Lights, camera, right turn

Boycott calls and ultra-nationalist films show the project of weaponising Bollywood is complete.

Published : Sep 22, 2022 10:40 IST

At a cinema hall screening Aamir Khan-starrer Laal Singh Chaddha, in Ahmedabad on August 26, 2022.  

At a cinema hall screening Aamir Khan-starrer Laal Singh Chaddha, in Ahmedabad on August 26, 2022.   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

It has been a journey 30 years in the making, one that began with the first pan-Indian hit from south India—Roja, around the time the BJP’s Ram mandir movement was reaching a crescendo.

The film, with its black-and-white take on patriotism and nationalism, was the precursor to the wave of Hindi films that toyed with the theme of muscular hypernationalism set against various backdrops—historical, Partition, or terrorism. Now, in the BJP’s second consecutive term, Bollywood is going all out to serve the Hindutva cause.

Beginning with the disappearance of Urdu titles in the opening credits, to portrayals that were covertly or blatantly Islamophobic, Bollywood has steadily been playing into the hands of the right-wing seeking to polarise filmmakers and filmgoers along religious lines.

The latest weapon in the hands of the Hindutva fringe is the boycott call, which gained momentum on social media targeting Muslim actors or others deemed anti-Hindu and successfully derailed a few films. Going beyond the impact of such calls, it is an ominous sign of the times that cinema is now firmly in the grip of the political right.

2019 was a watershed year not just for Indian politics but for the country’s cinema too. It marked the year the BJP won a second consecutive mandate on the back of nationalistic fervour and Bollywod’s definitive turn towards muscular hypernationalism, where patriotism was replaced with jingoism and chest-thumping. A look at the year’s biggest hits reveals the change in taste of the audience and the decisive direction the industry was taking.
The biggest hit of the year was War, an action thriller featuring RAW agents fighting each other, terrorism, and traitors.
The landmark film of the year was certainly Uri: The Surgical Strike, a film which was praised for instilling patriotism without becoming jingositic. However, the film’s success spawned a trend of films that often crossed the border between nationalism and jingoism.
Salman Khan’s Bharat, which traces a man’s life and through it India’s history starting from Partition all the way to the present day, was among the top 10 hits.
Another significant film of the year was Akshay Kumar-starrer Mission Mangal, which was part of another recent trend of cinema celebrating scientists and other achievers but somehow feeding into the right-wing narrative. Akshay Kumar would go on to become the posterboy of the establishment.

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