On Republic Day, as we salute the country’s military might, its sovereignty and cultural diversity, we bring you a compilation of films from South India that are patriotic without being preachy or jingoistic. This handpicked selection of movies is not hyper-nationalistic, one-tone, or deeply formulaic entertainers. They are some of the most poignant, sensible and heartfelt movies that explore the love for one’s country at a very personal level and from multiple perspectives. These movies, which were made between the 1990s and 2020s, have a different gaze towards patriotism than mere chest-thumping.
This Mani Ratnam’s classic is a significant movie for two reasons. One, it introduced AR Rahman to the world. Two, it was arguably the first film to explore the complicated security situation of Kashmir on the celluloid. With this film, Ratnam brought the war, which felt beyond our grasp and sight, to our doorstep. The nuances that Ratnam has shown in the movie are rather bold and daring. The film tells the tale of how people become victims of circumstances beyond their control and unwillingly end up doing things that their conscience won’t allow. The scene where Arvind Swami’s character takes on the terrorists to protect the national flag, with Rahman’s score blaring in the backdrop is still fresh in the audience’s memory.
Another Mani Ratnam classic that talks about national unity and the idea of India, the film follows the romance between an inter-faith couple, who elope to escape the religious divide in their village that won’t allow their union. They come to Bombay (now Mumbai), the melting pot of the country’s diversity, with a dream of living in peace. But, the very communal hatred they wanted to escape, comes knocking on their door, resulting in largescale irreparable loss. AR Rahman’s Bombay Theme still tugs at our heartstrings.
Director Shankar’s 1996 blockbuster reminds us that patriotism is not what you say but how you practice. It is about choosing personal integrity over shortcuts that hold back the country’s progress. The film shows a freedom fighter in his 70s, who fought the British in his youth, waging a war against the corrupt government officials to rid the country of the menace of bribery. And he’s willing to make great sacrifices in his service for the nation, even if it means killing his own son.
One cannot write enough about this movie. There is so much information to unpack no matter how many times you have seen it. This film is Kamal Haasan’s love letter to Mahatma Gandhi. It follows the transformation of a non-believer into a true believer of non-violence. Kamal wonderfully channels the confusions and resentment of a common man, who is forced to pay a heavy price during India’s Partition. He is told Gandhi is the sole reason for all the pain he’s going through, and he’s ready to pull the trigger on the Mahatma. It is a classic setup between blind hate versus unconditional love. The film remains relevant even after 20 years.
Mahesh Narayanan’s debut movie tells the story of a group of Malayalee nurses who get stranded in Iraq when ISIS takes over the country. Inspired by real-life events, the movie is about the resilience of the group nurses and the rescue operation conducted by the Indian government to secure their freedom from the grips of ISIS. Parvathy is a revelation in this movie as nurse Sameera, who rises to the occasion and leads her colleagues to safety.
This movie emphasises the need for humanism more than vengeance. Directed by Dr Bij, it has Prithviraj Sukumaran playing the lead role as a doctor who has witnessed the death of his wife and child in a terrorist attack. His moral strength is put to test when he is assigned to treat a woman from a terrorist group that was responsible for the death of his family. Things get more complicated when the woman entrusts the doctor to take her 5-year-old son to his father, who is the leader of the terror group. It sets off the doctor on a journey to reunite a boy with his father. The movie is a soulful narrative of how love always trumps hate.
Melvilasom is a courtroom drama directed by Madhav Ramadasan with Suresh Gopi in the lead. The entire story unspools inside a courtroom. The movie sheds the light on the prevalence of caste discrimination in the Indian military and how hierarchy is misused by high-ranked officers to humiliate subordinates. It is an intense courtroom drama.
Director Krishna Vamsi’s film feels as timely and relevant today as it was in 2002. The film shows us how communal hatred plays straight into the hands of extremists. It is an uplifting movie about how people from different religious backgrounds rise beyond toxic politics and unite in a fight to protect their fellow countrymen.
It is not just the best work of director Krish Jagarlamudi aka Krish, but also one of the best Telugu films ever made on national unity. The movie was made in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, Krish works that pain and terror into the script. When a group of terrorists launches a full-scale attack and indiscriminately opens fire on unarmed patients of a government hospital, it comes down to a few able-bodied civilians to stop the terrorists. It follows four misfits who battle religious bigotry, toxic parenting, power abuse and poverty every day in their lives. But when it is needed, they are willing to risk their own lives to save others.