Nationalism In A Theatre Near You…

31 Jan,2020

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Since the last year, the month of January has emerged as a month of usual blockbusters for Hindi cinema. In 2019, Uri – The Surgical Strike released in January, and went on to do exceptional business at the box office well into February, eventually doing net (post-tax) domestic ticket sales of almost Rs 250 crore. It was also the most-liked Hindi film of the decade (2010-19) with an Ormax WOM (Word-of-Mouth) score of 86, ahead of Bahubali 2’s Hindi dubbed version by one point.

 

This year, Tanhaji – The Unsung Warrior, released in the second week of the month like Uri, has struck gold. The film marches on in its fourth week that starts today, and will comfortably cross the Rs 250 crore mark. Ajay Devgn is an established star over three decades, but this is by far his biggest success, overtaking Golmaal Again (2017) comfortably, despite the latter having the advantage of a franchise backing and a lucrative Diwali release.

 

The second week of January may emerge as a hot date for new releases because of these back-to-back successes, but you don’t need to be a fancy analyst to decipher that there is a lot more in common between Uri and Tanhaji than just their release dates. Both the films evidently, and unabashedly, cash in on a nationalistic fervor that is an integral part of the political narrative of the country over the last few years. And both are inspired by true stories, though both take ample ‘creative liberties’ to mend the true story in question to suit the nationalistic sentiment they are trying to stir up.

 

The films in question themselves are very watchable. Uri’s last hour is particularly gripping, and its handling of action sequences, especially in the sound department, broke new grounds in Hindi cinema. I found Tanhaji very cinematic, and in certain scenes, the Bahubali-inspired imagination of the makers was on good display. Both had to be good films to do the business they did.

 

The question, however, is: How over-indexed is this business because of the political climate of the country? Would Uri have been an equal success in an earlier political regime, where Modi was not helming affairs? Would Tanhaji have gone on to do so well if national and regional pride were not on the top of the political agenda of BJP and Shiv Sena respectively?

 

The films, especially Tanhaji, systematically incorporate the nationalist sentiment in their writing. I started counting the mentions of the word ‘bhagwa’ (saffron) in Tanhaji, and lost count somewhere around 12. The distortion of actual facts in the film’s story further propagates this agenda, along with building the lead character’s machismo.

 

While quantifying the exact box-office surplus that these films gained from their political leaning may need more research than is currently available, the qualitative impact is there for everyone to see. And why only these two films? The Accidental Prime Minister, an unabashed mockery of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s tenure as a PM, opened at about Rs 3.5 crore last year, despite no star value to boot and a release clashing with Uri. The Tashkent Files, which implies, and in no uncertain terms, that the Congress was behind the ‘killing’ of Lal Bahadur Shastri, opened low but went on to do fairly good business last year.

 

Cinema’s political coloring may be a worrying trend for many, but it may just be here to stay. After all, it’s the audience who are writing this narrative. One can make a dozen and more films on an agenda, but if there is no audience for the taking, it won’t work. Here, there’s a thriving audience who are looking towards the cinema halls for their monthly dose of nationalism.

 

Patriotism has always been a strong selling point of our cinema, and the huge success of Gadar: Ek Prem Katha is the best example in this regard. But nationalism and patriotism are different. And that is why this story will continue to get more interesting in the years to come!

 

Shailesh Kapoor is Founder and CEO, Ormax Media. He writes weekly on MxMIndia. His views here are personal

 

 

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