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Nationalism, Cricket, and Hindi Cinema

By Aditya Krishnan and Aasita Bali

Nationalism, in a very broad sense, is a shared feeling in a given geographical or demographic region. It is through national identity that one can relate to any belief or political ideology that involves an individual identifying with or becoming attached to one’s nation based on the social conditioning and personal behaviours that support a state’s decisions and actions. It is a strong like-mindedness of the people towards factors like race, religion, language, culture, etc., which lets them relate to each other and associate with the nation. A nationalist always strives for independence and the domination of one’s nation and expresses his love and concern for it in an active political way (Orwell, 1953). It takes the form of political ideology when it gets mixed with notions like justice, pride, and humiliation of the people. Nationalism finds expression through political aspirations (Sethi, 2014). As Peri Pamir suggests in the Indian context, colonization caused the feeling of nationalism to emerge amongst the people against the oppressors. The suffering of the people and the need to overthrow the colonial yoke united the people as one. According to George Orwell, nationalism is ‘the worst enemy of peace’ as it is a feeling of one’s country being superior to the others – the aggressive side of nationalism.

Popular Hindi cinema has evolved from being an elitist mass media to popular mass media. It has broken barriers of caste and class and brought people from diverse backgrounds together in the cinema halls. A quick scan through literature on Bollywood suggests that with 43% of the net box-office revenue, Bollywood is one of the largest film producers in India as well as the world. Cinematic themes in Bollywood has ranged from contemporary issues, mythology, family drama and more recently, sports where films based on cricket or cricket players have caught the attention of the audience.

Cinema and Cricket

Cricket, as we all know, is nothing short of a religion in India. Whether on the playground near your home or watching the national team play in a stadium abroad, nothing brings people together better than their love for playing or watching their favourite players in action – a passion which resonates on social media, whether in the form of praise, criticism or arguments with fellow fanatics (Aneez, 2014). Being more than just a game, cricket assumed the mantle of a national obsession after the 2003 World Cup tournament, when India reached the finals after twenty years. Beginning with a string of poor performances, the then captain of the Indian team, Saurav Ganguly was in the eye of the storm. But as soon as the Indian team reached the next stage, victory in cricket became an everyday fixation for the people of the nation. The madness was at a level that affected the daily routine of urban middle-class households.

During the 2003 World Cup, the Dalal Street in Mumbai was empty on the day of India’s super-six clash against Sri Lanka. The tournament gave a new meaning to Indian nationalism. It came to stand for a sporting arena where the words ‘war’ and ‘entertainment’ complimented each other. It cemented a cultural platform where common Indians expressed their nationalist sentiments. There was a marriage between sport and nationalism as well as entertainment and patriotism (Majumdar & Bandhopadhyay, 2004).

Rationale or Why Cricket?

In India, cricket is one of the major sources of national solidarity. For a cricket fan, this sport is nothing less than a religious ritual and cricketers are their demi-gods. Every cricket series is a summon to national honour and glory. A good day in the field for the Indian cricket team effortlessly produces national euphoria in the streets and cockiness in the television studios; a bad day generates gloom and name-calling – the rival captain’s sportsmanship is doubted, the umpires’ competence challenged, and the match referee’s fairness is questioned (Khare, 2008). Thus, there is a deep sense of nationalism associated with this sport which makes it interesting to understand how recent films have captured the essence of cricket nationalism. Right after the success of the film Lagaan (2001), cricket became avidly depicted in various movies time and again, for instance in Iqbal (2005), Chain Kulii ki Main Kulii (2007), Dil Bole Hadippa (2009), Patiala House (2011), Azhar (2016), and Kai Po Che (2013). Cricket comes with the nation-state’s hegemonic assumptions. And when the nation-state’s ideology is a contested one, cricket reflects these contestations (Chatterjee, 2016). This article analyzes two post-Lagaan films – Patiala House and Kai Po Che – where cricket is the center of the plot, in an attempt to show how various shades of nationalism have been depicted through cricket.

Set in England, the film Patiala House reflects sentiments of the Indian diaspora going through an identity crisis. In this film, cricket plays a unifying element, which bridges the gap between alienation and acceptance. Gurtej Singh (Rishi Kapoor) is an ardent fan of Indian cricket, for whom cricket is not just a game but a means to connect with his Indian roots. On the other hand, his son Gattu (Akshay Kumar) is born in England and identifies himself with the dominant British culture and opts to play as a fast bowler for England, causing tensions between father and son. In the film, cricket becomes a ‘symbol’ of national identity and patriotism; playing for the former colonial ruler is almost perceived as betraying the country and becoming a traitor.

Kai Po Che is a story of three friends, Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput), Omi (Amit Sadh), and Govind (Rajkummar Rao) and their dream of starting their own sports shop and sports academy, set against the socio-political backdrop of the 2002 Gujarat riots. The film depicts the repercussion of the riots on these friends and how it becomes the reason for their eventual break-up, reuniting in the context of the Indian cricket team’s surprising Test win over Australia, as they miss their customary celebrations after India wins cricket matches. The film showcases the bonds formed between people through cricket, which brings together friends and strangers. The presence of the opponent on the pitch is enough to initiate a feeling of togetherness in the crowd. This could also be associated with the collective colonial memories associated with the game. Also, the kind of rush the viewer experiences while watching the stadium spectator celebrating the victory is infused with the sentiments of pride, patriotism, and oneness. In Kai Po Che too, it is this collective celebration, which represents the national identity and the point where characters from different socio-religious backgrounds come together. Cinema becomes a medium to celebrate the sport.

In India, cricket is part of the meta-narrative of heroes, who have fascinating, fairytale stories that inspire millions. It is quite similar to any movement, which would bring people together for a common cause. Cinema becomes the space where their fantastic journey gets played out on screen. Victory in a cricket match binds the nation together both on and off screen. Visuals of cricketers hitting sixes and running between the wickets, crowd swaying the national flag when the national team gets an edge over the opponents, fans dressed in clothes resembling the national flag, the screaming and the adulation are all symbols used in the cinematic visual narrative, which instills a feeling of nationalism amongst the audiences.

Before joining academics, Aasita Bali was working as Documentary film-maker with DECU-ISRO, She has published research articles in various journals and is part of the editorial board for international journals. Her area of interest and research includes Indian cinema, Gender Studies, Advertising, Pedagogy in Higher Education, and Digital Media. 

Aditya Krishnan is a Research Scholar at Christ University Bangalore and is an ardent fan of Indian cricket team. His favorite Indian cricketer is M. S. Dhoni. Besides, he is also a movie buff of Bollywood films and trained Carnatic musician.


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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