If 1757 marked the battle of Plassey and 1857 witnessed the first revolution for Indian independence, 1957 too was a milestone in the history of Indian nationalism. It was the year when Mehboob Khan made Mother India. Mother India was soon followed by many sons, one of which was Haqeeqat (1964), directed by Chetan Anand. This was India’s first (and best) war film.
Haqeeqat was a film about Indo-China war and a tale of heroic defeat and martyrdom. No wonder Sunny Deol's role in Border was deeply inspired by his father's exhilarating performance in Haqeeqat.
A film made a year after Haqeeqat, in 1965, started off the nationalist career of Manoj Kumar, the undisputed master of cinematic patriotism. This film was Shaheed, a black-and-white retelling of the Bhagat Singh story, which, 40 years later, inspired Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s 2006 hit, Rang de Basanti.
I will categorize nationalist filmmaking into three loose categories. The first being the anti-colonial nationalist films. Shaheed was Manoj Kumar’s take on anti-colonial deshbhakti. Other films of these category include The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Mangal Pandey, and the recent Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se, among many others.
The second category includes the anti-West films that tried to purge Indians of the permissiveness of the West. Purab aur Paschim (1970) was the defining film here with Saira Bano cast as the foreign-returned Indian girl, and Manoj Kumar playing the anchored, authentically Indian foil. The power of this stereotype can be judged by the faithfulness with which Namaste London updated Purab aur Paschim. Swades and Lagaan vaguely fall into this category.
Finally, there is the anti-Pakistan film. While Upkar was made in the wake of the 1965 war with Pakistan, it isn’t a film powered by anti-Pakistan chauvinism, contrary to popular belief. Manoj Kumar does go to war in the course of the film, but that’s incidental to the story. Interestingly, anti-Pakistan films of India are strictly secular in nature. Be it Gadar, Border, LOC Kargil, Roja, Sarfarosh, A Wednesday or Roja, all the films speak of a greater cause of the nation beyond religion.
If Manoj Kumar is the father of nationalist filmmaking, the two noteworthy uncles are Md. Rafi and A R Rahman. Without their contribution, most patriotic songs we cherish today wouldn't have existed.
All said and done, I don't know why I wrote this article. Maybe I just wanted to pay my gratitude towards the great makers of patriotic cinema whose timeless magic inspires me time and again and helps me connect better with our motherland. Kudos to them and their works!