From 70's subtle war films to 90's more aggressive war films


As we all know, since its advent, the Hindi film medium has developed not only as a mode of entertainment but as an alternative form of chronicle as well. So in all these years, not only it has entertained the masses, but championed the social and political issues of the time as well. And along the way, it has become fairly successful in playing the role of an alert watchman, hollering 'Jagte Raho' in regular intervals. Hence not only during freedom struggle but during India's other wars as well, Hindi films have commemorated India's victories and condemned the enemies of the other side. So down the years, what we have reaped is a rich harvest of patriotic flicks and a treasure of patriotic songs.
In the 1970's, after the many wars between India, China, Pakistan etc, the dishing out of war films continued for a while. But there was also an awakening of Indians living in other countries like the NRI's and films on their love and longing for their country within their hearts. One such film based on NRI's was Purab Aur Paschim (1970). The film starred an actor who has portrayed immense number of patriotic roles, Manoj Kumar, Saira Banu etc. The film deals with the identity crisis that many Non resident Indians were going through and the need to be in touch with their motherland India.

Then there was also the theme of fighting for the underdog, protecting the rights of the downtrodden which was depicted in Dharti (1970). Dharti starred Rajendra Kumar, Waheeda Rahman. The film dealt with a rebellious young man who came to know about a ruler's tyrannical rule over the people. He then abducts the princess and is even ready to sacrifice the life of his own father to help his people to be free from the ruler's oppressive rule. Once more the war theme was visited with Hindustan Ki Kasam (1973) which is a 1973 war movie based on the 1971 Indo Pak war directed by Chetan Anand. Lalkaar (1972) was another war film based on India and a Japanese conflict starring Dharmendra and Mala Sinha. Roti Kapda Aur Makaan (1974): was a Patriotic drama that tackled unemployment and heartless profiteering.

However most of the 1970's films had a subtle streak running through them, they managed to make their point even in war films without directly hurting the sentiments of any other country. The screenplays were absorbing and the stories had valuable and informative content. Performances were worthy of praise and dialogues did not openly condemn others. Songs of patriotic films made after the 1980s brought in soulful music by the likes of A.R. Rahman and Anu Mallik, the simple words by lyricists such as Javed Akhtar and the empowering voices of the likes of Sonu Nigam, Udit Narayan, Alka Yagnik and Kavita Krishnamurthy. Combined they made patriotism and songs blend together beautifully in countless melodies.

But all this soon changed by the time we reached the 90's. Until well into the 1990s, one important film censorship guideline barred the mention of the "enemy nation". Once that long-standing restriction was lifted - again, it wasn't just a stray administrative decision but a cold, calculated political chessboard move - Gadar struck. And now, there is no stopping the you-have-to-hate-Pakistan-if-you-love-India juggernaut.

The dramatic increase in the production of war films is a clear sign that the battle for creative freedom may have been lost. The war, however, remains to be fought.
However in 1990's a new wave came about of openly yelling out who the enemies were, vowing revenge through crude communal dialogues against nations, revenge and more violence. Patriotic films took on a new look with blood, gore and immense action and violence.

Indian cinema began exploring topics that required the explicit portrayal of Pakistan. Henna, released in the year 1991, was the first film to make such a portrayal. Although released during the height of militancy in Kashmir, keeping to the traditions of the past mainstream cinema, Henna did not touch upon any controversial issue. It was a pioneer though in the sense that it introduced the 'other' and openly used the term Pakistan. Usually in the past, even if a reference to Pakistan or China was made, they were always termed as padosi desh (neighbouring country) or as desh ke dushman (enemies of the country).

Towards the mid 1990s, things changed dramatically. Indo-Pak relations became a favourite theme. One of the war films is Border, a 1997 blockbuster Bollywood war film based on the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. J. P. Dutta directed and produced this war epic which stars Sunny Deol, Jackie Shroff, Sunil Shetty, Akshaye Khanna, Pooja Bhatt, Sharbani Mukherjee and Tabu. The movie is an adaptation from real life events that happened at the Battle of Longewala fought in Rajasthan (Western Theatre) during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. It is about how a band of 120 soldiers of the Punjab regiment of the Indian Army headed by Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri successfully defended their post all night against a whole Tank regiment of the Pakistani Army, until assistance came from the Indian Air Force the next morning. The movie won numerous awards including Best Film at the Filmfare awards. Director J.P.Dutta won Best Director at the same award function and father O.P.Dutta, won Best Dialogues.

It was Roja (1992) however, a patriotic love story against the backdrop of Kashmir terrorism that made Ratnam a household name all over India as it was dubbed and released in Hindi and proved to be a huge success all over the country. Bombay, (1995) a love story between a Hindu boy and a Muslim girl against the backdrop of the Bombay riots of 1993, again released nationwide but ran into controversy as the film was released in Bombay only after getting clearance from Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray. Then came Mani Ratnam's next Dil se (1998) supposedly based on the North-East Indian problem. Right from the beginning of Veeru Devgan's Hindustan ki Kasam, (1999) suspect motives are imputed to the actions of the Pakistani army, the most important being revenge against India. Maachis was a 1996 Indian film directed by Gulzar. The film portrays the circumstances surrounding the rise of Sikh insurgency in Punjab in the 1980s.

Thus, there were now scores of Hindi films made on the subject of India Pakistan relations. While some were made on the partition issue, most of them concentrated on militancy in Kashmir or on the border disputes. Also, while some films like Sarfarosh (Betrayer, 1999) portrayed the more human and complicated aspects of Indo-Pak relations, others just cashed on anti-Pakistani sentiments through the average genre techniques of an action or war film. Sarfarosh dealt with an Indian police officer's fight to stop cross-border terrorism. The film was released at the time of the Kargil conflict when tensions between India and Pakistan were high.

Hence one can draw a conclusive analysis how the Hindi film industry known as bollywood has dealt with the concept of patriotic films as the decades have passed. From war films that were poignant and sensitive in the 70's to a more hard hitting brand of war films in the 90's. The decade of 2000's has begun and this trend seems to be carried over.