was about a farmer who takes up a gun to join the Army. His other film, ‘Purab Aur Pachhim’, was more about nationalism, advocating the virtues of Bharatiya culture and traditions compared to the western lifestyle adopted by some Bharatiya immigrants.

This phase of renewed patriotism did not last long and the usual romance and social themes were back till, in the mid-1970s, anti-establishment films focusing on the state of the nation ruled for a time. The film industry never bothered to promote either patriotism or nationalism on its own. There were no takers, nor was the public mood conducive to such movies.

In fact, there was nothing happening that would inspire these feelings. All we learnt was how we were subjugated by foreigners. In sports, we only participated in international events with the hope of not losing (winning was never the aim). The 1993 Cricket World Cup was a flash in the pan. We never really celebrated it like we should have.

Things started to look positive as the new century began. But, then, the scene changed totally in the last few years. Nationalism in its truest sense was pervading the masses. The National Anthem being played in cinema halls was no more a routine to bear; now one learnt to respect it. That was a start. Independence Day and Republic Day were now celebrated rather than being merely observed.

From audience responses to films such as ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ and ‘Dangal’, one could see that people loved the heroes who made the nation feel proud, creating occasions to unfurl the Tricolour in the international arena. An otherwise tedious film, ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, and a biopic, ‘Dangal’, both concluded on a note of nationalism and went on to become successful.

Soon, the filmmakers started to weed out heroes from history and sports to make films on. So much so that even the 1983 Cricket World Cup victory also found a backer only now, after nearly 40 years!

This is because, now, the mood is right. People want to appreciate all that is good about Bharat. Also, the history and other stories so far kept away from the public, moreover, are worthy of filming.

We still need a decent film on Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, but who knew that a film on his lesser-known commander, Tanhaji (‘Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior’), would go down so well with the audience! In the last seven-eight years, more than two dozen films have been made and these rekindle nationalism.

Some of them turned out to be successful, notably ‘Kesari’, ‘Airlift’, ‘Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran’, ‘Bhuj: The Pride Of India’, ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’, ‘Raazi’, ‘Shershaah’, ‘Mission Mangal’, ‘Ghazi Attack’, ‘Baby’, ‘Dangal’, ‘Sardar Udham’, ‘Aiyaari’ and ‘Manikarnika’.

Even in sports, we now have stories of winners to share. The film ‘M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story’ worked wonders at the box office, while ‘Dangal’ and ‘Mary Kom’ served the purpose of taking the achievements of these sportspersons to the people of Bharat, the ones who did not care for sports other than cricket. And people learnt to take pride in them.

The fact that the stories of the glories of Bharatiyas have more takers now, that they are appreciated today more than ever before, is obvious. After all, nobody thought of putting on celluloid the story of Bharat’s Cricket World Cup victory in 1983, but in 2021!

Typically, in Bharat, what happens in a particular region matters little to the rest. Take for instance, the Emergency. Except for the North, this had little or no impact on the masses in the rest of the country. Did the 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai really affect life in other parts of Bharat?

The same was the case with what happened in Kashmir in 1988/89 onwards. Whatever was happening in Kashmir was just another incident as far as the rest of Bharat was concerned. Nothing was revealed to people and nothing really mattered.

Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic came as the great unifying force in Bharat. Everybody wanted to survive it and was listening to wiser counsel.

What came next was even more stirring and aroused the anger of the entire population across the country. That is the movie account of the Kashmir genocide in ‘The Kashmir Files’. How the film, which opened with 561 screens, was being shown at nearly 4,000 by the end of the week, finds no parallel in the history of Bharat cinema.

Imagine, in a state like Kerala, where the film was being screened in two shows, the cinemas had to give in to public pressure and extend the screenings to more than 40 screens!

It shows that the people of Bharat have now woken up to the fervour of nationalism and started caring for the country first. ‘The Kashmir Files’ is the climax. Nationalism has been stirred up to an extent that there can be no retreat. No other movie in the future can arouse the sentiments of the people to such an extent.

And ‘The Kashmir Files’ has proved for once and all that there is no medium as powerful as the film medium.

@The Box Office

*The latest Akshay Kumar release, ‘Bachchhan Paandey’ (why complicate a film title to this extent?), comes a cropper as the film fails to take a decent opening on Day One. The collections were below the mark even during the weekend. The Akshay magic did not work. By Monday, the film was withdrawn from many screens and the number of shows curtailed. It just about managed to put together Rs 47 crore in its first week.

*’The Kashmir Files’ continued with its magnificent run at the box office. In a rare box office feat, the film has collected more than double its first week total. It made Rs 110 crore against its first week collection of Rs 97 crore, lifting its two-week tally to Rs 207 crore. The screens increased manifold, but to sustain with so many in the second week is phenomenal.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed with minor edits to conform to Hindu-Post style-guide.)

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