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Who is the Bollywood neo-patriot?
Subhash K Jha
A spate of recent films including the just-released Maa Tujhe Salaam and Bharat Bhagya Vidhaata have converted terrorism into a burning formula. At least two other recent films Indian and Yeh Dil Aashiqana spotlighted villains who seemed inspired by Osama bin Laden.
Specialists say the tendency to formulise the grim problem of militancy could prove a stumbling block in dissolving the Kashmir problem. These films serve as inflammatory calling cards into the neighbouring territory, fanning rather than assuaging religious and geopolitical differences.
But many filmmakers in Mumbai feel it is time to stop playing the peace card when aggressive elements from the country across the border insist on giving peace a go by.
Opinions in the film industry also seem to indicate an attitude of belligerent aggression. While earlier films on the theme of Kashmiri militancy made veiled references to "bagalwale mulk" [neighbouring country] and “border ke us taraf ke dushman” [the enemy across the border] the recent films bend the implicit trend by going the whole extra mile across the Line of Control.
Manoj Kumar's brand of patriotism, where the filmmaker addressed nationalism without simultaneously pointing an accusing finger at external aggressors has quickly made way for a strident brand of nationalism that refuses to adapt a Gandhian attitude to border disputes.
J P Dutta was the first filmmaker in Mumbai to bell the cat. His first war epic Border named Pakistan as the aggressor but ended its war cry with a plaintive plea referring to the neighbouring country as Mere dushman mere bhai [my enemy (is) my brother].
Then came John Matthew Mathan's Sarfarosh that named the ISI (Pakistan's intelligence agency) as the No 1 terrorist organisation operating in India. The Pakistani population in Great Britain took umbrage to the aggressive tone on celluloid.
Border and Sarfarosh sparked off protests among certain sections of Asian viewers who found the film to be anti-Pakistan. When Aamir Khan held staged concerts in Britian and the US after Sarfarosh some sections of the Pakistani audience chose to stay away.
Says J P, "I certainly didn't project anti-Pakistan sentiments in Border. The film was born out of my anguished comprehension of a complicated and tangled relationship between India and Pakistan. We're brothers and yet we're enemies."
Post-Border Dutta created his peace anthem Refugee where he envisioned a metaphorical union of the two countries when the Indian hero married and impregnated the girl from across the border. J P admits that halfway through, Refugee became a victim of mass sentiment in India. Originally conceived as a plea for love on both sides of the border, the film incorporated an Indo-Pak battle sequence in the post-Kargil scenario.
Today J P regrets succumbing to mass expectation in Refugee. The third and most important part of his war trilogy, the underproduction LoC is not about Pakistan-bashing. It looks at Indian soldiers who fought at Kargil with unflinching factuality. J P spent months researching the events that transpired during the Kargil tragedy.
"My film is neither anti-Pakistan nor pro-India. It is about the soldiers in Kargil, their lives and how they lost them in fighting an insanely unequal war." J P doesn't intend to spare us any of the horrific details of the event. In that sense LoC will be the most ambitious, authentic and momentous war epic of Indian cinema.
Though LoC is bound to evoke extremely strong patriotic sentiments J P hasn't devised the project as a flag-waving endeavour. "There was a story to be told about Kargil and I'm here to tell it," he reiterates as he prepares for his second schedule of LoC in Ladakh.
There is no dearth of flag wavers waiting to cash in on the current wave of anti-Pakistan sentiments sweeping across the nation. At least half a dozen films on terrorism in Kashmir are now being designed; and half a dozen more films on the theme are being planned.
Raman Kumar's film about cross-border terrorism Sarhad Paar featuring Sanjay Dutt and Tabu goes on the floors in March. Anil Sharma is planning a project located at the Indo-Pak border with Amitabh Bachchan as a soldier. And Subhash Ghai has just signed on the Chandni Bar director Madhur Bhandarkar to make film on terrorism.
The signs of the times are reflected in the films we make. The neo-patriots of Bollywood are having a blast.
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