War films encapsulate both the horror and the heroism of wars. No one wants war but sometimes it’s necessary to fight one, especially when it comes to safeguarding the pride of our motherland. Bollywood filmmakers traditionally make highly fictionalised accounts of the various battles and wars fought by our braveheart soldiers. One of the favourite subjects is to showcase the fight against the outsiders. Presenting a list of historical war films which showed Indian warriors fighting the oppressor with all their might.
Director: Kedar Kapoor
Cast: Prithviraj Kapoor, Dara Singh, Mumtaz
The film became famous mainly due to its song Jahan daal daal par sone ki chidiya karti hai basera. India was known as the golden bird in the West back then and Alexander or Sikandar (Dara Singh) wanted to capture that bird. The basic plot of Alexander attacking India and given a tough fight by King Porus (Prithviraj Kapoor) has been padded up by adding many subplots here. For instance, Sikandar is shown to have a Persian lover Cynthia (Mumtaz), who exacts a promise from Porus that he’ll now kill Sikandar. Porus’ son (Prem Nath) is shown to leave for the war on his wedding day. Porus is shown to be defeated by treachery. And many such addendums. Basically, the film showcased the might of the Indian king Porus, who compelled Sikandar to return home from Jhelum itself and give up his dream of conquering India. It also showed that it was the disunity among the Indian kings which led to the incursion of the foreigners in the first place.
Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (2019)
Director: Kangana Ranaut, Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Atul Kulkarni, Jisshu Sengupta, Suresh Oberoi, Danny Denzongpa, Ankita Lokhande
LIke Porus, Rani Laxmibai, the queen of Jhansi, too wanted a united front against the British. And just like Porus, was defeated because of internal rivalry and treachery. Nevertheless, she not only personally made life hell for the British, but her immortal deeds also inspired millions to revolt against the British Empire even after her death. Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s famous poem Jhansi Ki Rani is a prime example of how inspiring her life was as Chauhan wrote it during the height of India’s freedom struggle against the British and the poem ignited the flame of patriotism in many hearts. Kangana looks to the manor born playing Laxmibai. She channels the spirit of the warrior queen and is her fierce best in war scenes and also manages to give us a glimpse of the icon’s soft side. She’s aided by a talented ensemble cast comprising Atul Kulkarni as her mentor Tatya Tope, Jisshu Sengupta as her husband Gangadhar Rao, Suresh Oberoi as father-figure Bajirao II, Danny Denzongpa as her war chief Ghulam Ghaus Khan and Ankita Lokhande as Jhalkaribai, the woman who pretended to be her and helped her escape. Manikarnika is a moving saga indeed and one we can all take inspiration from when it comes to emulating resolve and valour.
Director: Manoj Kumar
Cast: Manoj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Shatrughan Sinha, Hema Malini, Parveen Babi, Dheeraj Kumar, Pradeep Kumar, Prem Chopra, Kunal Goswami, Sulochna and Kamini Kaushal
The film depicted the story of India’s freedom struggle between the years 1825 and 1875. It was during this time that armed uprisings against the British were taking place. Though it’s a fictional account, the sentiments echoed in the film are genuine indeed. Manoj Kumar’s take on that portion of history combined melodrama with a lot of action. Sangha (Dilip Kumar) is an honest employee of Raja Laxman Singh (Jairaj). When Laxman Singh conditionally permits the British to use the port for trading purposes, Sangha finds out that the British are taking out gold and jewellery and bringing in ammunition, he puts a stop to this. Laxman Singh is killed by his enemies and Sangha is charged with treason. He runs away and becomes a freedom fighter by the name of Kranti. Soon, he’s a dreaded pirate harassing the British. His son Bharat (Manoj Kumar), separated from him, grows up to be a Robin Hood-like figure who too calls himself Kranti. The father and son combine to fight the British and are helped in the exploit by a motley crew of characters. The film again pointed out the fact that it was the disunity between the Indian princes which helped the British overcome the armed resistance. It also pointed out that the common man was indeed very much supportive of the freedom fighters, as is the case today where the masses are totally in support of the army.
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Cast: Arjun Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Kriti Sanon
Panipat brings to life the third battle of Panipat which was lost by the Marathas under the leadership of Sadashivrao Bhau (Arjun Kapoor), who nevertheless fought against the outsiders till his dying breath. Sadashiv was successful against the Nizam of Udgir down South and hence he was given the command of the Maratha army against Afghan chieftain Ahmad Shah Abdali (Sanjay Dutt). It’s a long march from Pune to Panipat and Sadashiv planned to utilise the services of Maratha chieftains settled along the way, asking them for rations and men, strengthening his army. He also hoped for the support of Sikhs and Rajputs against the Afghan invaders. But things didn’t go as planned. Most of his alliances failed. His army ran out of rations. They were also encumbered by a large number of civilians that had followed his army. This included pilgrims, as well as wives and children of the soldiers. The director has made a case for Hindu Muslim unity with the film. Bajirao’s Muslim son by Mastani, Shamsher is Sadashiv’s most trusted aide and goes down fighting alongside him. Ibrahim Khan Gardi is shown to be a crucial component in his war machine as well. All-in-all, it’s a detailed war film, showing us how it’s not only valour but also strategy that makes the difference between victory and defeat. The intricately crafted war scenes take the pride of place in the film. You can feel the noise and the tremors go through you when the guns start blazing. The formation of troops, the deployment of various devices adds drama to the story.
Mangal Pandey: The Rising (2005)
Director: Ketan Mehta
Cast: Aamir Khan, Rani Mukerji, Ameesha Patel, Toby Stephens, Kirron Kher
The film pointed out that sometimes, it takes just one man to start a revolution. Mangal Pandey is credited to be the soldier who fired the first bullet against the British. His historic act triggered the war of Independence in 1857. This simple fact was stretched into a long-drawn melodrama by director Ketan Mehta. The heavy-handed drama was thankfully buoyed by commendable performances from the lead cast, especially Aamir Khan and Rani Mukerji. The film showed how even simple soldiers can turn the tide of destiny with enough motivation. Luck wasn’t on the side of the mutineers and ultimately treachery undid them, otherwise, they surely would have kicked out the British almost a hundred years before they actually left.
Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior (2020)
Director: Om Raut
Cast: Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan, Kajol, Luke Kenny, Sharad Kelkar
Tanhaji was just one man and yet he became a legend because he dared to do the impossible. The film chronicles the capture of the Kondhana Fort by the Marathas. It was of strategic importance to Aurangzeb as from there he could keep an eye over the whole South region. Shivaji had to cede the fort to him following the treaty of Purandar and was desperate to get it back. His trusted aide Tanhaji Malusare along with his band of diehard soldiers captured the fort by climbing over seemingly impregnable walls and defeated the Rajput commander Udaybhan who was in charge of the fort. Tanhaji lost his life gaining the objective and the fort was renamed as Sinhagad in his memory by Shivaji as he had fought like a lion. The grand scale of the war drama, the creatively crafted battle scenes, and the final confrontation between Tanhaji and Udaybhan made it an edge-of-the-seat thriller. Ajay Devgn brought to life Tanhaji’s intensity, his devotion to Shivaji and his undying love for his motherland with utmost conviction. Saif Ali Khan’ and Shar Kelkar’s performances too came in for a lot of praise.