With general elections inching closer, political thrillers grip nation’s psyche

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Bollywood’s love for political stories might not be newfound, but as we inch closer towards general elections, political thrillers seem to have gripped the nation’s psyche. The year started with Pankaj Tripathi starrer Main Atal Hoon, biopic on former Prime Minister, late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and in the coming months, several others political thrillers including Article 370, Emergency, Bastar: The Naxal Files, Section 108, Sabarmati Report, The Delhi Files, are set to hit the screens. With several filmmakers vying to present intriguing stories around political leaders and key political events, there’s something for everyone. But what really makes such political themes click?

Yami Gautam and Kangana Ranaut are set to lead upcoming films Article 370 and Emergency respectively.
Yami Gautam and Kangana Ranaut are set to lead upcoming films Article 370 and Emergency respectively.

Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri who delivered award-winning The Kashmir Files (2022), apart from The Tashkent Files (2019) and The Vaccine War (2023) tells us that a film industry can never evolve in the absence of political themed movies. “A film industry that is not making a political film, is dehydrated. Every single film should address socio-political issues because it touches our life, and not as much as escapism,” explains the filmmaker, who is currently helming The Delhi Files, which is reportedly based on the 1984 Sikh riots that took place in New Delhi.

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In fact, it all started when filmmakers like Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Manoj Kumar, Guru Dutt, Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal, Prakash Jha, Sudhir Mishra among others brought a lot of socio-political commentary in their films, and the political genre continues to be a loved flavour for current crop of filmmakers, too.

While Yami Gautam’s Article 370 is set against the revoking of the rule Article 370 that gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir a special status, and fight terrorism, Emergency, headlined by Kangana Ranaut is a biographical historical drama based on Indian Emergency during former PM Indira Gandhi’s term.

Another reason why political thrillers always pull crowd is the relatability factor. Even if not directly, several movies keep subtle political undertones. Pointing at films such as Inquilaab (1984) and Aaj Ka MLA (1984), Gadar director Anil Sharma asserts that politics has always remained an integral part of our cinema. “Even today, if you go to the rural areas, people discuss politics sitting under a tree. Political dramas and thrillers are a popular sentiment in our country, hence it always works with the audience,” he says.

Actor Adah Sharma, who spearheaded hit film The Kerala Story (2023), will next be seen in Bastar: The Naxal Files, that traces the menace of Naxals in Chattisgarh. According to her, the final verdict remains in the hands of the audience. “The biggest movie of 2023 was Jawaan, followed by Pathaan and they were not political thrillers. I was in The Kerala Story which was part of the top films of the year too. It was a human drama. So, it is never one genre that works at a given point of time. Since time immemorial, movie watchers have embraced various genres equally. I have Bastar coming up which is a political thriller. If the audience decides it’s well made, it will work,” says the 31-year-old.

Furthermore, with projects for instance Rang De Basanti (2006), Raajneeti (2010), Rakta Charitra (2010), Aarakshan (2011) and Maharani (2021), we are indeed seeing an upswing in the genre. The crux remains that important stories are told from every lens, every aspect of the political spectrum because that’s what makes the nation think.


Film exhibitor Akshaye Rathi reiterates that political themes might not be a new experiment, filmmakers however try their own stories and that keeps a balance. “Cricket, cinema and politics are three things that’s so in your face in our country, that it is tough to avoid them. Many people might say a film is right-leaning like The Kerala Story or The Kashmir Files, but for each one of them, you’ve had an Article 15 or Mulk, which spoke from the other side of the political leaning,” he elaborates.

Producer and film expert Girish Johar opines that political thrillers made nowadays are highlighting the ideologies of the ruling party, and that makes them more relatable. “It’s a perspective at the end of the day. However, Anubhav Sinha’s Bheed was released at the perfect time but it didn’t do well, because audiences also seek relevance and entertainment. If they get both, they’ll watch it. For Republic Day we had Fighter, Teri Baaton Main Aisa Uljha Diya for Valentine’s, so this becomes a little topical as everyone is talking about elections. Producers can encash on a particular political situation,” he elucidates.

According to trade expert Atul Mohan, most filmmakers think that of they pick a political issue and set a narrative, they can benefit from it. “Several political thrillers are releasing this year, but they don’t have an edge as such as audience knows that it can be only agenda driven. Poore desh ka mahaul election ka hai so news mein zaroor reh sakti hain, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will do well at the box office also,” he says.

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