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“Mera Bharat [Could Be] Mahan”

“Mera Bharat [Could Be] Mahan”

August 15, 2011

10 Bollywood Films that put a twist on traditional patriotism.

There’s nothing like a dose of good ol’ Manoj Kumar and the earthy strains of Mere Desh Ki Dharti to make our hearts swell with Indian pride. But as India itself has transformed drastically since its independence, so too has Bollywood’s way of expressing desi pride. Ultranationalist cinema of the 1960s and 70’s has given way to a more intellectual, introspective attitude in the last 20 years. Films no longer define patriotism by the armed defeat of an external enemy (hi, Pakistan), but more by a willingness to look within the country and overcome our own domestic demons, be it in the form of a love story, political drama, or ideological statement. So while there will always be a special place in our hearts for the Upkar’s; the Shaheed’s; and the Border’s, on this 64th year of independence, here’s to showing our country some love--contemporary Bollywood-ishtyle.

1942: A Love Story - Set during the country’s struggle for independence from British rule, this film, of all others on the list, approaches patriotism in the most original sense. Incorporating a charming “Romeo and Juliet” narrative of sorts into the backdrop of the Quit India movement, 1942 is an appropriately theatrical yet poignant display of romance, sacrifice, and loyalty to one’s nation. Even watching it 18 years later, it’s hard to resist jumping up and cheering when Munna (Raghuvir Yadav) finally gets to spit on the evil General Douglas’ face. Jai Hind!

Pardes - This is the story of a first-generation migrant who hopes that exporting a bride straight from the motherland will instill a sense of tradition in his culturally out-of-touch son. Released at the cusp of the nation’s 50th Independence Day, the film flagrantly warns against scandalous Westernized attitudes that threaten to taint the purity of Indian values: Subhash Ghai is at his melodramatic, flag-waving best here. And who can forget the shamelessly outlandish anthem of the film, “I love my India”?

Lagaan - In 2001, Ashutosh Gowarikar and Aamir Khan’s collaborated genius produced a modern classic: a group of drought-ridden farmers fight off the British Raj’s demand of double taxes, not with weapons but with a wagered game of cricket. It’s a testament to the absorbing screenplay and a spectacular cast that despite the hour-long climax with a fairly obvious outcome, we’re left sweaty-palmed and blinking back tears. What’s more, this brilliantly unique story of sports as a means of warfare inspired a whole new degree of desi pride when it became the first Bollywood movie since Mother India to earn an Oscar nod.

Rang de Basanti - Past and present collide in this spirited tale of revolution and revenge, where four friends, ideologically inspired by historic freedom fighters, take it upon themselves to expose the corruption that plagues Indian politics. Artistic and sensitive, yet intelligent and assertive, RDB places hope for socio-political reform firmly in the hands of India’s youth, waking up an entire generation of potential activists to fuel democratic progress.

Swades - His first post-Lagaan offering, Swades is Ashutosh Gowarikar’s less grandiose, more pensive take on national allegiance. Following an NRI scientist’s journey from Washington D.C. back to his village of Charanpur, the film reminds us to appreciate our roots, and simultaneously, underscores India’s unavoidable need to take responsibility and action for its lagging development in rural areas, be it in terms of infrastructure, poverty, or education.

Chak De India - Another film that uses sports as a rallying mechanism: a down-and-out, former national star-turned-coach transforms a motley crew of hockey hopefuls into contenders for the Women’s World Cup. While the acknowledgment of issues like gender inequality prevents Chak De India from being mere fluff, what truly ignites a sense of triumphant, patriotic exuberance in the audience is the film’s demonstration of the amazing things Indians can accomplish when they unite as a team.

A Wednesday - With unconventional heroes and unexpected twists, A Wednesday conveys an almost angry sort of patriotism, criticizing the complacency of local authorities toward the safety of the Indian people amidst the constant fear of terrorism that dictates their lives today. Naseeruddin Shah is (unsurprisingly) electrifying, especially during a searing monologue at the end which gives voice to the swallowed frustrations of an entire population over at least the last 20 years.

Rajneeti - It doesn’t get any more Indian than a modern-day Mahabarata, which is basically what Rajneeti is, substituting the prominent Pratap family for the Pandavas and the sticky world of politics for the Kurukshetra War. Brimming with themes of deceit, greed, and rivalry, Rajneeti’s patriotism comes not from blindly exalting India’s superiority, but from underscoring the questionable ethics of the nation’s ruling class--the politicians--and condemning the potential of the power-hungry elite to wound the morale of a nation.

Peepli Live - In a celluloid world dominated by item numbers and larger-than-life mansions, Peepli Live is a refreshingly unvarnished spotlight on a more ‘real’ India; poverty-stricken farmer Natha contemplates suicide so his family can receive government compensation and retain their land, while local media and politicians will go to any lengths to turn Natha’s plight into their own profit. Though entertainingly satirical in tone, the film is a clarion call for awareness of an overlooked and mistreated social issue.

Lage Raho Munnabhai - The bumbling but benevolent gangster that we grew to love in Munna Bhai, MBBS returns in this modern-day parable of truth, peace and humanity where, in pursuit of love, Munnabhai poses as a professor of Gandhism. Through his interactions with a hallucinatory version of the Mahatma himself, Munnabhai learns to employ the virtues of nonviolence. A raucous yet sincere reminder of the noble foundations upon which India was essentially reborn, a history lesson has never been this much fun!

What are your favorite contemporary patriotic films? 


  • sree
    23.11.11 08:02 AM
    you guys must have forgotten '1974'.., It's simply best among all!!!
  • hardik
    13.09.11 06:10 PM
    Visha, I agree with you.. Gadar will be remembered forever in Indian cinema
  • visha
    30.08.11 05:49 PM
    Gadar, the legend of Bhagat Singh, and Border are a must! and Upkar too if u include old ones, but these movies selected seem to be only after 1990's
  • Anisha
    16.08.11 07:31 PM
    Sourav and Anirudha: Great additions!
  • Anirudha
    16.08.11 05:59 PM
    Swades is awesome - Lakshya and Yuva are worth a mention as well.
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    16.08.11 11:00 AM
    Would like to add Legend Of Bhagat Singh and Lakshya in the list.
  • Anisha
    16.08.11 05:56 AM
    SumiLove: I agree, both films struck an emotional chord but in completely different ways. Interesting how this new patriotism can simultaneously elicit the entire spectrum of sentiments towards one's country. I'm hoping that the variety of films on this list served as an example of that!
  • Anisha
    16.08.11 05:48 AM
    Vinesh: Border was on the inital list, but when we decided to put a spin on the patriotic theme, it sadly had to be taken off--it and Sarfarosh are both great films though!
  • SumiLove
    16.08.11 02:47 AM
    Swades and A Wednesday really are beautiful films. Though A Wednesday tackles very important issues about domestic security, Swades' reflective nature and its earthy quality continues to charm me more each time I watch it.
  • vinesh
    15.08.11 08:28 AM
    happy independence day! great article and im glad you didnt go with all the traditional, sappy independence day movies ... the other two i would've included are "border" (i know, more on the traditional side) and "sarfarosh" ... lagaan is probably my favorite though!

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