With Raazi, Meghna Gulzar shows the difference between genuine patriotism and OTT nationalism

Karishma Upadhyay

May,14 2018 19:03:41 IST

From Manoj ‘Bharat’ Kumar’s Upkaar and Purab Aur Paschim, Mani Ratnam’s Roja to Akshay Kumar’s Airlift, Bollywood loves films that make us want to wave the Tiranga and cheer, "Bharat ke veer." These patriotic films could be based on real-events or be a figment of the writer’s imagination; be set during ancient or present-day India; and revolve around the freedom struggle, sports, war or insurgency but the common thread that binds them is uber-patriotism.

Based on a book written by a retired defense officer, the spy drama Raazi – a story of young Kashmiri girl and a Pakistani family – had all the ingredients to become a chest-thumping nationalistic film. Instead, director Meghna Gulzar gives us a rare India-Pakistan saga that doesn’t propagate hate. In the tense months preceding the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, Sehmat (Alia Bhat), a young Kashmiri is persuaded to carry forward her family’s rich history of serving their country. She is married into a top military family in Pakistan to gain access to information on their war plans. And, she does this without hysterical jingoism or obvious flag-waving.

Alia Bhatt in Raazi. Image via Twitter

Alia Bhatt in Raazi. Image via Twitter

At a pivotal juncture in the film, school children of Army Public School, Rawalpindi, sing ‘Ae Watan mere watan…aabaad rahe tu’ on their Annual Day celebrations. Even as high-ranking Pakistani Army officers and their wives applaud their approval, Sehmat, who taught the children this song, stands in the wings mouthing the same words for her country. The song, which is written by Gulzar, has additional lines from Allama Iqbal’s poem ‘Lab pe aati duaa bann ke tamanna meri, Zindagi shamma ki soorat ho khudaya’ (From the lips comes a prayer in the form of a desire, A candle burns itself to provide light for others). Iqbal, who also wrote "Saare Jahaan Se Accha Hindustan Humara," is also revered as the national poet of Pakistan.

It’s during this song that Sehmat finds acceptance among Rawalpindi’s military elite and Meghna establishes the film’s underlining message that people, their loves and their experience are the same on both sides of the contentious border between India and Pakistan. Raazi is as much the story of an Indian spy as it is of a Pakistani family where a wife makes her husband’s favourite dish, brothers work together and a new daughter-in-law is welcomed with love.

There are no bad guys in Raazi, only bad circumstances. There is a lot of talk about watan/mulk and how it is ‘above everything else’ but at no point does a character run down either country. If Sehmat is serving her country by spying on Pakistan, her husband Iqbal who is an officer in the Pakistani Army is also a patriot. Love for one’s motherland on that side of the border is just as pure and valid as ours.

With Raazi, Meghna has proven that it is possible to make a film about loving India without shouting about it from rooftops and/or hating Pakistan. Since the 90s, patriotism in Hindi films became synonymous with jingoism and Pakistan bashing. In Roja, Rishi (Arvind Swami) is so enraged when terrorists set fire to the Indian flag that he jumps on the flag to put out the fire and then takes on the whole camp while his hands are tied and his clothes are ablaze — all this while rousing music by AR Rahman plays in the background. In another memorable scene, Tara Singh (Sunny Deol) in Gadar – Ek Prem Katha pulls out a hand-pump from the ground to fight the evil Pakistanis who want him to shout "Hindustan Murdabad."

More recent Hindi films in the genre have had the subtlety of a sledgehammer, one-dimensional characters and come served with generous helpings of blind patriotism. Commander Rustom Pavri (Akshay Kumar) in Rustom declared, “Meri uniform meri aadat hai, jaise ki saans lena, apne desh ki raksha karna” (His uniform is a habit for him, much like breathing or protecting his nation). In the climax of The Ghazi Attack, we are hit with a triple whammy - the "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" war cry, the National Anthem and also a rousing rendition of "Saare Jahaan Se Accha Hindustan Humara." And, let’s not forget the pep talk to the sailors about the sacrifices that they have to make so the rest of the country can sleep in peace and random shots of the fluttering tricolour.

Some patriotic films have stepped away from clichés and those are the ones that make for great cinema. I had goosebumps when Kabir Khan in Chak De! India tells his team, ‘Mujhe states ke naam na sunai dete hain na dikhai dete hai…sirf ek mulk ka naam sunai deta hai I-N-D-I-A’ (I don’t hear or see names of different states I only hear the name of my country India) or when Flight Lt Ajay Rathod (R Madhavan in Rang De Basanti) says, ‘Koi bhi desh perfect nahin hota…usse behtar banana padta hai’ (No country is perfect… you have to make it better).

At a time when hate and anger rule the mood of the nation, a film like Raazi shows us the difference between genuine patriotism and OTT nationalism.

Updated Date: May 14, 2018 19:03 PM