There are no fresh ideas and, hence, no worthy scripts. Hindi filmmakers depend a lot on copying Hollywood films, South American films, and, when it comes to the so called intellectuals, untraditional market film. Untraditional means rest of the world save for UK, the US and Canada, Middle East.
Patriotic films and nationalism have been periodic with the Indian audience. Usually, these themes never become trends. One of the first war films I watched was Chetan Anand’s ‘Haqeeqat’. Dedicated to the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, it was about the India China war of the 1962 and was exempted from paying the entertainment tax. But, the story was a mix of a love story between Dharmendra and a Ladakhi girl played by Priyanka Rajvansh. The film was inspiring and had a great star cast to support with stalwarts like Jayant, Balraj Sahni, Sanjay Khan, Vijay Anand, Sudhir and Bhupinder the singer, then unknown.
The film had one of the most memorable musical scores by Madan Mohan with lyrics by Kaifi Azmi (one of the best on writing patriotically relevant words) but, it showed the Indian army men as ill-equipped and helpless and the film flopped. Haqeeqat flopped because there was nothing to celebrate about the said war. Also, our audience does not like sad endings. India was humiliated in the war and, as far as the love story in the film was concerned, both the protagonists, Dharmendra and Priya Rajvansh, die in the end. Now, that is not what works with the audience. For them, the cinema is all about entertainment and positivity and, if it has to be about India, it can’t be about the loser India!
Sadly, that is what our history has been all along. Hence, patriotic films don’t work in India. The closest we come to that is films on Nationalism. But, for that, we need success stories. Nobody would pay to watch a film about a loser. (Same applies to a routine, non-patriotic films.)
So far, our films had only a passing phase of Nationalism, little, if at all, of patriotic films. One actor filmmaker who made a success out of this theme was Manoj Kumar. Inspired by Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan, post 1965 Indo Pakistan war, of Jai Jawan Jai Kisan he produced the patriotic film, ‘Upkar’. The film was a blockbuster. Manoj Kumar stuck to his formula and produced films like ‘Purab Pachhim’, ‘Roti Kapada Aur Makaan’ and ‘Kranti’, which were about anti-establishment themes reflecting the powers that be with an undercurrent of Nationalism.
Patriotism and Nationalism went for a toss thereafter for a long time till J. P. Dutta’s film, ‘Border’ (1997) which went on to become a hit. Dutta followed it up with ‘LOC: Kargil’ (2003) and ‘Paltan’ (2018) and both bombed. I remember watching a great film with a stalwart Prithviraj Kapoor playing the king Poras in ‘Sikandar-e-Azam’ (1965). The film is remembered for a dialogue: it was the reply that Poras, the great Indian king, gave when asked by Sikandar how he would like to be treated having lost the war. Poras replied, “As one king would address another king.” This did not help the film much, though. Again, the film had a great musical score by Hansraj Behl. Poras did not win the war but his attitude immortalised him. With Dara Singh and Mumtaz in the lead, it was rated as a B grade film.
Manoj Kumar was the one who realised that not patriotism but the nationalism would work though he was the force behind the 1965 patriotic film on the life of Bhagat Singh. The film was a huge hit. Probably, the fervour of independence still prevailed because, when made again by three filmmakers simultaneously in 2002 as ‘The Legend Of Bhagat Singh’ (Ajay Devgn), ’23rd March, 1931: Shaheed’ (Bobby Deol) and ‘Shaheed E Azam’ (Sonu Sood) all failed badly!
Nobody was trying patriotism or nationalism since there were no stories of glory to tell if one discounted fictional accounts like ‘Lagaan’, ‘Ek Tha Tiger’, ‘A Soldier Is Never Off Duty’, ‘Baby’ or ‘D Day’. (D Day was a well penned taut story about RAW agents kidnapping Dawood Ibrahim from Karachi, but failed badly as the idea was found to be implausible!)
What kind of films work and, mainly, find identification with the audience depends hugely on the national mood. For, films, after all, reflect real life. India is on the go, tasting success in various fields in the international arena, be it cricket, athletics, badminton and other sports as well as on the borders.
