It’s sad but true that we don’t take much pride in the achievements of our country. We shun our values, our traditions and run after the Western beliefs and fashions. While our films are more or less escapist fantasies, some filmmakers did realise that the medium can be used to inculcate a sense of pride in India’s culture, values, heritage and achievements. Presenting a list of 10 such films down the years which will make you fall in love once more with the wonder that is India.
Mission Mangal (2019)
Director: Jagan Shakti
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu, Nithya Menen, Sharman Joshi, Kirti Kulhari
On November 5, 2013, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched its space probe Mangalyaan which has been orbiting Mars since September 24, 2014. It was India’s first interplanetary mission and it made ISRO the fourth space agency to reach Mars, after Roscosmos, NASA, and the European Space Agency. India also became the first Asian nation to reach Martian orbit and the first nation in the world to do so in its maiden attempt. The present film is a fictionalised account of the efforts of the core team involved in the project. Director Jagan Shakti and his team of writers R. Balki, Nidhi Singh Dharma, and Saketh Kondiparthi have written a screenplay which simplifies the scientific terms and calculations in a way the layman can understand. To a scientist, it all would look sacrilegious but the lay viewer is likely to be swayed by the drama. In this quest for simplification, they have taken several creative liberties which would fail close range scientific scrutiny but in the larger context of things these transgressions should be excused. There is no denying the fact that the actual scientists involved pulled off an improbable act and succeeded in putting up a Mars probe in the Red Planet’s orbit in the first attempt itself. It’s the spirit of their extraordinary achievement which is being celebrated in the film rather than the methods and formulae needed to achieve that.
Director: Shyam Benegal
Cast: Smita Patil, Girish Karnad, Naseeruddin Shah, Amrish Puri
The film pays homage to the White Revolution pioneered by Verghese Kurien and traces how it all started. A set of poor farmers of Kheda district in Gujarat led by local social worker Tribhovandas Patel, lead to the formation of Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union. Soon the pattern was repeated in each district of Gujarat, which in turn led to the formation of Amul, a dairy cooperative in Anand, Gujarat in 1946, which is today jointly owned by some 2.6 million milk producers in Gujarat. 500,000 members of the milk cooperative jointly financed the film, by donating Rs. 2 each. Upon its release, farmers came to see their film by the truckloads and made it a box office success. The film is a fictionalised account of the difficulties of bringing about this huge enterprise. Girish Karnad acts as a visionary veterinary surgeon who inspires villagers from a remote village in Gujarat to let go of class and caste prejudices and for a milk cooperative. He’s beset by difficulties on every turn and in the end, has to face character assassination as well. But his integrity inspires others to take his teachings forward and keep the momentum growing.
Director: Manoj Kumar
Cast: Asha Parekh, Manoj Kumar, Prem Chopra
The film marked the beginning of Mr Bharat persona for producer-director Manoj Kumar. It’s said that the then Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri asked him to make a film on the slogan Jai Jawan-Jai Kisan, which was the rallying cry for the Indian youth after the 1965 war with Pakistan. The message was that the peace-loving, productive farmers can turn their ploughs into rifles and become war heroes if need be. It was Manoj’s debut as a director and he played both a Kisan (farmer) and Jawan (soldier). The war veteran wins medals and upon his return brings to heel his wayward younger brother (Prem Chopra), who had turned war-profiteer and was selling goods and medicines at the black market. Also, it had Asha Parekh espousing the cause of Family Planning, among other things. The film proved to be a turning point for Pran too. He was tired of being slotted as a villain in every film and greedily took on the role of the worldly-wise, one-legged Malang Chacha. The film proved to be a big blockbuster and well, made Manoj Kumar submerge his acting, writing and directing talent into patriotic material from then on.
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Cast: Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelley, Paul Blackthorne
Lagaan means tax. And the film Lagaan, set during the Victorian era, is about a tax revolt by overburdened villagers. It’s a feel-good movie on a grand scale about national pride as a motley, rag-tag bunch of Indian villagers are shown to beat the British at their own game to stave off paying taxes. As improbable as it may seem, the film was lapped up by the masses because of its patriotic overtones, as also because of its highly stylised cricketing action. It recreated famous cricketing incidents in a period set up and our cricket-mad public just couldn’t have enough of it. Aamir Khan played Bhuvan, a simple villager, who first picks up the nuances of the game and later teaches it to his team. He turns out to be the star batsman for his team and wins the match single-handedly. Another key component of the team was Kachra (Aditya Lakhia), who bowls a mean spin thanks to his disability and takes a crucial hattrick. It was shot almost entirely in Bhuj to keep the feel of a rain-parched village from the 1890s.
Naya Daur (1957)
Director: B. R. Chopra
Cast: Dilip Kumar, Vyjayanthimala, Ajit, Chand Usmani, Jeevan, Johnny Walker
Man Vs Machine was the theme of this pioneering film which made you question the price of progress. Director BR Chopra’s socialist strand was ever-present in this humanist drama. Naya Daur was heavily influenced by BR Chopra’s Marxist beliefs and spoke against the rampant industrialization of our vastly agrarian society. Industry colleagues thought he was making a documentary. The film’s message that we should consider our population an asset and should go towards a labour incentive model for development found favour with the Nehruvian policies. Dilip played the rustic tangewala to perfection, flirting outrageously with its firebrand heroine Vyjanthimala. It’s said that Madhubala was originally slated to do Vyjayanthimala’s role but her father intervened as he was concerned about the rumours of her affairs with Dilip Kumar. The highlight of the film was the race between bus and tonga, what with Vyjayanthimala and Ajit valiantly supporting the bridge he had hacked off in a fit of jealous rage. Another highlight was OP Nayyar’s tunes, still popular today.
