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Modi’s ultra nationalism invades Bollywood

Bollywood sees a new wave of military-based films as three of the big-budget films set to release in the coming months are based on wars. The idea behind the initiative seems to be promoting nationalism.

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With Independence Day approaching, patriotism is at its peak in both India and Pakistan. Using this opportunity, India is all set to release a series of big films this year that will focus on India’s military conflicts with Pakistan. This represents India’s increasing militarism and promotion of nationalistic sentiments. Led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are hand in gloves in spreading hate against Pakistan through movies. No wonder why there is a massive increase of anti-Pakistan campaigns on Indian media after BJP came into power.

The talk of the town is the film “Shershaah” (which means “King of Lions”). The film is a biopic on the life and death of Captain Vikram Batra, India’s top military honor recipient who served during the Kargil war in 1999.

Another similar big-budget production is Bhuj: The Pride of India, which is about the behind-enemy-lines construction of an airstrip by the Indian air force, with the help of 300 village women, during the 1971 war with Pakistan.

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September will also see the release of Ekkees (Twenty One), a biopic of the youngest recipient of the Param Vir Chakra, Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal, who died in the same conflict.

Another film Pippa will begin shooting in September. Based on the book “The Burning Chaffees” by war veteran Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta, this collaboration has Airlift director Raja Krishna Menon at its helm. Pippa is set to have Ishaan in the role of Brigadier Mehta, a veteran of the 45th Cavalry Tank Squadron who fought on the eastern front during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971.

These series of films all based on military conflicts reflects the Hindutva ideology that Modi has been trying to promote. The military is one of the few institutions whose makeup reflects India’s vast multi-ethnic and multi-religious population. Public support for it transcends regional and communal loyalties.

India’s wars with Pakistan are privileged by Bollywood “because we always win,” says Iyer-Mitra. Such films are “used by India in much the same way as war movies are by the US military, for recruitment and propaganda. You’re assured of the military’s co-operation.”

Shershaah of India

Shershaah revisits what remains the highest-altitude war fought by any army in history. The Kargil war was also “India’s first televised war”.

Many movies have been made on the Kargil war in the past, but Shershaah is the first movie shot in the region close to where the actual fighting took place – a bare lunarscape, covered in sharp, broken rocks that slide underfoot – and gives a sense of how difficult the conditions were.

“It was the toughest mountain war ever fought,” says its Tamil director, Vishnu Varadhan. “We couldn’t shoot at the actual location, because it’s at 16,000 feet and the oxygen level is too low. We managed to film only between 12 and 14,000 feet … But we were able to understand the terrain and difficulties they were facing. Even at that altitude, everyone from the talent to the technicians were losing their breath.”

A special screening of the film was arranged for Vikram Batra’s family on Monday night. The entire cast and crew as well as Sidharth’s parents were spotted at the event. The general response for the film has been positive.

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