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Guns, Guts and glory but on a big screen – the Indian armed forces in cinema.

This blog only talks about the author’s personal opinions, from which the readers are free to disagree. While certain instances do talk about particular things from specific films, it is an attempt to talk about the representation of the Indian military in the movies at large.

Uniformed men and women have always been the resort of producers and directors, especially in the Indian film industry, since the movie Border in the year 1997, to the much recent Shershaah in 2021. Pan Indian production houses, the forces tend to be utilised as a tool to showcase jingoism and nationalism, although mostly with right-wing governments, not exclusively under them. As soon as the point of indirect governmental involvement comes up, the talks of glorification and forwarding the agenda, i.e., propaganda rise, too. Let’s have a glance at glorification first. Be it India or any nation, such films are the modus operandi of reiterating the soft power and the military might of the nations they belong to. Till the time this glorification is backed by facts on ground, great. The dichotomy surfaces when these are used as vehicles to ride on, for political gains.

Is it an inaccuracy or a deliberate ignorance?

The train of thought, that film-makers aren’t licensed to show the exact uniforms of the soldiers, has been there for quite some time, in spite of being busted by officers who don’t wish to be named. By now, it ought to be an established fact that inaccurate display of ranks, uniforms, berets and medals is an implication of poor research and is not remotely related to authorisation. The officers sporting a beard, can still be done under the pretext of creative freedom, but how does one justify a uniform and an occasion matched wrongly?

Lately the portrayal of the forces has been way more detailed and authentic than the past, that said, there still are nuances which a civilian might be unable to bring on screen in the correct manner, nuances which only the people who belong to the background would understand. Let’s see for ourselves, the movie Rustom, that was released in the year 2016. It’s based on the case of a Naval officer from the 1950s, Commander KM Nanavati, who was starred by Akshay Kumar, but with recent vintage medals and wrongly reversed “Nelsons Rings”. Not denying the fact that there have been a few flashes in the pan, some films that had far reaching consequences, which instilled a sense of reverence for the armed forces in its viewers. Films like Lakshya, which showed correct uniforms and at some point, in between those 3 hours did make the viewer thrive to know the forces better.

While there are films that got released under big banners like “Uri – The surgical strike” and Shershaah, there are also movies like Shaurya which attempted to bring out the glaring realities of the work that the Army does in sensitive areas like Jammu and Kashmir.

Is the Uniform gender neutral?

Until Flight Lieutenant Avani Chaturvedi held the helm of a Mig-21 Bison and bagged the title of India’s first female fighter pilot, women were largely seen as supporting soldiers who weren’t handed the leading crucial scenarios. The widely acclaimed film, standing at the receiving end of many accolades, Gunjan Saxena showed the fate of women officers in the Indian Air Force and was widely hailed as a movie which aligns itself with feminism. As a witness to the armed forces culture and ethos for over a score years, any defence brat can vouch for the fact that there have been women officers, who left behind a legacy of their service. The very next section talks about the severe implications such movies might have

So, what do we behest?

A particular scenario in the film Gunjan Saxena shows the commanding officer of a unit resort to a fist fight to show that the competence and credibility of male officers is unparalleled when it comes to operating in circumstances accompanied with high levels of stress and duress, when in reality, it boils down to the skill of handling a military chopper, which is tested similarly in the training academies. With the latter facet remaining unknown to majority of the female armed forces aspirants, what it does is the creation of a blanket opinion regarding the treatment and work culture of women in the armed forces.

What the public at large fails to understand is that, there exists a galore gap in what is shown to the viewers and what goes on inside the “protected areas”. Recent landmark verdicts of the Supreme Court, allowing women to sit for the National Defence Academy entrance examination, allowing a permanent commission to women cannot, and should not be viewed as standalone events, but ought to be seen from the perspective of history. People with differing backgrounds have distinct ways of receiving these developments.

There still remains a huge fraction of thinks which need to be deliberated upon, in the public forum, where people from all factions interact, and this piece in now way claims to be exact or exhaustive.

Behind the men and women, stand strong mothers, father, brothers, sisters, spouses, children, and friends; their sacrifices though not documented, and probably never will be in the record books, hold indispensable value in the hearts of the soldiers. To have that legacy and ethos live out the fault lines in Indian cinema, the onus is on us all, to strive and make an attempt to keep the people informed of the realities.

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