September 14, 2021
A curious thing started to happen in Bollywood soon after the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the rise of the nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014. The week of August 14 and 15 — when India and Pakistan celebrate independence from the British Raj — became a money-making festival for patriotic movies.
Instead of gangster films or superstar-driven outings that followed the typical masala formula such as Singham Returns (August 15, 2014) or Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobaara! (August 15, 2013), theater-goers got to see the likes of Rustom (2016), about a patriotic Indian naval officer, or Gold (2018), a sports biopic about a newly independent India winning its first Olympic field hockey gold in 1948. These films celebrated national pride and earned rich dividends. Rustom grossed over ₹216 crores ($29 million) worldwide and earned Akshay Kumar a National Award for Best Actor, the country’s most prominent government-endorsed film award. Gold made ₹158 crores ($22 million). Both were among the most watched movies of the year.
But in more recent years, that very patriotism has turned into something else. This year, on Independence Day, three nationalistic films released on streaming platforms — Ajay Devgn-starrer Bhuj: The Pride of India (2021), Kumar’s BellBottom (2021), and Sidharth Malhotra-led Shershaah (2021). These films were less interested in just celebrating India. Instead, they highlight how it’s now impossible to love your country without also being anti-Pakistan.