NEW DELHI :
War, the action drama offering from Yash Raj Films, is already on its way to one of the highest box office figures of all time for a Hindi film with ₹158 crore in its opening weekend alone.
However, high as the movie may be on guns, gloss and glamour, at its heart it remains a story of nationalistic pride and duty with two secret agents as protagonists. This, film experts will tell you, is slowly emerging as Bollywood’s favourite formula.
In the past five years, Bollywood has produced 37 films with patriotism and nationalism as the core theme. Of these, 24 have made positive returns on investment—ranging from the ₹200 crore profit earned by this year’s war epic Uri: The Surgical Strike, to the ₹190 crore notched up 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. Unsurprisingly, Akshay Kumar tops the list of actors featuring in these films, with seven lead roles and one special appearance in these five years. John Abraham and Salman Khan follow, with four films each. “Films around nationalism were made earlier too but they were mostly anti-British tales, whereas contemporary stories focus more on a chest-thumping sense of pride and superiority seeping into the country about our identity," said Jagan Shakti, director of Mission Mangal, that had made ₹192.73 crore at last count.
Raja Krishna Menon, director of Akshay Kumar-starrer Airlift, agreed films follow social trends and there has definitely been an attempt lately to tell stories of valour and greatness originating in the country that make us feel good about ourselves. Further, filmmakers and actors have been drawn to highlighting some of these success stories. “We are beginning to own and celebrate our national identity," Menon said. Older films had a one-point agenda, that of standing up against the neighbouring country Pakistan, said Shakti.
However, the narratives have now shifted to achievers within the country itself who put us on the global map. Mission Mangal, for example, is the story of the Indian Space Research Organization scientists who led the 2013 Mars mission.
“Of course, older governments have also opened vistas to these things but I don’t think we’ve had as popular a Prime Minister (as Narendra Modi) in the past two or three decades who made sure you couldn’t discount India in any way," Shakti said.
Other experts also point to the link between contemporary patriotic films and the Modi reign. “These films are definitely 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. The Modi government has used the emotive sensibility of cinema to reach out to masses," said political analyst Manisha Priyam.
Films have tremendous impact on society. The idea that the nation is important plays out perfectly through films such as Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
The plot, which revolves around a golden-hearted Indian taking a mute Pakistani child home, mirrors what the government was doing in real-life incidents such as that of Geeta, the deaf and mute Indian girl who was brought back to India by then external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Priyam said.
Trade analyst Taran Adarsh emphasized that several of these films have fed off each other’s success. “It’s a combination of capitalizing on public sentiment and what’s working at the box office. So it’s a win-win for producers who want to make these films and are getting the support of audiences," Adarsh said. However, given the volume of such stories, it is possible for Bollywood to be nearing a saturation point with the patriotic genre soon.