Military & Aerospace

Tinsel town, Social Media Project Misleading Image of Indian Army
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 13 Oct , 2021

Social media platforms may have demolished the monopoly of their mainstream counterparts and paved the way for the masses to have a voice of their own and influence public discourse. But nobody speaks about the flip side; the capacity to foster and propagate manufactured narratives, rendered more lethal by their very plausibility and phenomenal reach—way beyond anything imaginable until ten or twelve years ago. It is the equivalent of the Goebbels’s dictum with a vengeance—that a lie repeated a thousand times acquires the force of truth. It often ends up by falling into the same pit of dissembling which it originally set out to surmount.

In the wrong hands, these forums act as a tool of manipulating public opinion, promoting falsehoods, driving divisive narratives or crafting a flattering image.

However, the impact of video clips, as the most powerful component of social media, cannot be denied. They literally brainwash you into believing their version of reality, prompting you to question your own perceptions, often against your better judgement. The viewer is influenced by the content, without ever suspecting the intent or agenda of the creator. What may be a really shoddy product gets the thumbs up, with constant bombardment on the net about how good it is. In the wrong hands, these forums act as a tool of manipulating public opinion, promoting falsehoods, driving divisive narratives or crafting a flattering image.

So when Bollywood created a huge hype recently about Captain Vikram Batra, the  Kargil War hero, many believed that film makers had indeed become serious about projecting soldiers and their personas in a proper perspective, unlike their systematic dumbing down in the past. However, watching these uploaded video clips made for a rather disappointing experience. The cinematic version of Shershah conveys an overwhelming impression of romance and mawkishness which takes centre-stage, diminishing the gravity of the grim battles fought to regain those heights, against some of the most daunting odds. Unfortunately, it has long been the bane of film industry. The actor who portrayed the reel life Param Vir Chakra recipient seemed to be out of sync with the intense, real life character. When will the tinsel town ever realize that the soldier lives not for romance, but for namak, naam and nishan, even if he has to sacrifice his very life while snatching victory from the very jaws of defeat? 

However, the movie’s climax sequence, featured in a video clip, happens to be so contrived and farcical that it even evokes comparison with the unreal looks of gaming shows, and conversely with the verisimilitude and immediacy of Saving Private Ryan, the grittiest ever depiction of war in global cinematic history, or even with the homespun yet well grounded Lakshya, kudos to 13 Punjab. As the director, Steven Spielberg had technical hands fire live rounds into dead pigs to see what kind of impact they would produce, before applying those lessons to his graphic, deeply disturbing version of World War II. Conversely, film makers here are just too disinclined to take any inspiration from the iconic director’s professionalism or cutting edge innovations. They abhor setting their own house in order, even though they are not averse to brazenly lifting themes and stories from Hollywood.

Why does Bollywood dispute the credentials of the Indian Army and give it a sectarian twist, sending a wrong message?

Shershah legitimizes beards too, which is an exception rather than a rule in the Indian Army, depending on specific circumstances, barring Sikhs. The protagonist sports one, so does his commanding officer and some others, a feature injected by Major Saab, which not only glorifies defiance by an extremely rowdy cadet at the National Defence Academy, but also justifies acts of insubordination, vandalism and rebellion, trivializing the nursery of military officers. An ageing and haughty ‘superstar,’ who directed the movie and plays an instructor, compounds his folly by keeping a pointed beard, copied by movies like Tubelight and Phantom, besides serials featured on the OTT platforms. Why does Bollywood dispute the credentials of the Indian Army and give it a sectarian twist, sending a wrong message?

A big production house has appropriated Capt Batra’s story and his heroism as a prop to showcase its own version of Kargil and its failure to project the sacrifices of Army officers and men in the right spirit. Numb with hunger and exhaustion, they battled on treacherous terrains and in sub zero temperatures, giving it their last ounce of energy, determined to eject the well entrenched enemy from hilltops, yet supremely unmindful of huge boulders rolling down their way or exploding mortar bombs around them. Amid all this carnage, the wounded had to be conducted to the nearest regimental aid post, which required eight hours and the Herculean efforts of eight stretcher bears to descend through extremely perilous paths.     

Of the scores of war movies churned out by Bollywood, including some ludicrous ones, wherein a major mouths expletives against enemy ranks, nothing ever comes close to Lakshya in its authentic portrayal of Indian soldiery, not even an iconic movie like Haqueeqat. Whether it is about a meeting of officers with their CO, or the Subedar Major’s interaction with his sepoys, the bivouacking of the unit around Pango Tso lake, the movement of convoys or a question of assaulting enemy positions, hand to hand combat, the presence of a regimental medical officer or even the play of luck on the battlefield, makes the movie seem so worthwhile watching. 

Unfortunately, there has virtually been a deafening silence on Bollywood’s skewed treatment of the Indian Army on the big screen…

Surprisingly, cinematic distortions and lampooning of berets, uniforms, ribbons and shoulder pips, present in video clips circulated as promotional ventures, have never been questioned by the military brass or ‘star struck’ bureaucrats in the MoD or the ministry of information. These bigwigs have gone out of their way to facilitate film makers in the name of artistic licence, even though they have been remiss in ensuring compliance with military norms and ethos. It is extremely doubtful whether anything has come of protests by the IAF recently, against the cynical depiction of a woman pilot in Kargil and alleged patriarchy in the service? Who knows whether similar distortions might be repeated in a forthcoming, over hyped movie on air warriors or biopic on Sam Bahadur. Down the years, the entertainment industry has become even more brazen in its trivialization of the Indian soldiery.

Unfortunately, there has virtually been a deafening silence on Bollywood’s skewed treatment of the Indian Army on the big screen and vicious attacks on the soldiery in public, besides its many sins of omission and commission, thanks to its nexus with the Luytens media and corporate entities. The association serves to protect the industry from the fallout of its regressive mindset, exploitation of women and patronising attitude, scandals, link-ups with the drug mafia, the underworld and havala, until a scam brutally shreds the assiduously cultivated image. Following the shocking revelations of drug abuse by a ‘megastar’s’ son and his friends on board a cruise ship the other day, a number of so called A-listers have already jumped into the fray pleading for leniency towards the ‘boy,’ who is actually an adult, advancing all kinds of absurd logic on social platforms.

The scandal has jolted the nation, coming in the wake of much bigger racket involving hundreds of video clips on sex and sleaze, produced by a Bollywood couple. Despite all the glitz and glamour, the tinsel town can never be a role model for the youth or arbiter of values, even though celebrities are looked upon as demigods and have a tremendous hold on the masses. They love to impersonate military men and sport their uniforms and capitalize on their valour, but have no scruples in demonizing them on the social media. This lobby is also the loudest in protesting action against stone-pelters and terrorists through toxic tweets, maligning the Army in tandem with the tukde-tukde gang, overzealous human rights activists and liberals.

In the not too distant past, the self-same group of anti-nationals set an extremely detrimental precedent by virtually bulldozing the Apex Court to conduct a hearing, well past midnight, to save a notorious terror accused from the gallows the next morning. They are carrying this precedent forward by trashing the efforts of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and dismissing its raid on a cruise ship as fake, besides giving the event a communal twist. These celebrities, as role models, however misconceived, never tire of exhorting the youth to avoid drugs and smoking and lead a healthy life, but are indulging in the habit surreptitiously themselves, mocking at the laws of the land. Can one forget how this lobby slandered Sushant Singh Rajput as a druggie whose addiction they said was behind his alleged suicide?

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Sudip Talukdar

is an author and strategic affairs columnist.

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