Bollywood Posters and Patriotism - Visual Research

How has the Visual Communication of bollywoood patriotic film posters evolved from the 1950s?

Duration: 1 Week (Team of 10) Tools used: Visual research methodology
Visual ResearchMovie PostersPython
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Abstract

Patriotic films, as films of most genres, reflect and create the culture of their times. With many films, the reflection of anxieties, beliefs, and values is unintentional, but in the case of Patriotic films, this representation is deliberate and directed. As the idea of nationalism and patriotism changes in India, we believe that its representation also changes drastically in patriotic cinema.

Our aim with this paper is to explore this changing representation through the visual language and communication of patriotic film posters. We believe that film posters, being the careful visual summaries of the films they are made for, can give us some insight into these changes and show us some interesting trends.

We curated a list of prominent movies from the 1950s to 2019. To analyze these posters, we decided upon a list of questions and criteria to help us create a code. These criteria attempt to account for multiple visual communication aspects which we feel will help us frame our understanding.

Introduction & Background

India’s political climate and its spirit of patriotism have been subjected to incredible change over the years. As moods and opinions shift and evolve, Bollywood movies continue to shape patriotism and the national spirit, as said by filmmaker Omung Kumar B., "Cinema has played a key role in defining the idea of India.” [1]

Starting with films such as ‘Mother India’ which came directly after Independence and spoke of the challenges of a new nation, Amitabh Bacchan’s ‘Deewar’ and Army based films such as ‘LoC Kargil’, ‘Border’ or even Lakshya which have dramatically affected the way we perceive Indian soldiers and Army personnel, therefore the effect of patriotic films on Indian society has been visible and massive.

There have been countless sub-genres in the larger category of patriotic cinema, but as explorations have continued, we can see also see great amount of Western influence on the way these films have been presented. For example, the way Aditya Dhar’s URI: The Surgical Strike using several influences from Hollywood patriotic movies such as Zero Dark Thirty [2] and the classic rogue assassin format, popularised by American cinema, of Kabir Khan’s Phantom.

Since movie posters are used as the primary method of marketing, releasing even before trailers and teasers, and are apt visually summaries of the films they represent; a study of them should present us with a great understanding of what these films want to say. Thus, with a study of these over time we can put together an understanding of what Indian patriotism is or has become.

Methodology

For our paper, we decided to approach the subject without any hypothesis, rather choosing to keep an open mind which would allow us to explore. In order to direct our research, we asked ourselves a few questions derived from our primary question.

How has the Visual Communication of Bollywood Patriotic Film Posters Evolved From the 1950s?

  • How does one define a patriotic film?
  • How does one assess the ‘Indian-ness’ of a visual?
  • How has the mood of patriotism changed over time?
  • Is there a trend we can follow with the colors or typography used in these posters?
  • What sorts of characters appear in patriotic films?
  • Which elements do these posters put emphasis on?

To answer our questions and organize our process, we came up with a code that would allow us to judge the posters for all the aspects we felt were important to understanding visual communication. We decided upon the following parameters:

  • Release Date: eg. 15th August

  • Sub-Genre: eg. Action, Drama, Thriller

  • Color Palette

  • Use of Indian Symbols: Y/N (eg. Lotus, Tiger, Indian Map, Ashok Chakra, Indian Monuments, Flag, Temple Imagery, Indian Soldiers)

  • Flag: Y/N

  • Typography:

    Font Style: eg.Bold Serif, Bold Sans Serif, Italic Serif, Italic Sans Serif

    Color: eg. Tiranga, Saffron, Black

    Shadow: Y/N

    Perspective: Skewed/Straight

  • Emphasis: Visual Hierarchy, eg. Title, Character, Flag
  • Mood: eg. Gritty, War, Romance, Peaceful, Solitude, Melancholy, Ambitious
  • Background: eg. Riverside scenery, Indian flag, Battlefield
  • Tag Line: (if present) eg. “The revolution has begun!”
  • Characters & Costume: eg. All-female ensemble cast, hockey gear

Fig No.1: Google categorization example used for curating posters

We divided our 7 decades (1950-Present) into 10 parts and analyzed the posters separately. To prevent any bias, we decided to rely on IMDb lists[3][4]/ and Google categorization.

Overview

The number of patriotic films that we found corresponding to each time period by itself was a very interesting find:

Fig No.2: Number of films in each time group

Data set constituted of 86 movie posters. The following is an example of a data table to represent how we gathered our data, the rest of our data is available here.

Figure No.3: Screenshot of the document to show how data was put together

Data sorting and collecting

Example: Madras Cafe

Results

After collating all our data, we began to analyze the different categories to see the kinds of trends we could find:

A) Backgrounds

Figure No.4: Comparison of background types to show the evolution of style

B) Indian Symbols

Figure No.5: Pie charts to show whether or not Indian Symbols were used in the poster

C) Costumes

Figure No.6: Chart to document the different types of costumes and their popularity over time

D) Mood

Figure No.7: Chart to show different moods and ideas in patriotic films over time

E) What Title Means

Figure No.8: Chart to show what different movie titles represented

F) Color Palette

Figure No.9: Average color palettes for each period

G) Sub Genre

Figure No.10: Chart to show sub-genres and their ratio in four time periods

Discussion

Through our attempts, we sorted our data in multiple different manners to see if we could find any interesting insights. Other than the factors that were significant and visible in the charts, we had several other observations as well. Here are a few:

