It is the month of August and the bittersweet memories of India’s Partition are lingering in the air. From steaming tricolour dhoklas being laid out for breakfast to little children waking up at 7 AM to attend the flag-hoisting event at their respective schools, 15th August looks different on almost everyone. But the collective feeling of patriotism and belonging, of sharing a severed past, of waking up to the annual Independence Day Parade—even if it’s only to catch a fleeting glimpse of it, is what brings us all together, year after year.
Whether it’s S. Ram Sharma’s Shaheed or Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti, Indian filmmakers have tried time and again to capture India’s freedom struggle, to bring this feeling of belonging, of the motherland and ‘patriotism’ to the big screen. But to portray something as diverse and abstract is no easy task, especially because the definition of patriotism, of what invokes, this sense of belonging varies not just from person to person, but has also evolved over time.
So as we complete 73 years of Indian independence, let us look back on films that have attempted to decipher the innumerable facets of India’s freedom struggle; the cinematic legacy left behind for us to make sense of.
I. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013)
Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, this film focuses on two narratives of the same man, Milkha Singh who was an Indian Olympian. One is his path to winning various prestigious races across the globe, which also earned him the title, ‘The Flying Sikh’. The second facet of this film that makes it so remarkable is Milkha Singh’s experience during the India-Pakistan partition— his family was torn apart in the process, and a few members lost their lives too. All his struggles shaped him into the man that went on to put his country on the map, and also made his family proud.
II. Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl (2020)
The recent Jahnvi Kapoor-starrer not only boasts of the Indian Air Force, but also an Indian woman’s grit and resilience to contribute to her country and its safety. Directed by Sharan Sharma, the film is based India’s first female combat pilot and her journey against all the obstacles thrown at her which are mainly to do with her gender. ‘The Kargil Girl’ as she was called, flew into combat during the Kargil War and performed like a true fighter. This film will fill you with pride and tears, both.
III. Lagaan (2001)
Set in a small Indian village during the British Raj, Lagaan is a film made in honour of all the little freedom struggles that contributed to the country-wide movement leading up to 1947. Troubled by the exorbitant taxes imposed by the colonial authorities, the villagers find themselves in a surprising situation when they’re challenged by an arrogant British officer to a game of cricket as a wager to avoid the taxes. What follows is a heartwarming tale of struggle and perseverance as the villagers attempt to learn a foreign sport. Directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar with Aamir Khan playing the lead role, no matter how many times we watch it, this film is bound to leave you welling up with happiness and an uncanny love for your home soil. Lagaan also has some really fascinating behind-the-scenes footage compiled to make Chale Chalo: The Lunacy of Film Making.
IV. Khamosh Paani (2003)
Kirron Kher stars in this film as Ayesha, along with Aamir Malik as her son, Saleem in a post-independence setting in the 1970s. When Saleem is influenced by radical thinkers and begins thinking of violence as a means for peace, his mother is deeply disturbed. Many times, this film may be perceived as Saleem’s transformation into a radical thinker, but his mother’s reactions, coping mechanisms and efforts to bring her old son back are equally as important.
V. Purab Aur Paschim (1970)
Manoj Kumar plays the role of a freedom fighter’s son, Bharat in this film that he directed himself. When he moves to Britain to study, it dawns on him that Indians opt to let go of their Indian identities and give up their culture to fit into a British mindset and surrounding. He falls in love with and Indian who herself refuses to move back to India, but is convinced once she visits the country. The movie does a lot to give out the message that losing one’s Indian-ness to fit in a foreign land is not the way to go and reveling in it should be the obvious choice.
VI. I Am Twenty (1967)
This documentary stands out for how relevant it is even today. Made by SNS Sastry, I Am Twenty takes you through the vision, aspirations, and dreams of twenty-year-olds who were born in 1947 – the year India got independence. A sweet 19-minute documentary that perfectly captures the charms of belonging to an adolescent nation, I Am Twenty is a fascinating watch, especially for the modern-day viewer. The film was initially commissioned by the state-run Films Division.
VII. Bharati (2000)
A true account of the life of Subramania Bharati—a Tamil poet and revolutionary who struggled heroically for India’s freedom, Bharati is a biopic starring Sayaji Shinde, Devayani and Nizhalgal Ravi. Directed by Gnana Rajasekaran, this film pays tribute to one of the many South Indian freedom fighters who were an integral part of India’s independence movement. Bharati also won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film.
VIII. Gandhi (1982)
For many of us, it is Ben Kingsley’s phenomenal performance as Mahatma Gandhi that truly gave life to the bald and lanky icon of nonviolence who featured abundantly in all our school history textbooks. A British-Indian co-production released in 1982, Gandhi is the story of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the man who led India’s freedom struggle. From being thrown off a ‘whites only’ train in Africa to the day he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, the film is a profound depiction of various aspects of Gandhi’s life. It is particularly inspiring to see a very real, human side to Gandhi, as opposed to the saintly version we normally come across. It was directed by Richard Attenborough and won several Academy Awards.
IX. Swades (2004)
This is a film that challenges the mainstream notion of patriotism that is smeared with bloodshed and violent sacrifice. Directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar, Swades is the story of Mohan (played by Shahrukh Khan), a NASA scientist, who decides to go back home to India and electrify a small village in Uttar Pradesh. A heartwarming film that will leave you with a sense of belonging for your own motherland (tell us you didn’t tear up when the old lady looks up at the bulb and says “bijli”), this films also serves as a reminder of everything that India is yet to achieve despite 70+ years of being an independent country.
X. Chak De! India (2007)
Shimit Amin’s Chak De! India is a story of underdogs in a game that is largely neglected by Indians—Hockey. Starring Shahrukh Khan as the coach of India’s first women’s hockey team, this film is a guaranteed tear-jerker. With 16 girls and a coach, Chak De! India does a fantastic job of evoking sentiments of patriotism, love, and teamwork. Exploring themes like feminism, sexism, and religious bigotry, the film is an accurate representation of a post-independent India where we are yet to move on from the tragedies of 1947.
XI. Jhansi Ki Rani
The timeless legacy of the Queen of Jhansi was given the recognition is deserves in 1953 thorugh this film directed by Sohrab Modi. Her fearless endeavors against the British army emphasised the desperation to break free of their rule, in addition to a woman’s bravery to be able to take charge at a time when women were still finding their place in society. Rani Lakshmibai’s account of pre-Independence situations are brought to the fore through this film, which at the time was one of the costliest films ever made.
Feature Image Courtesy: Cinenews
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