The changing face of the patriotic Bollywood hero
New Delhi: In his annual Independence Day outing, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, which released last Friday, Akshay Kumar took on the sanitation crisis in India, opposing the long prevalent practice of open defecation with characteristic ease. Kumar, who has gradually come to espouse social causes in his films, is the newest face of the patriotic Bollywood hero who has gone from conventional to cool over the years. A look at the changing times and trends.
Manoj Kumar: Referred to as “Bharat Kumar”, the ultimate son of the soil, Kumar became the torchbearer of nationalistic themes in the 1960s and ’70s. His undying love for India and all things and people Indian are best remembered in films like Shaheed (1965), a biopic on Independence revolutionary Bhagat Singh, his directorial debut Upkar (1967), besides Purab Aur Paschim (1970), Be-Imaan (172), Shor (1972), Roti Kapda Aur Makaan (1974) and Kranti (1981). More than 40 years later, he’s still synonymous with a certain calling for one’s motherland.
Aamir Khan: Best known for his occasional outing at the movies that redefine box office success, Khan has gone from playing the committed cop (Baazi, Sarfarosh) to pre-Independence historical characters (Lagaan, Mangal Pandey: The Rising) to the most urbane take there has been on patriotism, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti (2006). Khan and his co-actors in Rang De Basanti brought citizen activism and vigilantism to the fore, establishing a lot of ground for the current scenario that encourages commoners to express dissent. His sports drama, Dangal, is the most recent milestone.
Shah Rukh Khan: The journey for Khan began with his own production, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (2000), a satirical take on corruption and co-mingling of media and politics. He took it a step further with Ashutosh Gowariker’s Swades and Yash Chopra’s Veer Zaara, both released in 2004 and finding their audience even years later. The peak, of course, remains Shmit Amin’s Chak De! India (2007), India’s favourite sports film that saw Khan play possibly his last memorable role, as the coach of the Indian women’s hockey team, a Muslim forced by circumstances to prove his love for the country.
Ajay Devgn: In the early 2000s, Devgn played a series of fiercely patriotic characters, beginning with Rajkumar Santoshi’s The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002), which won him a National Award, and going on to films like Gangaajal (2003), Zameen (2003), LOC: Kargil (2003), Yuva (2004), Tango Charlie (2005), Rajneeti (2010) and Singham (2011). A more contemporary version of the angry young man, his love for the country was mostly manifest through action potboilers.
Akshay Kumar: The latest face of the conscientious Indian, Kumar first took on the mantle with Vipul Shah’s 2007 romantic drama-comedy Namastey London, playing a rustic Punjabi husband to Katrina Kaif’s London-bred wife. More recently, his thrillers like Gabbar Is Back, Baby, Airlift and Rustom have made him the poster boy of nationalistic pride and commitment. With Toilet already in theatres, he looks forward to the release of R. Balki’s Padman, based on the life and work of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who came up with a low-cost sanitary napkin and attempted to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene in rural India, and Gold, a sports drama on the historic first Olympic medal that India won as a free nation.
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