Bollywood has undertaken a prolonged self-adulatory exercise which leaves little room for debate, absolutely none for peaceful negotiations, says ZIYA US SALAM.
``Bharat Bhagya Vidhata'' kidnap, ransom, and love for the country... a formula that pays.
A WAVE of patriotism is sweeping across Bollywood. And seasoned actors including Sunny Deol, Shatrughan Sinha, Sanjay Dutt, Ajay Devgan and Nagarjuna are lining up to woo the die-hards with their brand of celluloid patriotism.
However, it is no ``I love my India'' campaign at work here. Instead, it is time not just to love your own country, your own people but also to hate others, to beat the living daylights out of the enemies. At least on the silver screen.
For India to be good, others have to be evil, for ``us'' to be virtuous, ``they'' have to be vile. Indeed, Bollywood has undertaken a prolonged self-adulatory exercise, which leaves little room for debate, absolutely none for peaceful negotiations. And plenty for the mythical foot soldiers as perfected by Sunny Deol in films such as ``Gadar: Ek Prem Katha'' and ``Maa Tujhe Salaam'' to cover themselves with glory after three hours of fire-fighting in Kashmir not to mention prancing around the chinar and deodar trees with a semi-clad, dim-wit heroine.
The message obviously being that it is Indian to show off a bit of skin but it is more Indian to peel off the skin of the enemy, as Arbaaz Khan so arrogantly announced in Tinu Verma's recent offering, ``Maa Tujhe Salaam'' ``Dhoodh maango gey to kheer denge, Kashmir maango gey to cheer denge.'' The unabashedly pedestrian dialogue stoked up the embers of patriotism among a section of the audience not intelligent enough to know the difference between steady, unswerving nationalism and ugly jingoism.
All this over-the-top patriotic fare veers dangerously close to xenophobia, elicits loud whistles, louder applause and frequent comments from the frontbenchers seeing a reflection of their thoughts on the big screen. The fabled foreign enemy is no longer anonymous. It is named.
Unabashedly. And it is not Britain or `Angrez ki Hukumat' anymore. The Britishphobia is over, if one ignores the odd ``Lagaan,'' which anyway was not so much a patriotic film but the story of the triumph of a tiny Indian village against the representatives of a mighty empire.
It is time now to tackle and tame Pakistan sending misguided youth with truckloads of RDX and sophisticated weapons as in ``Indian'' or ``Maa Tujhe Salaam'', now training militants and attempting to win over Kashmir, as in Ashok Tyagi's forthcoming ``Bharat Bhagya Vidhata'' and ``LOC'' J.P. Dutta's tribute to the Kargil heroes.
All these attempts to cash in on a heightened sense of nationalism are nothing new. Bollywood producers have always been on the look out to make a killing. A few years ago when India triumphed in Kargil, it probably helped the dream merchants more than Indians practising any other vocation. John Mathew Mathian's ``Sarfarosh,'' which was among the first few films to name Pakistan as an enemy state, was the beneficiary of a tax-free certificate hurriedly announced by the Government, as our jawans were fighting the enemy in Kargil, Drass and other places.
The film, which started with just reasonable collections, became a runaway hit after the tax-free certificate came its way. Kargil, needless to mention, helped. Soon enough there were others, including Mehul Kumar, who had made films like ``Tirangaa'' and ``Krantiveer'' dealing with the subject of nationalism in the domestic scenario.
He hurriedly put together ``Kohraam'' with Amitabh Bachchan and Nana Patekar.
``Yeh Dil Aashiqana''... with a small hijack drama as the backdrop, the returns were assuredly decent.
The film bombed at the box office, as did Ajay Devgan's attempt to capitalise on the patriotic fervour with his own production, ``Hindustan Ki Kasam.'' J. P. Dutta, who had earlier made ``Border'', based on the Battle of Longewala, revived the film at the box office. A little later, Vidhu Vinod Chopra went back to his home State to put together ``Mission Kashmir.''