Mary Kom (2014)
Director: Omung Kumar
Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Darshan Kumaar, Sunil Thapa
Mary Kom is based on the life of the prolific boxer Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom. Her legendary achievements have made every Indian proud. She is the only woman to become World Amateur Boxing champion for a record six times, the only woman boxer to have won a medal in each one of the first seven World Championships, and the only boxer (male or female) to win eight World Championship medals. She became the first Indian woman boxer to get a Gold Medal in the Asian Games in 2014 at Incheon, South Korea and is the first Indian woman boxer to win gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She’s also a winner of the Olympic Bronze medal at the 2012 summer games held in London. The film takes us through her incredible journey, beginning with her finding a pair of boxing gloves by chance and getting interested in sports. She also beats up a bully and showcases her fighting spirit. She’s shown undergoing gruelling training sessions to emerge as the best boxer in her weight class. She gives up the sport for a while after marriage and motherhood but takes it up once again when she feels she’s being neglected despite her achievements and becomes a champion again. Priyanka Chopra underwent a rigorous training schedule to look like a boxer. She took coaching in boxing as well. But more than the physical aspect, she submerged herself into the life of Mary Kom and introduced us to the vulnerable side of the tough as nails boxer.
Director: Reema Kagti
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Mouni Roy, Kunal Kapoor, Amit Sadh, Vineet Kumar Singh, Sunny Kaushal
It’s a dramatisation of the events leading to India winning the first-ever Olympic gold after Independence. The characters in the film were reportedly based on the actual hockey players and officials of that era. Akshay Kumar’s character Tapan Das was inspired by the famous hockey player and coach NN Mukherjee, under whose tutelage India won the gold in 1948, 1952 and 1964 Olympics. Kunal Kapoor played Samrat, based on the legendary Dhyan Chand, Amit Sadh’s character Raghubir Pratap Singh was based on K. D. Singh Babu, described by many as being second only to Dhyan Chand. Vinit Vineet Kumar Singh played Imtiaz Ali Shah, a character inspired by Ali Dara, who played for the Pakistan team after the Partition and Sunny Kaushal’s character Himmat Singh, was based on legendary player Balbir Singh Sr. The film showcases how the new Indian hockey team got formed, with players being picked from the four corners of India. Initially, they can’t let go of their regional rivalry but later they resolve their differences to play as one for India. The sports action was realistic and the several gripping situations lent a drama to the proceedings.
Purab Aur Paschim (1970)
Director: Manoj Kumar
Cast: Ashok Kumar, Saira Banu, Manoj Kumar, Pran, Nirupa Roy, Prem Chopra, Vinod Khanna
At the time of its release, India had witnessed the passing away of two stalwart leaders like Nehru and Shashtri. It had fought two wars and was growing through a severe economic crisis. The late 60s were also a time when our best scientists and thinkers were migrating to the West en masse. As a result, India was suffering from a severe brain drain as well. It was at this time that Manoj Kumar came up with a film which extolled the virtues of India and Indianness and assured the viewers of the superiority of the Indian culture. Bharat (Manoj Kumar) is a patriotic Indian whose father was a freedom fighter. He goes to London for higher studies. He’s devastated by the fact that Indians residing in Britain have lost all their love for their mother country. Preeti (Saira Banu) is an NRI who falls in love with Bharat but looks down upon Indian culture and values. Bharat convinces her to come with him to India and see the real India with her own eyes. She does that and gets cured of her bad habits like wearing short clothes, drinking and smoking. But the real transition is within when she realises the true nature of Indian values and the importance of family.
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Gayatri Joshi, Kishori Ballal
Based on Gandhian principles, the film’s maxim was a glorious lime by the Mahatma — Hesitating to act because the whole vision might not be achieved, or because others do not yet share it, is an attitude that only hinders progress. Swades is inspired by the story of Aravinda Pillalamarri and Ravi Kuchimanchi, the NRI couple who returned to India and developed a pedal power generator to light remote, off-the-grid village schools. The Bilgaon project is recognised as a model for replication by the Government of Maharashtra. Shah Rukh Khan plays a man who re-establishes hope in a changing India. SRK has always been accused of being the prince of escapist fantasies but with Swades Shah Rukh showed the world that he can play a flesh and blood character too. Here he played an NRI who chooses to come back to India to live the Gandhian dream of turning villages into self-sufficient units. The film gave a clarion call to our best and the brightest to give up their sheltered lives in the West and come back and start working for the betterment of their own motherland.
Mother India (1957)
Director: Mehboob Khan
Cast: Nargis, Raaj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt
The film was a cinematic tribute to the resilience of Indian women, who were looked upon as the upholders of the moral core of India. Nargis sacrificing her wayward son for the cause of justice is taken as the high point of Indian motherhood. She became Shakti at that point, destined to root out evil and lead mankind to salvation. The ‘noble mother’ character played by her became the benchmark for screen mothers, finding echoes in such stalwart performances as Nirupa Roy’s in Deewar, which itself was in a way a modern interpretation of Mother India. Mehboob Khan remade his own Aurat (1940) seventeen years later and kind of rewrote cinematic history. Indian films would never be the same again. Nargis was just 26 when she was offered the role of playing a mother to two grown-up children. Dilip Kumar was to be originally cast in the twin roles of Raaj Kumar and Rajendra Kumar, playing father and son but it’s said that Nargis objected to it saying the audience would never accept Dilip as her son as they had played lovers in countless films. The fire sequence in the film led to real-life romance. Sunil Dutt, who played her other son, saved Nargis from being burnt to death when the studio fire got out of hand. Love soon blossomed between the two and the duo got married a year later.