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NEW DELHI: Bollywood will test the enduring model of patriotic and nationalist cinema to win audience love as it welcomes viewers to theatres after months of shutdown, a period that also saw it battle multiple allegations of drug abuse and toxicity.

Filmmakers Karan Johar, Ekta Kapoor, Rajkumar Hirani, Rohit Shetty, among others, have announced a spate of projects "to celebrate 75 years of India’s Independence" this Gandhi Jayanti, with Johar also tweeting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about it.

Bhushan Kumar’s T-Series brings out the second instalment of Satyameva Jayate, the first poster of which last month saw lead actor John Abraham baring his chest to reveal the tricolour. After delivering a blockbuster in war drama Uri- The Surgical Strike, Vicky Kaushal will feature both as the eponymous freedom fighter in Sardar Udham Singh and as field marshal Sam Manekshaw while Ajay Devgn and Ronnie Screwvala have announced films on the Galwan Valley clash and the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, respectively.

Media, entertainment, and political experts say this is an important statement on the part of the Hindi film industry that has struggled with a barrage of accusations--from debauchery to denying fair opportunities to outsiders--since the untimely demise of actor Sushant Singh Rajput in June, besides being an attempt at image resurrection and damage control.

“It is a clear statement that these are not frivolous films and an attempt to use the opulence and splendour of nationalist and patriotic themes to connect with the middle class," said political analyst Manisha Priyam, adding that another sense is that the state too has reached out to Bollywood to be able to enter the space of private consumption of culture.

Filmmakers like Johar have never used in their films themes that Gandhi may have identified with, such as simple and ordinary living. But the announcement of these films on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti is an attempt to incorporate them into their narrative now and reach out to a new section of audiences, who may have been disillusioned by the industry thanks to the reports they have read and heard.

Screenwriter Siddharth Singh, known for films like Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, said much of this is a business decision given that patriotic and nationalist films are proven success stories.

Between 2014 and 2019, Bollywood produced 37 films with patriotism and nationalism as the core theme. Of these, 24 gave positive returns on investment, ranging from the 200 crore profit earned by Uri: The Surgical Strike, to the 190 crore collected by Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan in 2015, to the 3 crore and the 4 crore profit earned by spy thriller Naam Shabana and multilingual war film The Ghazi Attack, respectively.

Priyam, in an earlier interview to Mint, had said these films are linked to social and political trends where there is a strong and aggressive opinion, especially among a certain class of people when it comes to nationalism.

“They also work amongst a certain section of audiences because they are hugely spectacular films with great marketing and often controversies attached to them, as in case of a Padmaavat," said critic and documentary maker C.S. Venkiteswaran. The covid interval though has created a huge shift in audiences’ mindsets exposing them to the dynamic narratives of streaming content, from caste politics to violence, he added.

"Those try to create a completely different idea of India and have laid everything bare. So these (overtly patriotic) films may not find as much appeal now," Venkiteswaran said.

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