Bollywood, Stop Trying to Make “Nationalism” Happen

After watching over 50 Bollywood movies about the importance of remaining true to my Hindustani identity, I had simply one question – Why?*

TW: Mentions of caste and religion-based discrimination.

I remember it was late August of 2021 when, along with my Bua and cousins, I went to the theaters for the first time in over a year. While I didn’t care much about which movie we were watching (I was psyched by the very idea of going to a theater), I also ended up ignoring the fact that it was Independence Day week (*sighs*). Now screening: Bell Bottom. Our country may overlook the consumption of booze on this dry day but shoving lessons of nationalism down the throats of the cinema audience is a huge must. That week we were also offered Shershaah, an underwhelming retelling of the story of a far better deserving Captain Vikram Batra, and Bujh: The Pride of India, yet another sad attempt to amplify the nation’s glory. Sure, these movies, unlike many of its kind in the past, avoided crude animosity against Pakistan (honestly, shouldn’t Independence Day movies target the British instead?) and didn’t slap you in the face with dialogues of desh bhakti, but constantly rubbing the nation’s greatness into the audience’s face tends to give way to indifference instead (sort of reeks of insecurity also). 

Nationalism in Bollywood has been commonly portrayed since our Independence. Whether it was depicted actively – through movies like Mother India and Lagaan – or more passively – through movies like Kabhi Khush Kabhi Gham or Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge (just rename the movie NRIs India Wapis Aajayenge already) – reminders of patriotism remain persistent. While this trope made sense during the first few decades post Partition – instilling the dream of “unity in diversity” in a newly created nation – somewhere down the line nationalism in Bollywood became a highly rosy portrayal of a much harsher reality. 

On the one hand, we have Chak De! India dwells on the idea of the coming together of players from India’s many states despite their differences, while on the other we have Mary Kom which takes the story of a powerful young woman (who, by the way, is already receiving a highly stereotypical representation) and brings it down to the story of a mother who wishes to fight for its country (yet another flawed depiction). Countering these sports narratives we have Mukkabaaz and Toofan tackling individual issues of caste and religion in the making of a sportsman in India as opposed to “Bharatdriven” ambitions.

After watching over 50 movies about the importance of remaining true to my Hindustani identity, I had simply one question – Why? Look around you. We live in a country where North Easterns are called “Chinki” and students from the South are accused of “stealing” seats; where Muslims are commonly denied accommodation in Hindu areas and the “lower” castes are still alienated, if not harassed; where cows are worshipped as Gods but students are beaten up for speaking their minds. So, dear Bollywood, it has been 72 years since we were awarded our Constitution, perhaps more than a reminder of our nationality, we need a reminder of our rights (Thank you, Hansal Mehta, I shall always remember Article 21 of our Constitution).

*This article was originally published in our Republic Day Themed Issue – Volume 15| Issue 14. 
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Aditi Gutgutia

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If you're looking for discussions on cinema, music, literature or pan-Asian food (or any food tbh)... Aditi will probably avoid your phone call but won't stop talking if you meet her in person.