Saga of Misogyny and
The sweeping patriotic fever—cries for and in the name of the nation—has always been one of the favourites of cinema—for reasons plentiful. As society craves satiation of its nationalist desires, cinema is always hot and ready to throw an exhibition of its patriotism and while doing so, make capitalist gains too. This particular film-making keeps on changing the packaging and marketing of its visual products. But, time and again, deflates and falls on the ground wherever cinematic style and substance are concerned. It’s a ceaseless cinematic tragedy where films try to cling to the nation’s glorious past and remain unconscious to their petty propagandistic anatomy.
Historically, Indian cinema has “been an important component in the nation-building process. Multiple imaginations of the nation have been projected on the silver screen, from the silent era newsreels, to popular television in the 1980s”. There have been profuse mutations in the projection of nationalism on the screen including—the addictive dives into India’s glorious past; frequent appearances of communal harmony and dissonance; a generous amount of nationalism against or ‘instigated by the other’ and so on. Right now, we are at the intersection of all the present and evolving temperatures of nationalism in cinema, which has given birth to a tonne of social media drama.
As films like Brahmastra (2022) claim to take Indian ancient history and mythology to new heights, others like Adipurush (2023) are letting the audience snack and suckle on the epic, Ramayana—film-makers are leaving no stone unturned to show their nationalistic fervour as their films march back to the roots. Despite all the changing textures of nationalism in cinema, there are themes of misogyny, sadism, victimhood and propaganda, which play as regulars on the Indian cinematic screen while the storyline keeps on warming the bench. For example: The Kashmir Files (2022) claimed to show the reality of the Kashmiri Pandit exodus and the horrors it brought for the community as a whole. However, as we kept on waiting for the storyline to shine, all we received was a sadistic spectacle, meticulously brought together to stuff the greedy mouths of a violence-hungry crowd. This film “takes perverse pleasure in villainizing Muslims and stoking the fire of communal hatred. It is a brilliant example of how facts can be used in service of fabrication”. Moving a step further, more than villainizing a particular community (which is a common recipe for films like these), the frightening element is how the graphic violence on the bodies of Kashmiri Pandits is employed to pleasure the destructive nationalistic gaze. In this film, the trauma and horrors of the Kashmiri Pandit exodus are exploited and disrespected for bestial pleasure, some pennies and two seconds of fame.
Besides sadism, within the sphere of cine-patriotism, the idea of ‘mother’ is invoked and used as a prop to render a patriotic colour to the protagonist and paint him (typically, a heterosexual male) as a national hero. The idea which is being sold here can be broken down in simpler words: Land, in a metaphorical sense, is the mother of all its inhabitants and whenever this mother is under threat by the enemies, its children must stand up and protect it with their lives. Seems like a good little bedtime story—what could go wrong, right? Well, a lot is amiss here. For example: In most war-militaristic films, the image of a nation is conceived as a ‘woman’ (a mother) and the people fighting for it as its ‘protectors’, who desire to safeguard its honour and chastity against foreign invasion. Then, when these forces win, she is their ultimate trophy, constantly patting their pride on the head. This metaphorical treatment of land as a woman is gravely problematic and promotes the idea that in reality too, a woman’s body is not only to be defended by aggressive masculine forces but is also deficient of any agency, rights and autonomy.
We can also argue that in stories like these, ‘motherhood’ is milked by filmmakers to make a case for toxic nationalistic masculinity and legitimise violence on other communities. And, just to point out a few problems with the cinema’s ready-to-shoot patriotic prompt, we can contend: First, why is a geographical entity being manufactured as a feminine abstraction to entertain masculine imaginations, suffering from a saviour complex? Second, what and where is the authority which decides the ‘us’ and the ‘other’ in these films? And, third, if we are to celebrate the nation’s victory over the enemy, at what point does this ‘success’ party become a feeding ground for sadism?
The mass production and consumption of films like these are on a surge; therefore, we need a healthier and finer portrayal of different communities and their history, culture and aspirations in the visual realm to counter it. Skewing reality and selling it off as a nation’s honour can give people doses of headless pride for a fleeting moment but eventually, films do reveal their sexist and sadist physique to their spectators, and fall face first onto the ground.
"Sabahat Ali Wani is a writer, researcher and artist from Kashmir. She loves to explore the intersection of cinema with gender, identity and politics, and believes that the appreciation of cinema is incomplete without its criticism."