From ‘Uri’ to ‘The Kashmir Files’, India is living in an era of ‘approved’ art.
“Art is something subversive,” Picasso had said once. “If art is ever given the keys to the city, it will be because it’s been so watered down, rendered so impotent, that it’s not worth fighting for.”
Picasso couldn’t have foreseen what would happen to India decades later. But clearly, he did know what happens to an artist if he chooses to become one with the state: “Of course, the state has the right to chase him [the poet] away – from its point of view – and if he is really an artist, it is in his nature not to want to be admitted, because if he is admitted, it can only mean he is doing something which is understood, approved, and therefore, old hat – worthless.”
India’s New Wave of ‘Approved’ Art
India’s ongoing tryst with hypernationalism under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government has managed to achieve just this – the BJP’s is an era of ‘approved’ art.
In 2018, the BJP said on Twitter about Mangesh Hadawale’s Chalo Jeete Hain, “Chalo Jeete Hain’ is a short film that compels you to think who do you live for? It presents an inspiring story of young Naru, destined to serve the nation. Guess who.” The movie is said to be based on the early years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Aditya Dhar’s Uri: The Surgical Strike chronicled the Indian military’s much-celebrated operation against terrorist launchpads across the LoC in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The then-Union Finance Minister, Piyush Goyal, heaped praises on the film in the Lok Sabha. “Recently watched Uri – such fun, such passion it exudes,” he said to an audience of elated parliamentarians thumping their desks in unison.
In the latest offering, Vivek Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files, a depiction of the violent Kashmiri Pandit exodus from the Valley, has taken the country by storm – public endorsements for the film come not just from ministers, but from the Prime Minister himself.
It’s a different matter that Lt Gen (retired) DS Hooda, who was the chief of the Northern Command of the Army in September 2016 during the Uri surgical strike, had remarked that the strikes were politicised and overhyped in India. As for The Kashmir Files, the movie quickly became an excuse for chanting ‘Goli maaro’ (shoot them) in packed theatres, a vile slogan against Muslims popularised during the 2020 Delhi riots.