Friday, August 15, 2014

Patriotism in Cinema

The Birth of Indian Cinema ( both in the North and the South) is itself a Story of Patriotism.

 Dadasaheb Phalke watched a film produced Overseas on the Life of Christ. He wanted “Indian” stories to be told and made the first Indian feature film – Raja Harischandra. When Bal Gangadhar Tilak heard of the difficulties faced by Phalke he offered to help him and introduced Phalke to several business men in Bombay – Phalke then started his Hindustan Film Company refusing the offer of these Businessmen as their motive was only Profit from their Investment.. Much like Tilak inspiring V.O.Chidambaram to start a shipping company. Nataraja Mudaliar too wanted to make Indian movies and started his Indian Film Company in 1917 and started making films in the South of India.

From the early years Film makers included both directly and indirectly themes,songs, dialogues and even characters to inspire the Indian public to fight for freedom. D.N.Sampat , the owner of Kohinoor Studios found that he had a resemblance to Gandhi and so acted in his film Bhaktha Vidurar in 1921. The film was initially banned and later allowed in parts of India where it ran to house fuil shows. In 1935 V.Shantharam made a film called Mahatma – the hero bore a resemblance to Gandhiji and the British had him change the title to Dharmathma.

The connection between the freedom struggle and Fine Arts was brought about in the south by the S.Sathyamurthy. He was not just an Advocate and ardent patriot but also a dramatist. He used to be part of Pammal Sammanda Mudaliar’s Suguna Vilasa Sabha. He brought K.B.Sundarambal , M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and many others into the freedom movement and even made them switch over to Khadi.

One of the earliest to make films in support of the Freedom movement and the policies of Gandhi was K.Subrahmanyam. In 1936 he made Balayogini a film that attacked the Caste system. He , being a Brahmin was excommunicated. He next made “Sevasadan ( 1938) based on a Munshi  Premchand’s novel. This dealt with Prostitutes and the emancipation of women and the status of women in India. His next film in 1939 was Thayagabhoomi. This was clearly echoing Gandhi’s call for Freedom. This is the story of Sahmbhu Sastry a Temple priest played by Papanasam Sivan and his Daughter Savithri/Uma Devi played by S.D.Subbulakshmi. The film starts with the temple priest sheltering Daliths inside the Temple when Floods hit the Village for which the Priest is sent out.

 The second part of the film is about his daughters ill treatment at the hands of her husband and how she fights back. She is inspired by the call to freedom and joins the struggle. In open court she states that she does not want to live with her cruel husband and is even willing to pay him alimony ( Jeevanamsam). This was totally revolutionary for that era. The films script was serialized in Ananda Vikatan and S.S.Vasan distributed the film. The film was released in Gaiety and the British Government decided to ban the film. Vasan opened the doors of gaiety and allowed  everyone to see the film. The crowds thronged at the Theater and prevented the Police from serving the Ban order. This resulted in lathi charge and even firing. The film used many stock shots of National Leaders and Congress workers marching and protesting. The song “Desa sevai seyya vareer” written by Kalki and sung by D.K.Pattammal was so inspiring that it was sung by many even after the Film was banned.

When H.M.Reddy made the first Tamil Talkie “Kalidas” it had songs penned by Madurai Bhaskara Das which was sung by T.P.Rajalakshmi – the song was “ Raattinamaam Gandhi Kai baana maam”. In Valli Thirumanam made in 1935 , Valli played again by T.P.Rajalakshmi while protecting the fields shouts at the birds asking the “White storks ( Vellai Kokku) to gop away forever. In the same film Lord Muruga in the disguise of a bangle seller asks Valli to buy “swadeshi Valayal”.  The songs of Mahakavi Bharathi were used by T.K.Shanmugam and his brothers for their play “Desa Bhakthi” as well as in the films Menaka and Nava Yuvan.  In January 1947 the song Aaduvome palli paaduvomey was used by A V Meiyappan for his film Naam Iruvar again sung by D.K.Pattammal. B.N.Reddy , B.Nagi Reddy and G.Ramabrahmam made several Nationalistic and socially responsible films in Telugu like Vandematharam , Ryathu Bidda , Grihalakshmi. The famous Telugu playback singer Ghantasala was one of those who went to Jail for the Quit India movement in 1942 – so too the Phalke award winning Cameraman V.K.Murthy.

Sivaji Ganesan was one of those actors who has played a string of roles that inspired Patriotism. His Veerapaandiya Kattabomman and Kappalottiya Thamizhan are still viewed as classics.  He has also played Bhagath Singh , Kodi Kaaththa Kumaran and Mahakavi Bharathi. In the film Raththa Thilakam patriotism is brought out as it is set on the Indo China War. Lata Mangeshkar sang the song Ae mere watan ke logon – oh people of my country -  in the presence of Nehru and the song brought Tears to Panditji’s eyes. Both in the China war and the later Pakistani wars Film actors went to the Border to  encourage our Soldiers. The story of the Maruthu Pandi Brothers was told in the film Sivagangai Seemai. Later film makers too used the Independnace struggle in many of their films. “Kaala Paani” by Priyadarshan , Indian by Shankar , 1942 a Love Story and Lagaan  in Hindi, Alluri Seetharama Raju in Telugu , M.S.Sathyu’s  Kanneeswara Rama in Kannada and I.V.Sasi’s “1921” in Malayalam to name a few.
Many many films were made on the lives of those who fought for our Country's Freedom. Nethaji Subhash Chandra Bose , Bhagath Singh , Veer Savarkar to name just a few. It is indeed ironical that it required a Brit like Sir Richard Attenborough to make an international film on the father of the Nation - Mahatma Gandhi.

Patriotism later became the central theme as films began to focus on the menace of Terrorism. The scene where Arvind Swami rushes to save the National Flag in Roja by Mani Ratnam always inspires us every time we watch it . Actors Arjun in Tamil and Manoj Kumar in Hindi have made a number of films with the love for our country as the core theme. Who can forget Mehboob’s Mother India ? Kamalhassan's Vishwaroopam  , Kuruthi Punal , Hey Ram and Indian are also great examples of Patriotic films.

The list of Films and film makers who impacted the freedom struggle and later the Patriotic spirit is endless and I have but touched on a few of them. 

Many may not know that our National Anthem “Jana Gana Mana” had already featured in a Bimal Roy Movie – Udhayar Paathe in Bengali (1944) and its Hindi version Humraahi (1945). This is proof enough of the contribution Cinema has made to the Freedom movement. 

Mera Bhaarath Mahaan . Engal Bhaaratha Desam endru thol kottuvom.


Bimal Roy's Hum Rahi


Sivaji in Kappalottiya Thamizhan

Telugu Malli Pelli


K.Subrahmanyam , S.D.Subbulakshmi and Baby Saroja with M.S
Sivaji, Karunanidhi and Sakthi Krishnaswamy,who wrote Kattabomman - after a play.


A scene from Thyagabhoomi - SDS , Baby Saroja and Papanasam Sivan

Jai Hind.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.