‘Mulk’ and ‘Rang De Basanti’: Two Films, One Nation. And What We Need Today

Everyone seems to have a lot to say about nationalism, patriotism and the exhibition of citizenship in India today. Suddenly everyone from politicians to moviemakers considers themselves an authority on Indian identity. And in this climate, in a country where news is censored, truth and free speech stifled, and death and rape threats routine, Anubhav Sinha’s Mulk makes you stop in your tracks. It articulates every question and emotion you have had as you live through these times of majoritarian supremacy.

Mulk asks the very questions that many of us have been quietly articulating in our personal political spaces.The film’s vivid depictions of knife-wielding mobs attacking minority groups are a rude wake up call to the complexity and disturbing quality of our current moment. The film, which made me cry and applaud in equal measure, demonstrates the desperate need for compassion and humanity at a time when hate crimes are increasingly normalised. It gave me hope. In this frustrating political climate, Mulk is a reminder of the power and subversive potential of cinema. It forces us to look within, and compels us to act.

Sinha’s movie gives voice to a number of questions that cycle through our heads on the daily. Who are these hyper nationalists? These people who believe they alone embody the idea of India? Where do they get this hate?  Are these people drunk on power? Or are they simply a majority with a pathological fear of minorities? When did identities become entirely political? When did we lose objectivity? When did we lose reason to the rising din of hate?

Mulk’s nuanced screenplay insists that we face these questions and encourages us to join the political dots that make up the answer. At a time when our right to question is itself under threat, the film is a necessary reminder of our capacity to question.

I hope every Indian watches this film. I hope that it encourages us to stitch together the tattered secular fabric of our country.

Mulk is not alone in its mandate. Rang de Basanti was another film that asks important questions about nationalism in India. As many in the country continue to conflate nationalism with allegiance to the ruling government, it is imperative to revisit this classic.

A film about fighting against injustice, about the power of the youth and the role of citizens in keeping power in check, Rang De Basanti is more relevant than ever before. Just recall the last scene, in which the nation is shocked by the state-sponsored murder of the students responsible for the defence minister’s death.

I am not justifying the violence shown in the film. I am, however, applauding the spirit of action and the film’s acknowledgement of our desperate need for change. The last two years have seen historic student protests across the country. Whether at Film and Television Institute of India, Jawaharlal Nehru University or Aligarh Muslim University, India’s articulate and angry youth have demanded accountability. It is this spirit of activism that Rang De Basanti celebrated all those years ago. As one of the world’s youngest nations, our youth are starting to understand the power of their voices.

Our reality today is more vicious than the one depicted in Rang De Basanti, but its message remains poignant. The idea that anyone can incite change or start a social movement is powerful and precisely what India needs today. Our nation needs to reclaim its real ethos, those articulated in the preamble of its constitution.

The message of agency is what unites both these films. They compel us to act. As 2019 approaches, our country is more vulnerable than ever. At this time, it is only action by free thinking individuals – those who insist on asking the questions the media can’t or won’t – that could make a difference. It all comes down to us now. To check power at every step. As August 15 approaches, we must remind ourselves of what it took to win our independence. The only way to safeguard our freedom is to value it and act on it.

“Ab bhi jis ka khoon na khaula, khoon nahin who paani hai. Jo desh ke kaam na aaye, weh bekaar jawaani hai.” (If your blood hasn’t boiled yet, then it’s not blood, it’s water. If your youth isn’t useful to the nation, then it’s a waste.)

You can read more from Saumya Baijal on her blog saumyabaijal.blogspot.com.

Featured image credit: Twitter