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Republic Day: What Shah Rukh Khan’s On-Screen Patriotism And Pathaan Fever Tell Us About India

January 26, 2023 | by Jinal Bhatt

As you read this, India is commemorating its Republic Day, a celebration of our Constitution coming into force, and bestowing upon us our rights, duties, and privileges. As you read this, India is also in the grip of Shah Rukh Khan mania, its love and admiration for the superstar reaching a fever pitch you’ll rarely see for any other celebrity. Pathaan isn’t some masterful filmmaking, nor is it the superstar’s best work. A lot of the fervour is due to his return to the big screen after 4 long years. And in the wake of the controversies surrounding the film’s release, some of this jubilation is for the triumph of love over reckless hate and curbs on the freedom to flaunt a certain colour or portray things that might be ‘offensive’ to overly delicate sensibilities.

SRK began by playing a Fauji, and in a career spanning over three decades, has done movies like Army, Veer Zara, and Jab Tak Hai Jaan, playing a soldier of the country. If, as is the new norm these days, doing such films is a measure of a celebrity’s patriotism, then Shah Rukh Khan’s settled his debts. But SRK’s brand of on-screen patriotism is thoda hatke, in that it isn’t screaming, shouting, spraying guns, and trying to make a lot of noise to prove how much the country means to his hero. It’s measured, more silent action than loud words, and on several occasions, more rationally civic than blindly emotional.

It’s a thin distinction, one that people often miss when they’re celebrating Republic Day. Unlike August 15th, January 26th isn’t about blind passionate emotion. If the former is about nation loving, the latter is about nation-building through fighting for our rights, doing our duties, not taking our privileges for granted, and striving to change with the times for progress. And if you pick up some of SRK’s movies, you’ll realise, they’re the perfect watch for Republic Day because they embody a lot of what this day stands for, now more than ever.

Take Pathaan, for example, in which his character comes up with a plan to start a special task force (J.O.C.R.) to take up intelligence missions for the country that no one else would. What’s more, he wants to onboard soldiers that have been deemed unfit by the country for its mainstream forces to take up this gig. His character is a level-headed man, making plans, setting up infrastructure, doing things by the book, and hell, even creating employment. What’s more, when the chance comes to collaborate with a rival country’s agent, he isn’t blinded by the usual hatred we’ve been taught to harbour.

Also Read: Pathaan Review: The Sexy Blockbuster That Was Promised To Our Shah Rukh Khan-Starved Hearts

Main Hoon Na

I still think of Shah Rukh as Major Ram from Main Hoon Na from time to time, and his speech to the antagonist Raghavan, played by Suniel Shetty. Much like Pathaan, Ram is also up against a former patriot who feels wronged by his country and decides to go rogue. Raghavan is bursting with emotion, while Major Ram keeps his monologue short and simple, believes in saving lives instead of killing people, and gives his enemies chances to right their mistakes.

Both Swades and Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani are perfect Republic Day films. The Ashutosh Gowariker film has SRK’s Mohan Bhargav drop the truth bomb that our country is far from perfect, which would be blasphemous to utter in the current political environment. But his character isn’t saying this to criticise; he is saying it to accept a truth so he could move on and do something about it. And he does. While Pathan takes the famous “Ask not what your country can do for you…” quote, and makes it about asking what a soldier can do for their country, Swades poses the same question to its regular citizens. Can you accept that your country is not perfect and strive to rectify that situation instead of galloping on your high horse pretending I’m the best?

“I’m The Best” is such a meta song from PBDHH, a film ahead of its time (producers SRK, Juhi Chawla, and Aziz Mirzas bore huge losses), where two star reporters think they’re all that until they decide to stop playing the game and get the rudest shock of their lives. Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani is our reality today. So easy it is for the media to manipulate a narrative, and ordain someone as an anti-national, much like the character played by Paresh Rawal in the film. We also witness what the power of journalism can do when wielded for the truth, and how it can change the face of a nation.

Also Read: Frivolous Boycott Of Films Like Pathaan Hampers Freedom Of Speech

And finally, there’s Chak De India. There’s of course the whole ‘girl power’ angle, and overcoming regional differences and patriarchy to score an unexpected victory there. But through coach Kabir Khan’s story, the film flips the above-asked question on its head. When you’ve done something for your country, but slip up that one time, what can your country do for you? Can it forgive you and give you a second chance? Does it stand by you? Or does it do that for you only if you have the right word filled in the religion, caste, class, and political affiliation column?

The answer is, yes, if you just let it breathe free in a besharam fashion, minus the toxic, hate-filled, and restrictive environment that so many elements are trying to create, your country can actually stand by you. The positive mass hysteria around Pathaan proves that we, the people of India, would rather celebrate a man spread his arms and spread love, than boycott something because those who do not understand freedom of speech and expression or even love in their true spirit, told us we need to do so. It’s what we’re made up of; it’s in our constitution.

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Jinal Bhatt

Sharp-tongued feminist. Proud nerd. Opinions with on-point pop-culture references about films, books, your toxic BF, the patriarchy, and the Oxford comma.

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