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Masala Gone Jingo

Patriotism is the flavour of the season and Bollywood's busy whipping up sentiments against enemies: real, reel or imagined

Masala Gone Jingo
Masala Gone Jingo
There is a crisis. India is searching for a cause. A reason to exist. A reason to hate. "We will not be quiet anymore," roars Tinnu Verma, stunt director of Gadar, the monster jingoistic box office hit of 2001, for no reason in particular. We need a deserving enemy. America has Osama. Taiwan has China. Iraq has the rest of the world. And except for Arafat have you ever seen a Palestinian who is not pelting stones? Everybody is angry. Everybody is hating somebody. Except we Indians. And possibly Canadians. But at least they have ice hockey, where they beat others to death. If our boys even ask a question, they lose 75 per cent of the match fee. What kind of a wimpish nation are we? Where is the attitude? The hate? The anger? The cause?

Bollywood has the answers—and is coming to an existential rescue of the Indian soul. Verma is giving finishing touches to Maa Tujhe Salaam in which a very angry Sunny Deol, with some help from sultry Tabu, saves Kashmir from an ISI agent. There are also three upcoming Bhagat Singh films. One of them will be made by Rajkumar Santoshi starring Ajay Devgan, the only man they found who could look 23, another yet-untitled one by Sunny Deol starring his brawny brother Bobby Deol. And one more by the also-ran Manoj Kumar in which, industry sources fear, he may star one of his two failed sons. Somewhere near Shimla, J.P. Dutta is shooting LOC, a "researched" work on Kargil for which "a fake nationalistic government has thrown open military facilities for shooting purposes as it will be a great PR exercise," according to filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt who had led a Kargil delegation to Delhi. LOC's star cast: Hrithik and Shahrukh are not in it. But almost everyone else is: Sanjay Dutt, Ajay Devgan, Nagarjuna, Saif Ali Khan, Sunil Shetty, Akshaye Khanna, Abhishek Bachchan, Manoj Bajpai, Rahul Khanna, Arbaaz Khan, Himanshu Malik, Ashutosh Rana, Puru Rajkumar, Raj Babbar, Ashish Vidhyarthi, Kiran Kumar, Ayub Khan, Rajat Bedi. Even Kareena Kapoor and Bipasha Basu, who reportedly vowed never to work together after some unpleasantness during the shoot for Ajnabee, are expected to come together in this film out of, perhaps, national interest.

The 'creative' forces of the nation have risen to feed "the mood". Thus Verma, who has directed and co-written Maa Tujhe Salaam, says he has "trashed Pakistan left right and centre". Indians should know "that Pakistanis are a two-faced nation who'll first offer a bus ride and then invade our land". He too has "done research" and interviewed military officials in Delhi for "some authentic feel". The story that purports to "expose" Pakistan has at least three romantic songs and two "item songs". Verma has been popularising a scorcher of a dialogue in his film: "Doodh mangoge to kheer denge/Kashmir mangoge to cheer denge (Ask for milk, and we'll give you pudding/ Ask for Kashmir, and we'll rip you apart.) Curiously, it's not Sunny Deol who delivers this line but a Muslim character whose life is divided into two equal halves separated by intermission: a "negative Muslim in the first but (who) becomes a positive Muslim in the second", as Verma puts it. He has kept in mind the sensibilities of the Indian Muslims when he penned the screenplay. "In fact there is a scene in which Sunny tells a Muslim character that nobody can touch this nation with a good Muslim like him." Deol plays Major Pratap Singh and Tabu plays Sonia Khanna, an Intelligence Bureau official who sometimes when she's off duty does sizzling "item songs".Verma himself plays "lead villain" Lala Sultan who supports Pakistan's evil designs on Kashmir. The film, due for release on January 4, according to the director, cost between Rs 15-16 crore. It was almost entirely shot in Manali, "within 85 days, at -4° and 3 feet of snow", with a Kashmir set as backdrop.

Deol, of course, ever since Gadar has cast himself in the mould of a pan-Indian hero who has gone beyond mere romance to take corrective measures against a petty corrupt cop. Now the enemy has just grown bigger. "There is truth in his face," Verma says. "He looks like the son of the Indian soil, there is so much patriotism in his face." Deol believes it. On the eve of the release of Indian, another patriotic film in the dhishum-dhishum genre which did well, Deol said at a press meet: "It is high time we realised what we are. It is important to realise and understand what being Indian means." Deol, who is expected to play Chandrashekar Azad in his own production on the life of Bhagat Singh to be directed by Guddu Dhanoa will, for sure, holler in Maa Tujhe Salaam at any erring man who endangers his nation. In a film that insiders describe as "very crude and tacky", Deol will stir nationalism among the same folks in the theatre who whistled when a Phoolan or a Bhanwari Devi was being raped.

The rising temper in film scripts is making new Censor Board chief Vijay Anand take note. "Pakistan is clearly an enemy state today," he says. "But I believe that film-makers should describe that nation with some amount of responsibility." He cites an instance when some years ago a Chinese delegation was to come visiting India, and Haqeeqat was scheduled to be aired on TV. And even though the film didn't have any Chinese subtitles, the government hurriedly took the film off the air, as it wasn't very kind to the Chinese. Anand concedes that had he been censor chief a few months ago, some parts of Gadar too "may not have passed through uncut". He hopes, a bit naively perhaps, that film-makers will tell stories of "eternal value", not just address fleeting moods.

Fleeting is exactly what the current rush for patriotic films is all about. "Soon there will be no patriotic films," trade pundit Komal Nahata predicts. But as the sun shines today on anything that can whip up collective Indian hatred, J.P. Dutta's LOC is already fetching Rs 3.5 crore per territory. Said to be the most expensive film made after Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, the Rs 20-crore, 90-scene-long epic has "33 positive male roles", where all characters assume real names of the jawans and officers who fought in Kargil.

On other drawing boards, another familiar enemy is being resurrected—the whites. Production of Raj Kumar Santoshi's bilingual The Legend of Bhagat Singh will begin early next year. The music is by the digital A.R. Rehman. Music moghul Kumar Taurani of Tips, who is investing "Rs 10 to 12 crore" in the film, says the time is right for such a film. "There is drama, there is pain, there is patriotism." What more can you ask for? Family values? There's that too. Conceding that "Muslim viewers" make a sizeable contribution not just in India but also in the lucrative overseas market, Taurani says: "In this film Hindus and Muslims fight a common enemy. So, even Pakistanis will like it." After Kuch Kuch Hota Hai earned over $3 million abroad and Yaadein a more modest $1.8 million, other Hindi films haven't done as well. "With good marketing, The Legend of Bhagat Singh will do very well abroad," prophesies Taurani. It will take eight months to complete and then we'll know.But a film on Bhagat Singh, Taurani admits sheepishly, is a good candidate for "tax-free status". But then "that's for the public good," he says. The ticket price will be halved. Then, "they can see it twice". Patriotism, the flavour of the season, is good business too.
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