On Republic Day, as we salute the country’s military might, sovereignty and cultural diversity, we bring you a compilation of South Indian films that are patriotic without being preachy or jingoistic. This hand-picked selection of films aren’t hyper-nationalistic, monotonous, or deeply stereotypical performers. These are some of the most poignant, sensitive and heartfelt films that explore love for one’s country on a very personal level and from multiple perspectives. These films, which were made between the 1990s and 2020s, take a different look at patriotism than just boob shots.
This Mani Ratnam classic is an important film for two reasons. First, he introduced AR Rahman to the world. Second, it was arguably the first film to explore Kashmir’s complicated security situation on celluloid. With this film, Ratnam brought the war, which seemed beyond our reach and sight, to our doorstep. The shades that Ratnam showed in the film are quite bold and daring. The film tells the story of how people become victims of circumstances beyond their control and unwittingly end up doing things their conscience won’t allow. The scene where Arvind Swami’s character confronts the terrorists to protect the national flag, with Rahman’s score as a backdrop, is still fresh in the memory of the audience.
Another Mani Ratnam classic that is about national unity and the idea of India, the film follows the romance between an interfaith couple, who run away to escape the religious divide in their village that will not allow their union. They come to Bombay (now Mumbai), the country’s melting pot of diversity, with the dream of living in peace. But the very communal hatred they wanted to escape comes knocking at their door, resulting in irreparable loss on a large scale. AR Rahman’s Bombay theme always touches our hearts.
Director Shankar’s 1996 blockbuster reminds us that patriotism is not what you say but how you practice it. It’s about choosing personal integrity over shortcuts that hold back the country’s progress. The film shows a freedom fighter in his 60s, who fought the British as a young man, waging war against corrupt government officials to rid the country of the threat of corruption. And he’s willing to make great sacrifices in service to the nation, even if it means killing his own son.
We can’t write enough about this film. There’s so much information to unpack, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. This film is Kamal Haasan’s love letter to Mahatma Gandhi. It follows the transformation of a non-believer into a true follower of non-violence. Kamal perfectly channels the confusions and resentment of an ordinary man, forced to pay a heavy price during the partition of India. He is told that Gandhi is the sole reason for all the pain he is going through, and he is ready to pull the trigger on the Mahatma. It’s a classic configuration between blind hate and unconditional love. The film remains relevant even after 20 years.
Mahesh Narayanan’s debut film tells the story of a group of Malayalee nurses who find themselves stranded in Iraq when the Islamic State takes over the country. Inspired by real events, the film is about the resilience of the group’s nurses and the Indian government’s rescue operation to secure their release from the grips of ISIS. Parvathy is a revelation in this film as nurse Sameera, who rises to the occasion and leads her colleagues to safety.
This film emphasizes the need for humanism more than revenge. Directed by Dr. Bij, Prithviraj Sukumaran stars as a doctor who witnesses the death of his wife and child in a terrorist attack. His moral strength is tested when he is tasked with treating a woman from a terrorist group responsible for the death of her family. Things get complicated when the woman entrusts the doctor with taking her 5-year-old son to his father, who is the leader of the terrorist group. It sets the doctor on a journey to reunite a boy with his father. The film is a moving tale of how love always trumps hate.
Melvilasom is a court drama directed by Madhav Ramadasan starring Suresh Gopi in the lead. The whole story takes place in a courtroom. The film highlights the prevalence of caste discrimination in the Indian military and how the hierarchy is misused by high ranking officers to humiliate their subordinates. It is an intense legal drama.
Director Krishna Vamsi’s film feels as timely and relevant today as it did in 2002. The film shows us how communal hatred plays directly into the hands of extremists. It’s an uplifting film about how people from different religious backgrounds rise above toxic politics and unite in a fight to protect their compatriots.
It is not only the best work of director Krish Jagarlamudi aka Krish but also one of the best Telugu films ever made about national unity. The film was made in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008, Krish incorporates this pain and terror into the script. When a group of terrorists launch a full-scale attack and open fire indiscriminately on unarmed patients at a government hospital, it’s up to a few able-bodied civilians to stop the terrorists. It follows four misfits who battle religious bigotry, toxic parenting, abuse of power, and poverty every day of their lives. But when necessary, they are willing to risk their own lives to save others.