By Vinod Mirani
In an earlier column, NDA 2.0: Time filmmakers branched out, dated May 26, 2019, I had suggested that the industry rode on the prevailing nationalism and patriotic fervour under NDA rule. Most of the time, it worked. That was the time to tell the stories about our heroes in various fields like sports, army and so on. Films on war or, otherwise, the stories based on social issues. Like Padman, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, aptly supported by star power, found takers.
The films which worked so far on patriotism aka nationalism in the past few years have mainly been inspired based on real life events such as Pokhran nuclear tests, Raazi, the Uri surgical strikes etc. Some, like Madras Café, Tiger Zinda Hai, Sultan and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, were even made from concocted stories. But, then, the scripts were so woven that most of the time they were either as inspiring as or even more than the real life stories they were based on.
One, to deserve a special mention was Aamir Khan’s Dangal, which touched the chords of the viewer due to a touch of genius as Khan, closeted in a room away from the wrestling arena, learns of his ward’s victory when the Indian national anthem plays! He is an actor and his surge of emotions was there on the screen for all to see. But, the way it touched the hearts of the audience reflected on the box office when the film went on to collect Rs 390 crore in the domestic theatrical market.
Coming back to why the filmmakers should change tack now, the reason is obvious. Lacking a real hero’s story to tell, yet the makers took it as a trend that was working. Even producers with better sense like Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra made an irrelevant film like My Dear Prime Minister. As if such a title was a guarantee for footfalls! Patriotism was forcibly injected into a script. Now, patriotism is something that can’t be artificial. Bharat, the latest Salman Khan film, is the prime example of why forced patriotism can’t and won’t work.
To start with, Bharat is a strong title and just the mention brings back the memories of Manoj Kumar who played the patriotic lead character of Bharat in Upkar (1967) and went on to immortalize it with films that followed, Purab Aur Pachhim, Roti Kapada Aur Makaan, Kranti (1970, 1974, 1981, respectively) all major hits; and finally put Bharat to bed with a disastrous film, Clerk (1989).
However, the legacy of Manoj Kumar’s Bharat still lives. Too big for any star or even a superstar to break into. The other major mistake is that the makers have picked an original Korean film, Ode To My Father (2014), about a father and son separated during a war between North and South Korea and the son is saddled by the responsibility of his two kin till his father joins them. The story spans 1950 onwards. In Korea, the theme still bears relevance since, despite differing political ideologies, both the countries share the same culture, language and other beliefs and still hope that the two parts of the same country will unite.
In Bharat, the same story of a father, Jackie Shroff, handing over the responsibility of his children to the older son, Salman Khan, during India Pakistan partition, himself staying back to look for a lost daughter before he can join the family in India, does not bear the same relevance. Now, you can’t pick a foreign film and wrap Indian patriotism around it! And, where is the patriotism? In the bursting out into the National Anthem? For, this is a film what we called a family social. As in Ode To My Father, so in Bharat, the son is merely asked to look after the kin. Nothing to do with the nation or, to one day, aspire to unfurl the National Flag from the ramparts of the Red Fort! Neither Indian nor their counterpart Pakistan are known to nurse any dreams of both the countries reuniting. Generally, the
people from both sides are free to visit relatives. So, what is this hackneyed recycling Korean idea of patriotism?
This year, on Eid, Salman Khan completes a hat trick of disappointing his fans. The year before, Eid 2018, Salman Khan came up with Race 3 and, a year earlier, on Eid 2017, he tried to pack another convoluted foreign film in the name of patriotism in Tubelight. The film was a lift from the 1915 Hollywood film, Little Boy, about a young lad who wills to bring his father back from the Second World War on the strength of his faith. Now, Salman can’t be a little boy! So, what does he do? He plays an imbecile who is determined to bring his brother back from the 1962 Indo China War!!
One thing that our filmmakers need to know for sure is that neither the Indo China War nor the India Pakistan partition ignite patriotism of any kind among Indians. They are irrelevant. So what is the new trend in patriotism? An aam aadmi living through his life bearing witness to all that happens around him in this vast country, Bharat? And, remains an aam aadmi all his life? What is so inspiring or heroic about it!
Aamir Khan’s next, Lal Singh Chaddha, is reported to be the remake of the 1994 Hollywood classic, Tom Hank’s Forrest Gump. Too early to speculate on that for Aamir Khan is known to spring surprises. Talking of calling it the end of the road for the nationalistic and patriotic themes, the present indicators also seem to suggest the end of the much touted Khan Era. Shah Rukh Khan has been delivering flop after another flop with Fan, Dear Zindagi, Raees, Jab Harry Met Sejal and Zero over the last four years sans a single hit. And, Salman Khan has decided to count on Sanjay Leela Bhansali and the youth favourite, Alia Bhatt, to deliver a hit with Inshaallah, come Eid 2020!
@The Box Office
*The year started with some small films making it big. Big releases avoided the tacky season of exams and the IPL. Come Eid 2019, and it was time for Salman Khan to take his slot. He did, with Bharat with a midweek release on Wednesday, June 5. With solo run at about 4,200 screens, Bharat scored Rs 41 crore against the opening day expectations of Rs 45 crore looking at his previous records.
Considering the near unanimous word of mouth post release, the film should have remained within Rs 25 crore on day two. However, it is said to have touched Rs 30 crore. (The collection figures of all such major films are issued from one source, the production office; take it or leave it.) But, when it comes to appreciating a film, public is the master and that is what counts for that is something that can’t be manipulated.
*De De Payar De has had a decent third week of about Rs 11 crore taking its three week total to Rs 88.5 crore.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst)