Filmmakers discuss the hues of patriotism in Hindi cinema….

On Independence Day, filmmakers Rakeysh Omprakash MehraShoojit Sircar and Nikkhil Advani participated in a discussion on the Bombay Times Talk Show about the depiction of patriotism in Hindi cinema. Over the years, Rakeysh has helmed films like Rang De Basanti (2006), Delhi 6 (2009) and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), all of which had uniquely linked events of national and historic importance with an entertaining narrative. Shoojit debuted as a filmmaker with Yahaan (2005), a drama set against the backdrop of Kashmir. He also helmed Madras Cafe (2013), a part-real-part-fictitious account of the disturbance in the Tamil Nadu region at the turn of the 1990s. Nikkhil directed D-Day (2013), a precursor to several films in the future that would talk about bringing India’s Most Wanted terrorist to book. He lso directed Batla House (2019), which was widely appreciated for its balanced narrative of the much-debated Batla House encounter in Delhi.

Patriotism means different things to different people: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
To begin with, it is very sad that a subject like Rang De Basanti remains relevant even today. What inspired me to make that film was my experience while growing up. I can’t define patriotism, because it means different things to different people. It was not patriotism, but something to do with the state, which was the villain in my film. We had had enough, and we had to say something. I wouldn’t call Rang De Basanti a patriotic movie. Patriotic film is a label; a film like Rang De Basanti or Shaheed (1965) works on different levels. A movie is a movie, and it’s a story. Thumping your chest and saying that your film is patriotic, is jingoism. If I had to, I would still make Rang De Basanti today. The struggle to make the film is not important. It’s the voice of the film that matters. Films need to be made when they are not allowed to be made. Thinking that patriotism is winning against someone, defeats the very idea of patriotism. Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Cafe belongs to a voice and to the people; not to any state. That is a true patriotic film. I have never understood defeating another nation as patriotism. Also, when we are making films, we come from a place of responsibility. Let the expression of those who can express prevail. I don’t want any filmmaker to be misunderstood when he talks about freedom of expression; the mention of that leads to a debate. When I was making Rang De Basanti, someone said that we were doing some politically incorrect things in the film. In my naivety, I told the person that filmmaking is not about being politically correct; it’s about being humanely and emotionally correct.

It’s never easy to make films that question the system: Shoojit Sircar
We are all storytellers, and we want to tell stories that compel us. Madras Cafe didn’t release in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia and Canada. It had deferred releases in Singapore and London, because the issue at hand was so sensitive. It was not an easy film to make. It was a true story, but in our country, we are not as democratic with cinema as the West is. We still can’t talk about things that are already in the public domain in one form or the other. It’s never easy to make films that question the system. As filmmakers, we are also responsible individuals and conscious citizens. We are not here just to show some glamour. That part of us is always overlooked by different sections of people. We are conscious of our social reforms and what is happening around us. One has to give it to our rational judgement, too. We are law-abiding individuals. So, even if I talk about freedom to express, it is never absolute. It has its own discipline.When I talk of patriotism, I am interested in the freedom to say what I have to say: Nikkhil Advani
When I was making D-Day, I had to haggle for every rupee. Also, I was not allowed to use the name of the individual, but I got all the threats, and I had to get security. It’s not easy to make such films. Every time that we are thinking of a subject, we have to analyse what we can keep and what we can’t, and what the repercussions could be. Patriotism, to me, is a very personal thing. However, today it is being defined by people who assess it on the basis of what you do or don’t do. Not conforming to certain ideas makes you an anti-national, which is not the way to look at things. Filmmakers are always soft targets, who are constantly reminded about what they have to do or what they can do. When we are talking about something that can polarise public opinion, people have to understand that we do it with even more caution. We think harder on whether we should do it or not and how we should go about it. We’re constantly being told about the repercussions. Eventually, we are here to tell stories, and we do it with absolute responsibility. When I talk of patriotism, I am interested in the freedom to say what I have to say. Not having that, will only drive filmmakers away from narrating difficult, and yet very important stories.

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Do Aankhen Barah Haath
Do Bigha Zamin

Shoojit Sircar
Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne
Do Bigha Zamin
Garm Hava
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro

Nikkhil Advani
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro
Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi

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