India celebrates its 74th Independence Day on the 15th August 2020, commemorating the nation’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1947.
As we embrace and observe India’s Independence Day, let’s not forget the struggle of those who made it a reality. And what better way to celebrate then to watch some Bollywood classics, which capture the essence of the fight for independence and rekindle the spirit of patriotism.
Here are ten unconventional patriotic Bollywood movies, with the highest IMDB ratings, that are a must-watch on Independence Day.
‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ (2003)
Winner of two National Film awards, ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ portrays the journey of the young freedom fighter who dedicated his life to the cause of India’s freedom and was subsequently sent to the gallows in 1931. Despite numerous other films being made on Bhagat Singh’s life, the Ajay Devgn starrer rises head and shoulders above the rest with its captivating screenplay, powerful performances and dynamic music by AR Rahman.
Partition was the other side of Independence and few films have depicted the gut-wrenching tales of partition from both sides of the border on the big screen as well as ‘Pinjar’ did. Based on a Punjabi novel of the same name written by Amrita Pritam, Pinjar follows the story of a young Hindu girl named Puro, who is abducted by Rashid as a result of a generation-old vendetta. As partition unfolds, Puro is separated from her family across the border. The film beautifully highlights various issues pertaining to gender and also attempts to portray Hindus and Muslims in the same light without demonising or valorising either of the two. With Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s apt screenplay and Gulzar’s poignant dialogues, the film is indeed a cinematic treat supported by a mournful soundtrack.
‘Lagaan: Once Upon A Time in India’ (2001)
Aamir Khan’s first film production was the story of a group of villagers fighting British colonisers for tax reduction, an act of betrayal that results in a challenge to play and win a game of cricket. The Ashutosh Gowariker directed film became a super hit at the box office and became the third, and as of now, the last Indian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Another Gowariker directed film, Shah Rukh Khan plays a non resident Indian who decides to come back home to find the woman who raised him as a young boy and find himself distraught by the poverty and inequality in the country. The film was critically acclaimed for showing us an alternate version of patriotism – a version that started with one man’s emotional response to one person and one problem, then one more, and one more. Teaching us that sometimes, while caught up in the frenzy of loving the idea of a country, we forget to love the people that make it what it is. A socially inclined film so thoughtful that it continues to be relevant even a decade and a half after its release, ‘Swades’ has acquired a cult status over the years.
‘Rang De Basanti’ (2006)
This Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra directed film tells the story of a British filmmaker shooting a documentary on Indian freedom fighters in a narrative that alternates between the independence movement and contemporary times. Known for its screenplay that was unapologetic in posing some uncomfortable questions, ‘Rang De Basanti’ was a soul-stirring film that provoked you to take control of things and find solutions to difficult situations. The film, in fact, was held responsible for inspiring the people’s movement in the real-life Jessica Lal murder case. With an ensemble cast including Aamir Khan, Kunal Kapoor, Soha Ali Khan, R Madhavan and Sharman Joshi, the film went on to win four national awards including the ‘Best Popular Film’ award.
A biographical film on the life of Sardar Vallabhai Patel – a prominent freedom fighter and independent India’s first Deputy Prime Minister. ‘Sardar’ does a fantastic job in portraying the political parleys in the lead up to partition and the role played by the politicians of the time. Showcasing the journey of Sardar Patel, from his early years organising civil disobedient protests against British rule, to successfully convincing over 500 self-governing princely states to integrate into the Union of India, the film was praised for its well-researched script and formidable performance by Paresh Rawal in the lead role.
‘Mangal Pandey: The Rising’ (2005)
A historical biography based on the life of Mangal Pandey, a soldier in the British East Indian Army, known for his role during the Indian rebellion of 1857. The rebellion also known as ‘The First War of Indian Independence’, was sparked after rumours were spread amongst the soldiers that the cartridges for the newly introduced Enfield rifled musket were greased with either pig fat or beef tallow. As the process of loading the rifle required the soldier to bite down on the cartridge, the soldiers believed that this would cause them to consume pork or beef — acts abhorrent to Muslim and Hindu soldiers for religious reasons. The movie depicts the mutiny that followed the insistence of the British East India Company that the soldiers are forced to use the cartridges. ‘Mangal Pandey: The Rising’ marked the comeback of actor Aamir Khan who went into a hiatus after ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ in 2001.
Veteran filmmaker JP Dutta’s war drama is based on the 1971 Battle of Longewala and features Sunny Deol, Suniel Shetty, Akshaye Khanna, Puneet Issar and Tabu in prominent roles. The film pays tribute to the heroic 120 soldiers of the 23rd Battalion Punjab Regiment led by Major Kuldeep Singh Chandpuri, who defended their post against 2000 infantry enemy soldiers. During production and filming, both the Indian Army and Air Force provided vehicles, rifles and machine guns as well as uniforms and tactics to the film crew, giving the movie a unique authentic feeling. Still remembered today for the commanding performances by Sunny Deol and Suniel Shetty, its underlying anti-war message and poignant songs, ‘Border’ went on to win three National Awards and four Filmfare awards including best lyrics for Javed Akhtar (Sandese Aate Hai).
‘Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgetten Hero’ (2004)
This epic biographical war film, written and directed by the legendary Shyam Benegal, depicts the life of Indian independence leader Subhas Chandra Bose. The film focuses on Bose’s work in creating the ‘Free India Centre’ in Berlin and the ‘Azad Hind Fauj’ (Independent Indian Army) with the support of the German government. Set during the British Raj, the absorbing drama is an informative and fascinating lesson worth sitting through. Despite being made on a small budget, the film does a great job in portraying the complex multi-faceted and controversial personality of the freedom fighter.
‘Purab Aur Paschim’ (1970)
No list of patriotic Bollywood films would be complete without Mr Patriotic himself – Manoj Kumar. Known for his nationalistic flavoured films, ‘Purab Aur Paschim’, is one of his greatest works. The film begins with an Indian freedom fighter who is murdered by a friend turned traitor. Years later after India achieves its independence; the son of the murdered freedom fighter arrives in London for further studies. Here he is shocked to see that many Indians in London are ashamed of their roots and even changed their names to sound Western. The story continues with the protagonist taking it upon himself to change the mind-set of those around him. By linking the story to the freedom struggle, Kumar is able to convey the importance of not just freeing the country from colonial rule, but also freeing the minds from oppressive cultures. An all time classic, ‘Purab Aur Paschim’ still provides food for thought today – 50 years after its release.
– Written by Kirat Raj Singh