Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian
Namaste Sadaa Vatsale Matribhume” prayer of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) became public recently on YouTube as a trailer of a mega-budget saffron film – “Bhagwa”. This is a major break with the past 93 years when the RSS’ Prayer became visible publicly via social media.
The RSS will celebrate its centenary in 2025 and showcase its history, ideology and achievements. The saffron organisation is making a feature film on RSS with a whopping budget of Rs180 crore. A year back at Raheja Galaxy Club in Mumbai, the work on the film started and its banner and director were introduced. However, at that time no big name associated with the project met the media. The film is produced under SSAN Films banner and directed by AR Sarkar. But after that, many cine celebrities have shown interest in it. It is believed that Akshay Kumar will play the role of the protagonist. Media baron Subhash Chandra, who is also Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha, and Motion Pictures head Raj Singh will promote and distribute the ambitious film of the Sangh.
Noted writer Koduri Viswa Vijayendra Prasad, the father of SS Rajamouli, the celebrated director of the “Baahubali” series, who wrote that story, and also Bollywood’s superstar Salman Khan’s film “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, has penned the script. As per sources, the vital inputs in the script have been given by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat himself along with S Gurumurthy.
The film “Bhagwa” will showcase the history of RSS and its achievements through the struggles of its leaders, including Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and MS Golwalkar. It is believed that to finance the film, Kannada Cine audio tycoon Lahari Velu Thulasi Naidu, who came up with the idea of the film, and his younger brother Manohar Naidu will produce it. Naidu is also a member of the saffron wing of the RSS, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Now, the producers are trying their best to release the film before the upcoming general elections in 2019.
This is not the only example where BJP and RSS will put forward their beliefs and thoughts through the strong medium of the silver screen. Cinema is a mirror of society and it emerges as an inevitable and vital medium to showcase the artist’s ideology through his films and individual opinions. And intellectual change can be brought about by it. At the same time, the film is a powerful medium, which can be developed through better social values, and it can transfuse values in today’s younger generation. Therefore, the saffron ideology is slowly moving forward in this direction.
The Sangh wants to push its political beliefs to percolate speedily in Indian society. So fiery dialogues and a strong script are the best platforms to take that forward. Earlier, the Sangh used to give its comments on contemporary cinema but now it is foraying into it. Not only Bollywood, but RSS is also spreading its wings to the theatre, regional cinema and film festivals.
Earlier in Kerala, BJP was protesting against the regional certification office for not providing a certificate to documentary film – “21 Months of Hell”. Made in Malayalam, the documentary deals with RSS workers who fought against Emergency. To showcase the achievements BJP, Suresh Jha produced the feature film “Modi Kaka Ka Gaon”. In the film, Vikas Mahante played the role of the protagonist who transforms India through his policy decisions, including demonetisation.
Bharatiya Chitra Sadhna is a film festival that the Sangh has started to showcase Bhartiyata (Indianness). With this festival, the Sangh wants to spread its cultural values. As an experiment, two such festivals have been held in Indore and Delhi. The festival had four categories comprised of short films, campus films, animation and documentaries. And the themes were nationalism, women, folk art, environment, Indian family system, Indian cultural values, and so forth.
Many Bollywood bigwigs such as Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Kangana Ranaut, Preity Zinta, Arjun Rampal, Madhur Bhandarkar, Subhash Ghai, Jackie Shroff, Sonu Nigam, Abhijeet, folk singer Malini Awasthi and others have aligned themselves with saffronisation of their previously neutral turf.
Last year, the RSS supported and promoted the biopic “Ek Thi Rani Aisi Bhi”, directed by Gul Bahar Singh starring Hema Malini, who portrays Vijaya Raje Scindia, from the erstwhile royal family of Scindias. The film was made on the Rajmata on the basis of the BJP leader and now the governor of Goa Mridula Sinha’s biography ‘Rajpath se Lokpath Par’, which traces Vijaya Raje’s journey from the palace to the public, but it did not get much success.
The successful film of Varun Dhawan and Anushka Sharma, “Sui Dhaaga”, is a recent example. Released just before Gandhi Jayanti, it became the model of the Modi government’s aspiring project Make in India. Prior to the promotion of “Sui Dhaaga” at first glance, it was a bolt from the blue for everyone about its name.
Neither the name has created any curiosity nor has it any glamour quotient to pull the urban audience. Therefore, why did a pure professional banner like Yash Raj need to make a film with such a name and a social message? From when did this production house start doing such risky jobs? Is the situation commercially ripe?
Indeed, yes, as this movie is based on Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India’ slogan, in which issues like skill development are raised. Hence, it was released just before Gandhi Jayanti, because the true inspiration behind the Make in India is the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. This is not a documentary, but a pure feature film, which was released like other films.
Like Yash Raj Films, now, many production houses like Dharma and Excel want to sail their boats on the saffron waves and make films that will depict rightist ideology.
Before “Sui Dhaaga”, Akshay Kumar’s “Gold”, Tigmanshu Dhulia’s “Raag Desh”, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s “Mere Pyare Prime Minister” and John Abraham’s “Parmanu The Story of Pokhran” are other ideal examples that suit the present government’s taste. Actor John Abraham produced “Parmanu” in Rs 44 crores to acclaim the achievements of former BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. During the promotion of film, John gave a statement: “I have never been in a hurry to produce films, I have been reading and searching for subjects that are disruptive yet engaging, stories that must resonate with current social, political and economic mood of the country, and finding stories that reflect this takes time. This film fits perfectly with my pursuit.”
“Parmanu” was directed by Abhishek Sharma who had directed “Tere Bin Laden”. But the story and facts of the film were intermingled with Parmanu-1 tested during the Indira Gandhi regime. Which is quite in keeping with Modi government’s unabashed usurping of all Subhash Chandra’s Zee Studio was also associated with John as one of the prime producers. After “Parmanu” John is coming up with “Batla House”, the controversial slaying of some Muslim students as ‘terrorists’ in Jamia Millia University.
