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What is patriotism to South Asian cinema?
In India, films with a patriotic theme seems to bind the whole nation together. It portrays nationalistic sentiments, love for one’s nation, and in a sentimental albeit heroic way. Patriotic Indian films also have the power to liven up spirits, teach new thoughts to people irrespective of the class they belong to, their religious or socio-economic background, and these Hindi movies appeal to both the educated and the illiterate.
On another train of thought, since the early seventies, leaving out films with an obvious Pakistani (or Pakistani-minded) slant, Bangladeshi films have often made the Bangladeshi film industry an important one. On the subject of patriotism, in internationally acclaimed director Zahir Raihan’s Jibon Theke Neya (1970), for example, which fictionally depicted the atrocities committed by Pakistan against Bangladesh, pre-independence, the story plays out like a tale of struggle for freedom for a husband, two boys, who are brothers, and some servants, from the clutches of an oppressive woman controlling her family.
In the landscape of the film, it is shown that protests erupt in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) against oppressive Pakistani rule, which signifies the days of Bangladesh’s language movement but the portrayal of the oppression was more symbolic than anything else, imprinted into a family drama. The turmoil of the oppression reflects in the lives of this family who begin to protest against the oppressive woman and her brand of family-regime by speaking loudly against her. The home front then gets more tangled inside a protest-theme, when a marital angle is thrown into the narrative: the two boys bring home two wives, who plot to snatch away sovereignty of their new family from this oppressive woman in power by obtaining the keys to the house – it symbolises gaining control of the house.
What was also rather interesting about the movie was the specific, symbolic caricature of former Pakistani President Ayub Khan’s autocratic rule in East Pakistan as a despotic female head of the house, with an ill-tempered nature – marriages and schemes for control tragically follows in the lives of the Bangladeshi family for it. Meanwhile, patriotism in Indian filmmaking is often proclaimed through the tense subject of Kashmir. Since 1947, a dispute has been happening at the shared border between India and Pakistan which has spelled out into three separate wars to claim Kashmir.
At the moment, India controls a majority of Kashmir, and I have always felt Kashmir as an entire state belonged to India, not Pakistan. In Hindi films, such as Mission Kashmir (2000) and Roja (1992) the theme of the Kashmir conflict is woven together with a major love story. It’s hard to picturise a romantic angle to a story in the theatre of war but that is what the narrative is often like for South Asian cinema – if it’s not romantic, it must be a family drama of all things, heavily reliant on symbolism to depict patriotism rising in the face of oppression.