Pop patriotism: Hindi cinema’s box-office bet : The Tribune India

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Pop patriotism: Hindi cinema’s box-office bet

Pop patriotism: Hindi cinema’s box-office bet

Bade Miyan Chote Miyan

Vinayak Chakravorty

Sidharth Malhotra makes his business clear in ‘Yodha’ with the punchline: “Main rahoon ya na rahoon, desh hamesha rahega (I may or may not exist, but my nation will exist forever).” The assertion comes when an archetypal ‘desh ka dushman’ villain threatens to wipe out the hero, a de-rostered special task force soldier caught in a hijack situation, and his country.

Deepika Padukone in ‘Singham Again’

The Karan Johar-produced film ticks all the boxes for the current trend in Bollywood. A larger-than-life blend of pop patriotism and stylish screen violence is the name of the game right now, played out by action heroes flaunting superhero-level invincibility and belting out explosive dialogues. Importantly, on the Bollywood screen, saving the nation is mostly a man’s job.

Shahid Kapoor in ‘Deva’

Commercial Hindi cinema’s ongoing rediscovery of flag-waving machismo as a money-spinner follows the blockbuster runs of ‘Jawan’, ‘Pathaan’ and ‘Gadar 2’ last year, and tries cashing in on the overall politically-charged mood of an election year. While patriotism as a box-office mantra never went out of vogue, the resurgent wave will see trend-obsessed Bollywood churn out a dozen-odd productions adhering to the genre in the coming months. By a modest estimate, over Rs 1,500 crore is cumulatively at stake.

From now till the end of the year, big action fare celebrating love for the nation includes Ajay Devgn’s return as Inspector Bajirao Singham in ‘Singham Again’ and the mega stunt showcase ‘Bade Miyan Chote Miyan’, starring Akshay Kumar and Tiger Shroff as special-op soldiers protecting the country from a masked madman. Kumar, typically, has more than half-a-dozen releases in 2024, of which ‘Sky Force’, ‘Sarfira’ and ‘The Untold Story of C Sankaran Nair’ are also in the patriotic genre. Kartik Aaryan acts out a single-shot, eight-minute war scene in Kabir Khan’s ‘Chandu Champion’, while Vicky Kaushal, as Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, takes on Akshaye Khanna as Aurangzeb in ‘Chhaava’.

Shahid Kapoor as a heroic cop in ‘Deva’ and John Abraham with his two thrillers, ‘Tehran’ and ‘Vedaa’, promise a heady mix of action and nationalism, too. Randeep Hooda’s new release, ‘Swatantra Veer Savarkar’, which marks the actor’s debut as writer-director, and Avinash Dhyani’s war drama ‘VC 571’ draw from history.

There’s logic behind the sudden rush. Love stories and comedies, Bollywood’s staple winners for long, aren’t hot right now and when cinemas reopened post lockdown, the industry reeled under flops for months. Then, the triple success of ‘Pathaan’, ‘Gadar 2’ and ‘Jawan’ in 2023 showed the way. ‘Jawan’ grossed Rs 1,148.32 crore worldwide and the global collection of ‘Pathaan’ stands at Rs 1,050.3 crore. ‘Gadar 2’ raked in Rs 691.08 crore. Suddenly, the industry had found a saviour in the patriotic hero who lives by big words and bigger brawn. From spy thrillers to cross-border dramas to the crusade against corruption, themes that could accommodate an element of national pride suddenly found ready takers, and from fighter jet stunts to hand-to-hand combat, patriotic plots created scope for box office-friendly action, too.

A sneak peek into some of the upcoming releases confirms that the aggressive tone in action and dialogues will continue. Ali Abbas Zafar’s ‘Bade Miyan Chote Miyan’ is a lavish stunt fest said to be produced at a staggering budget of over Rs 300 crore, and the film’s wordplay promises to be no less dramatic. “Dil se soldier, dimaag se shaitaan hain hum. Bachke rehna humse, Hindustan hain hum,” Akshay and Tiger declare.

Notably, Sunny Deol’s ‘Gadar 2’ and the Hrithik Roshan-Deepika Padukone starrer ‘Fighter’, which opened this year in the Republic Day weekend, underlined that a bit of Pakistan bashing amps the impact. Sample this line that Hrithik Roshan’s IAF fighter pilot delivers while pummelling the terrorist villain in the finale of ‘Fighter’: “PoK ka matlab hai Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Tumne occupy kiya hai, maalik hum hain (PoK means Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. You’ve occupied the area, it belongs to us).” He adds: “Tum jaise terrorists ki wajah se agar hum badtameezi pe utar aaye, toh tumhara har mohalla IoP ban jaayega — India-occupied Pakistan (If we turn uncouth provoked by terrorists as you, every nook and cranny of your country will turn into IoP — India-occupied Pakistan).”

The Aamir Khan-starrer ‘Sarfarosh’ (1999) was the first Hindi film to openly name Pakistan as a seat of cross-border terrorism. Twenty-five years later, Bollywood has learnt to package desh prem with spiffy, new-age thrills. When it comes to storytelling, mothballed melodrama prevails.

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