The 45-year-old actor took to social media to unveil the poster, writing, “95 mins that took 8 yrs to be resolved and changed his life forever.” The story of India’s most Decorated/Controversial Cop. #BatlaHouse.” In the film, John is portraying the role of the cop inspired by DCP Sanjeev Yadav who led the controversial encounter of Batla House decade back in Delhi.
Farhan Akhtar, who used to put out rebellious thoughts through his twitter handle earlier, has changed tack for business. He came together with Akshay Kumar and produced the Rs 100 crore mega-budget film “Gold”. Produced by Excel Entertainment and directed by Reema Kagti, in the film, actor Akshay Kumar portrays the flag-waving Bengali team manager of a novice hockey team. Although the story of “Gold” is fictional, it took snippets from the inspirational life of pre-independence sports star Kishan Lal from Madhya Pradesh.
Excel Entertainment co-producer and director Reema Kagti stated in an interview that it is a fictional take on what happened. “Also, it is not just the golden victory in 1948 we will be looking at, but it encompasses 12 crucial years in India’s history”.
“Gold” that narrates Akshay’s hockey love, is actually inspired by Kishan Lal who used to play hockey. He was regarded as the greatest right winger in the history of Indian hockey who played with another great player Dhyan Chand. Kishan Lal was considered as an influential contributor in developing powerful Indian Railways hockey team. But the place and circumstances are changed in the film from central India to Eastern India i.e. Kolkata.
Akshay Kumar, the poster boy of saffron ideology has come into a new avatar of Bharat Kumar. He has done “Toilet Ek Prem Katha” earlier, which promotes PM Modi’s cleanliness drama, Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, along with other films that promote nationalism in a jingoistic way. Under the present government, Akshay Kumar also received the national award last year for his film “Rustom”. In the coming two years movie buffs will see maximum films of Akshay Kumar, approximately 12 films out of which most are based on either biographical or period genre.
Akshay’s entry after a decade in Yash Raj camp, has been possible because of changing times. Known for making romantic and youth-oriented films Yash Raj Films and Aditya Chopra has collaborated with a blue-eyed boy of BJP, Akshay Kumar and making for a mega-budget film on Prithviraj Chauhan. Scuttlebutt is that Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, who is in the good book of RSS may direct this film. Akshay Kumar will play the role of Prithviraj Chauhan.
The story will chronicle the life of Prithviraj along with his love story with Sanyukta. The pre-production and research of the story have started and the shooting may start from mid-July next year. Akshay Kumar will be seen again as a historical character Havaldar Ishar Singh of 36 Sikh Regiment, who fought against Afghans in Saragarhi in the movie “Kesari”. Karan Johar and his production house Dharma Production also join up for this period film. Parineeti Chopra will be seen in the female lead. The shooting of the film is in its last phase in Jodhpur and it is expected to release in Holi next year.
On the same subject, Raj Kumar Santoshi is also making film Battle of Saragarhi in which Randeep Hooda is playing the character of Havaldar Ishar Singh. This historic battle will take you 120 years back. Both films tell the story of the war fought on September 12, 1897, where 21 Sikh soldiers fought until death to 10,000 soldiers Afghan army.
These days creativity is also overpowered by the politics in Bollywood. To please the Modi government, many filmmakers have made films on the Emergency and put a critical eye on Congress rule under Indira Gandhi in the last two years. Movies like KK Menon’s “San Pachattar”, Madhur Bhandarkar’s “Indu Sarkar”, Rajkumar Gupta’s “Raid” and Ajay Devgn’s film “Badshaho” are some of the examples.
In the coming year, viewers will witness the same trend in full swing. To promote the saffron ideology and its choices, big banners and known faces are coming up with historical stories. “Rashtraputra” is a film based on Chandrasekhar Azad. The film will narrate the important events of Azad’s life. But as per sources, in the movie, Azad may be portrayed as a staunch opponent of Mahatma Gandhi.
Kangana Ranaut will be seen as Rani Laxmibai in “Manikarnika”. Ajay Devgn will play the role of Chanakya in the period film “Chanakaya”, directed by Neeraj Pandey, who has noted films like A Wednesday and Baby in his kitty as a director. As the name suggests the film is based on the teachings of a great political thinker and philosopher Chankaya during the Maurya dynasty. Ajay Devgn will be seen as another historical legendary Maratha warrior Taanaji Malusare, who was the commander of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s army, in the period film “Taanaji: The Unsung Warrior”.
Another superstar, Salman Khan will bring “Bharat Kumar”, the Indian adaptation of a Korean film, “Ode to My Father”. Ashutosh Gowariker, who made the historical mess “Mohenjo Daro”, is also coming up with another historic battle movie “Panipat”, with Sanjay Dutt and Arjun Kapoor. In the film, Arjun plays the role of Maratha army’s leader Sadashivrao Bhau, whereas Sanjay essays the main antagonist, Ahmad Shah Durrani, who led the Afghans to victory.
Over time, Bollywood producers who abandon the ideological movement and moved forward to commercialisation with romantic and action stories, are now changing their attitude with the BJP in power. Big producers and directors of Bollywood like Yash Chopra, Karan Johar, Farhan Akhtar and Subhash Ghai made films more about romance and less about social justice. But now these bigwigs want to butter up the Modi government.
They perceive that this is a beneficial time for patriotic and historical themed cinema. Many feel it is a good phase for those stories that incline towards a saffron ideology that normally went unnoticed. Hence, in the present period, movies will attract your attention not only because of their name, but also the story, the themes, the atmosphere and the message.