Now Bollywood producers and directors are hoping, yet again, that the awakened sense of nationalism among us will translate into long queues at the turnstiles. First to take the plunge was Anil Sharma with ``Gadar: Ek Prem Katha.''
Though actually a love story set in the times of Partition, it married love for the nation with love for the beloved. And hatred for others.
The film opened remarkably well, encouraging others to follow suit in the industry characterised by the sheep-flock mentality.
A little later, Sunny Deol's ``Indian'' by N. Maharajan dwarfed Santosh Sivan-Shah Rukh Khan's ``Asoka'' at the box office. The film again only ostensibly tackled the enemy within but had long shots of militants in snow-capped mountains seeking aid from across the border. The parallel was not missed by anyone.
More recently, Sunny completed his trilogy of patriotic films with ``Maa Tujhe Salaam'', which played it safe by having a Muslim as a key fire-fighter with the destructive elements from Pakistan.
This time, the director talked of how gullible youth fall a victim to foreign trap. Around the same time, Kuku Kohli came up with ``Yeh Dil Aashiqana''.
Again, on paper, it was just a love story. But it was set against the backdrop of an Indian Airlines plane's hijack from Kathmandu to Kandahar. The producers made a concession to the audiences by changing the route to Bombay-Pune. Though the hijack drama lasted only a few minutes, the film was sold on that base and managed decent returns in some pockets. And one cannot quite forget Karan Johar's not-so-subtle bid to evoke patriotic sentiments in his family drama, ``Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.''
With no scope to indulge in a vituperative language for the foreign enemy, Johar got a young child to chant the national anthem in England and lo and behold, even the whites were awed!
There is more of the same round the corner. Probably next to hit the silver screen will be Ashok Tyagi's ``Bharat Bhagya Vidhata'' in which Chandrachur Singh plays the militant who kidnaps Home Minister Shatrughan Sinha's wife, Jaya Prada, and asks for a handsome ransom.
The parallel with the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnap drama is hard to miss. And the lines: ``Roti yahan ke khate ho, gun wahan ke gaate ho.'' You earn your living here but your heart beats for the other place are again likely to be a favourite with the frontbenchers.
Following BBV should be Sunil Shetty's ``Ek Hindustani." Again, it is directed by Tinu Anand. Not too far off is J. P. Dutta's ``LOC'', a film with 33 major male characters Sanjay Dutt, Saif Ali Khan and Nagarjuna are among those enacting the roles of Kargil jawans based on the sacrifices of our men in Kargil.
The film has virtually the who's who of Bollywood in it and promises to be a long-drawn out affair.
Then there are others, not big names to reckon with but still in the hunt to grab a few crumbs. There is ``Sarhad'', there is ``Sarhad Paar''. Then there is Ratan Irani's ``Kashmir Hamara Hai'' with Mukul Dev and Mayuri Kango.
Ram Khanna, meanwhile, is readying ``Kargil: The Border'' hoping to pip Dutta to the post. It stars Satnam Kaur who has a following for herself with a string of C-grade bandit flicks.
And yes, there are four films on Bhagat Singh in various stages of production and one on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The Shyam Benegal-directed ``Netaji'' should be ready in about a year to hit the big screen.
However, there is one place where these films fail badly. That is in conveying the message of peace. War and violence primary, love and peace secondary. Anil Sharma's ``Gadar'' was the worst in this regard. The film, set in the disturbing times of Partition, did little to underplay the human trauma and sow afresh the seeds of love.
In all these so-called patriotic films, violence always overpowers reason, peace is attained not through love but through a false sense of bravado. Again as Sunny Deol mouthed in ``Indian'': ``Hum haath milana bhi jaante hain, haath todna bhi''.
The trouble is that the handshake does not come about at all. And the audience is left to watch scenes of haath todna and shooting bullets into the enemy's quarter. Patriotism today means minting money.
For Bollywood producers, it is time to peddle strident jingoism masquerading as pulp patriotism to an audience tired of tearjerkers on the small screen and chocolate boy romances on the big screen. And laugh all the way to the bank.
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