From Raazi to Captain America, this Independence Day, here are 5 films that got nationalism right
From Raazi and Newton to Captain America and Dunkirk, this Independence Day, here are 5 films that got nationalism right.
As a country evolves, so does the idea of nationalism. History has shown that it is only in moments of insecurity, or of tremendous upheaval, that cinema is used as a tool to influence the masses - either to indoctrinate or to resist. It is a proven strategy, one that has worked time and again, regardless of the uninspired politicians or the overzealous rebels who exploit it.
And in a country as cinema-obsessed as ours, the idea of peddling patriotism and propaganda on the silver screen is about as risky as releasing a Marvel movie in summer. If a nation’s political stability is any indicator of the quality of its cinema, this has to be a particularly distressing period.
On certain occasions, this sycophancy manifests with the biggest stars in the nation licking the boots of those in power, either by tripping over each other to praise certain policies, or jostling for selfies. On other, more dangerous occasions, it happens when the influential 1% of this country tweets about nuclear war, displaying a sort of recklessness that would never be seen had they been endorsing a shampoo instead.
Before we proceed, it must be made clear that this isn’t an issue that is unique to our country. Look at films like American Sniper, which took almost fetishistic pleasure in waving the Star Spangled Banner in your face. It was a major box office success, quite like Uri: The Surgical Strike.
So this Independence Day, let’s look at five films that got nationalism right.
Director Amit V Masurkar’s 2017 satire is perhaps the greatest film about nationalism of the last decade; a movie that comes up with the seemingly alien notion that nationalism doesn’t mean declaring ones allegiance to a political party, but standing up for the ideals upon which one’s nation is built. Masurkar does this by framing his film around the most literal metaphor that he could find - the sight of a common man, protecting the integrity of his country from the corrupt and the cruel.
While lesser films would have played into popular sentiment and perhaps added a scene or two in which the innocent Sehmat is struck by a jolt of pride, compelling her to launch into a speech about her hatred for the enemy, Meghna Gulzar’s delicate little spy film took the humanist approach. It is incredibly ironic that Vicky Kaushal managed to involve himself in a film as level-headed as Raazi, and as high on chest-thumping as Uri.
While certainly not without its historical flaws, director Christopher Nolan’s tense war drama, like any good film about nationalism, focused on common men and women more passionately than the ideologies of the rich and powerful. Dunkirk is more a story about bravery in the face of danger, and the unbeatable human instinct to survive against all odds, than about the blind adherence of a particular political thought. The greatest indication of the film’s anti-war stance can perhaps be seen in the absolute facelessness of the enemy. They’re meant to be an archetype upon which audiences all over the world can project their own realities.
Your surprise at seeing a film about journalism in a list about movies on nationalism just goes to show how severely we’ve been conditioned. Nationalism doesn’t necessarily entail shrill speeches about the greatness of ones country, nor is it written in any rule book that a film must include at least one scene in which the national anthem is played before an overemotional crowd. Sometimes, the act of nationalism can manifest in the simple idea of brave men and women standing up for their rights. Steven Spielberg’s riveting The Post tells the story of one such occasion, when newspaper editor Ben Bradlee and his publisher Katharine Graham took on the Richard Nixon administration, in direct defiance of their advisors, and at great personal and professional risk.
Captain America: The First Avenger
It’s important to remember that Steve Rogers, despite the nationalistic iconography of Captain America, positively detested being a mascot and a political pawn. He was simply a product of his divisive times - and we certainly can’t argue with that. With hyper nationalism and right wing thought at an all-time peak, perhaps at its highest since the Second World War of The First Avenger, we realise what a powerful political tool a man dressed in star spangled red and blue can be. Perhaps the most irrefutable proof of Steve’s neutrality comes in when he is asked by Dr Abraham Erskine, “Do you want to kill Nazis?” To which Steve replies, “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from.”