Bollywood taps political issues to cash in on national sentiment

Nationalist tales have been a hit, with films such as Uri: The Surgical Strike collecting ₹244 crore at the box office.Courtesy: Livemint

NEW DELHI : Less than two weeks after the government scrapped Kashmir’s special status, filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri announced a movie titled The Kashmir Files. It would be about the “genocide of Kashmiri Hindus”.

A couple of days later, actor Vivek Oberoi announced a movie on the Balakot attacks —carried out by the Indian Air Force in Pakistan—and the disputed region of Kashmir.

And come December, Suman Ghosh will direct Viineet Kumar Singh in a comedy drama called Aadhaar —about a man who is the first in his village to get an Aadhaar card.

There appears to be a market in news and current affairs for filmmakers.

“These issues would interest any creative person. There are so many conflicts in our country that are not looked at in cinema or academia,” said Agnihotri, who made The Tashkent Files, on the death of former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri earlier this year, to follow up on Buddha In a Traffic Jam (2016), on intellectual terrorism and corruption.

Bollywood had mostly forgotten to address sociopolitical issues after the Emergency in the 1970s when Kissa Kursi Ka, a satire on the politics of Indira Gandhi, was banned by the government and its prints confiscated. Gulzar’s Aandhi, allegedly based on the life of Gandhi and her relationship with her estranged husband, was also banned during the Emergency.

Now, Bollywood has more than embraced a wave of nationalism. War drama Uri: The Surgical Strike has been a hit with box office takings of ₹244 crore.

In the past five years, Bollywood has produced 37 films with patriotism and nationalism as the core theme, 24 of which made positive returns on investment.

Other nationalist tales such as Raazi (domestic box office collection of ₹122.39 crore) and Kesari ( ₹151.87 crore) have also set cash registers ringing. There were also a string of biopics on politicians such as Manmohan Singh (The Accidental Prime Minister), Bal Thackeray (Thackeray) and N.T. Rama Rao (NTR Kathanayakudu) hitting theatres earlier this year, and Narendra Modi (PM Narendra Modi).

“Filmmakers make films based on the mood of the day and there is no doubt there is an attempt to drive an ideology and agenda around ideas of nationalism and patriotism currently,” film critic Manoj Kumar R. said.

“Earlier we would shy away from chest-thumping. Now we’ve become very aggressive and in-your-face,” Deepak Kumar, vice-president at advertising agency Dentsu Aegis Network, had said in an earlier interview to Mint. This has been especially evident since the Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power.

“The Modi government has used the emotive sensibility of cinema to reach out to the masses. It has realised that films have an impact and are a mass genre of entertainment,” political analyst Manisha Priyam said in an earlier interview.