By Pranay Dewani Jan. 25, 2020
What does patriotism mean today? Does it lie in adhering to the Constitution? Does it lie in fixing “anti-nationals” with a ticket to Pakistan for differing with the government? This Republic Day we revisit a few films that uphold the idea of democracy and the role we all play in its functioning.
The word patriotism has acquired a whole new definition in these times. It is now limited to wearing it on your sleeve thrice a year, or when India takes on Pakistan on the cricket ground, or when you listen to Lata Mangeshkar’s “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon” on TV sets while watching the Republic Day parade.
But, really, what does patriotism mean? Does it lie in adhering to the Constitution, which turns 71 this year? Does it lie in calling someone “anti national” and fixing them a ticket to Pakistan for differing with the government they elected? Of course, the correct answer is, patriotism means blasting “Suno Gaur Se Duniya Walon” every R-Day and I-Day.
Bollywood has played its part in defining the idea of patriotism. This Republic Day we revisit a few films that uphold the idea of democracy and the role we all play in its functioning.
Rang De Basanti (2006): Fourteen years ago, a film showed us the power of politically aware youth and galvanised an entire generation. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti combined the coming-of-age genre with a healthy dose of patriotism, questioned corruption and heralded the dawn of large-scale peaceful protests in the form of candle-light marches. It helped bolster political discussion and contributed to the creation of a socially responsible netizen. Later that year, the verdict in the Jessica Lal case would be pronounced, thanks in no small measure to the pressure built by the kind of candle-light marches we saw in the film. Can a straight line be drawn between the two? Perhaps.
A few years later in 2011, 72-year-old Gandhian, Anna Hazare from Ralegan Siddhi village in Ahmednagar sat on indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar, demanding a strong anti-corruption law, which eventually led to the passing of the Jan Lokpal Bill in the parliament. As the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act spread across the country, revisit this film to get your fix of patriotism – although, don’t take any cues from the controversial ending.
Where to watch: Netflix
Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (2000): Similar to the gang in Rang De Basanti – who hijack the All India Radio headquarters to broadcast a tirade against corrupt politicians – Shah Rukh Khan’s Ajay Bakshi makes his way into the production control room of the news channel, and gives a speech debunking government propaganda in Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. Released 20 years ago, the Aziz Mirza film showed us how journalists peddle fake news and act as a cog in the wheel of the government’s propaganda machinery. It showed us how the police have always been a pawn in the hands of their political masters and have been used to shut down voices of dissent. It showed us how the public is fooled and turned into bloodthirsty jingoists in the name of patriotism. But that all hope is not lost – that awakened citizens rising against state-sponsored brutality and disinformation, can bring about social change. It is hard not to draw parallels between the film, where Khan waves the Indian flag while facing down a police force ordered to shoot protestors, and the ongoing protests against CAA-NRC.
Where to watch: Netflix, Voot
Rang De Basanti helped bolster political discussion and contributed to the creation of a socially responsible netizen.
Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2005): Centred on the disillusionment with Nehruvian socialism, Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi is a political drama set around 1975’s Emergency. Characters in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi – high-caste and privileged people from Delhi – talk about ideals, oppression, poverty, capitalism and inequality with passion, but their bourgeois-by-birth background is not lost on the audience. It highlights the huge gap between the naïve romanticism of socialist theories and what it can truly achieve on the ground. The film exposes accurately the hypocrisy and double standards of the Left and the limits of intellectual activism.
Where to watch: Netflix, Voot
Party (1984): Adapted by Govind Nihalani and Mahesh Elkunchwar from the latter’s play, Party is a political and social satire set at an evening gathering, hosted to honour celebrated author Diwakar Barve (Manohar Singh), who has just been awarded a prestigious literary award. The affair is being hosted by Damyanti Rane (Vijaya Mehta), a rich ageing widow and a patron of the arts. The film deconstructs the urban elite’s apathy toward society, doing their time by way of small talk. In an age of protest poetry and songs, Party also questions the role art and artists play in bringing about a change in society.
Where to watch: Hotstar