We are no more the underdogs. We don’t just participate, we win. And, that gives impetus for a new kind of movie themes, inspirational as well as nationalistic. If it is a success story, it works. And, the best example is this movie, ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ (2012), a never-before heard of an armyman-cum-athlete winning at the National Games many times.
Soon, more such stories followed for each had a success story to tell. For a biopic film to be successful one needs a success story. For example, John Abraham’s ‘Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran’ worked but ‘Madras Café’, a film about Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination failed. There seemed to be no empathy with ‘Madras Café’ while ‘Pokhran’ made for a proud moment in the history of India. Now, the list of biopics and successful individuals inspired films is long. And, most of them have been accepted well by the moviegoer. The feel good factor always works with the audience and, so far, it came in the form of musical love stories or comedies. But, there can’t be a feel good factor more than the success story of a fellow Indian, a not so common phenomena till recently.
‘M. S. Dhoni: The Untold Story’ in 2016 set the ball rolling. The other such films to work at the box office were ‘Airlift’, ‘Neerja’, ‘Mary Kom’, ‘Dangal’, ‘The Ghazi Attack’ (a great film but did not work), ‘Raazi’, ‘Pad Man’, ‘Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran’, ‘Sanju’, ‘Gold’, ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’, ‘Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi’and ‘Accidental Prime Minister’.
There was also a film based on the life of Milkha Singh, ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ (2013).Though Singh had not been able to win any contests internationally, his going to Pakistan where he outruns the Pakistani champ, worked for this, otherwise, tiring watch.
However, not all biopics inspire. ‘Sachin: A Billion Dreams’ did not because it was more like a documentary grossly indulging in self-pity. Like the Dhoni film this one too required some dramatization.
The film on Mohammad Azharuddin, Azhar, too failed. The latest biopic, Thackeray lacked the universal appeal as the protagonist following limited to Maharashtra where it has done okay. Anna, the film on Anna Hazare could not even go through its opening show! The other such films which failed to draw viewers were ‘Sarabjit’, ‘Shahid’, ‘Rang Rasiya’, ‘Aligarh’, ‘Manjhi The Mountain Man’, ‘Budhia Singh’, ‘Gour Hari Dastaan’. May be the makers found the subjects inspiring, the moviegoer did not!
Talking of biopics, one wonders how a filmmaker chooses negative characters’ tales and try to glorify them! The logic behind making ‘Raees’ (on the life of Gujarat criminal Latif), ‘Haseena’ (on Dawood’s Ibrahim’s sister), ‘Main Aur Charles’ (on Charles Shobraj), ‘Daddy’ (on Arun Gawli), ‘Veerappan (the sandalwood smuggler from Karnataka), ‘Raman Raghav’ (the Mumbai serial killer) to name a few. Some maker may have thought ‘biopic’ was a magic word!
Playing of the National Anthem works and it is being used often now. The recent films were ‘Gold’ and ‘Dangal’. In ‘Dangal’ it was beautifully woven in to the film’s narration. Just about every star is on the inspiring biopic and nationalism trip (fiction included) which include Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Salman Khan, with newer actors joining in.
@ The Box Office
* ‘Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi’, rides mainly on the shoulders of Kangana Ranaut, who plays the historical title character and took over the direction of the film midway. The film had a mixed response from the audience besides being burdened with a huge budget of about Rs 115 crore. However, Zee being involved with the production of the film, a chunk of the burden may be passed on to the film’s satellite rights.
The film had a tepid opening at the box office but went on to consolidate on Saturday and Sunday to rake in Rs 40 crore for the opening weekend. The film held on reasonably well on rest of the days of the week by adding about Rs 17 crore to take its first week tally to about Rs 57 crore.
* ‘Thackeray’, a film based on the life of Maharashtra political leader and the founder of the political party, Shiv Sena, Balasaheb Thackeray, carried a limited appeal in parts of Maharashtra only because of which the film was also made in a Marathi language version.
The film has collected about Rs 24 crore, both versions combined. Considering the cost factor, which is modest, the figures are good.
* ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ rules the box office even in its third week. The film collected a massive Rs 35-crore plus with which its three week total is now close to 170 crore.
* ‘Why Cheat India’ and ‘Rangeela Raja’ fail badly.
(The writer is a veteran film writer and box office analyst)