  1. Directly Post-Independence, in the 1950s-56 period, we saw a greater amount of movies than many of the subsequent periods. As we can see in Fig.8, many films were based on freedom fighters both fictional, non-fictional and others on true events. Fig.6 and Fig.7 also show interesting trends with the 1950s, being that these films showed several free/radical thinkers, and tried to show the aspiration and rebellion of a proud, free India[5]. As seen in Fig.4, this is reflected in the brighter and more colorful backgrounds.
  2. As we can see in Fig.4 the movie posters of the recent years were more fierce and gritty due to the effect of major political unrest and people having and expressing strong opinions about political issues and figures.
  3. There has been a drastic and very fascinating increase in the number of patriotic movies that have been released over recent years, Fig.2, and this list was curated only through specific sources. We believe that this is because peoples’ participation has increased incredibly among young people in our current decade, as can be noted by the voter turnout of 2019[6].
  4. As seen in Fig.8, earlier, the movie titles were based on mostly fictional characters and emotions to portray patriotism whereas the posters of recent years shows that the titles are mostly based on true events, a person or a place. This tells us that we are actively trying to dig up and understand our own history and achievements. Also we can see evidently in the posters of the last couple decades that the makers want to emphasise on the fact that it is based on a true story by making bold mentions in the movie posters.
  5. Figure No.11: Ghazi Attack (2017) and Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (2019)

  6. In Fig.6 the years between 1971-1977 had movie posters where the character’s costumes were army, air force or navy uniforms which could be because of the army retaliation which were happening during that period for eg; the battle of garibpur where the indian troops defeated pakistan army which took place in 1971. Also very interestingly during the years of 1985-1991 the movie posters had character’s costumes as civilians.
  7. In Fig.10, we can clearly see that the number of genres that we have explored with patriotic films has increased. This is thanks to a greater exploration and understanding of patriotic cinema[7].
  8. The trend of Bollywood patriotic films over the ages shows a clear affinity for Earthy colors, as seen in Fig.9 Given that there we have been seeing a lot of darker themed patriotic films in recent years, their color palettes correspond and appear gritty as well.
  9. Although this data is not visible in the charts, from the 1950s-1990s, these posters did not have any visible taglines.

    Figure No.12: Lagaan (2001) and Razi (2018)

    However, starting from the 1990s, tag lines were more visible. In 2013-20, 77% of posters had taglines which were arguably a lot bolder than the years before. (Compare: ‘Once Upon a Time in India’ Lagaan 2001 - ‘A daughter, A wife, A spy’ Raazi 2018)


    Figure No.12: Lagaan (2001) and Razi (2018)

    We believe this is, thanks to the increased commercialisation of patriotic films as well as the need for far punchier and catchier titles in the larger context of world cinema.

  10. Over the last decade the release date of patriotic movies were highlighted on the posters as they were released on the days of National importance. This was to use the sense of patriotism as a marketing strategy to draw more audience.

  11. Figure No.13: Satyamev Jayate (2018) and Gold (2018)

  12. The periods 1964-70, 1992-99, 1999-05, 2006-12 and 2013-20 had a greater ratio of male dominated posters, with far fewer women. However, the rest of the periods showed a great amount of female diversity.
  13. While up until 2006-12, Bold Serif fonts seemed to be favored by most film posters, recent times show a great amount of diversity in typography, and a greater increase in use of Sans Serifs.
  14. As seen in Fig.5, Indian symbols have become extremely visible in Patriotic posters of today. This, we believe, is due to these films wanting to very explicitly brand themselves as patriotic.

We also attempted to take an average of all the IMDb ratings for movies in each period, to plot them in order to find the satisfaction index, however, the findings were inconclusive.

Figure No.14: Chart to map out average patriotic movie ratings, found through IMDb

Conclusion

From what we can observe through both quantitative data and our own observations, there appears to be a great Increase in the need to be boldly, proudly patriotic. Physical fight and struggle, war and espionage and tactical prowess appear to be themes which greatly interest and excite young patriotic directors and viewers. These films see a lot of grit and darkness, inspired no doubt by American patriotic cinematography, with a bold and bright hero to fight through it, strong and unshakable in his beliefs.

While films like Razi explore a very different brand of patriotism, it comes as a rare gem. however, it does indicate that directors are willing to diversify and explore a wider variety of themes and narratives, as it made clear by the increase in genres. Many films that can be called propaganda, have been criticised for their depiction of figures and events[8]. As of the most recent decade, there has been a significant amount of films that explore our achievements for eg. Mission Mangal. However, what seems to come across in their visual language lately is that the need to portray India as progressive often seems to come with Indian cinema looking increasingly westernized[9].

This can be seen in the way that characters in these aspirational, achievement movies are often dressed in western formals/casuals and speaking fluent English as well as actors in patriotic movies of recent times as a general rule of thumb.

Based on our findings we came to a conclusion that movie posters have drastically evolved over time on the basis of its visual style, plots and sense of portraying indian patriotism.

References

Business Standard - From wars to fighting social evils: Evolution of patriotism in Bollywood (Republic Day Special) (https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/from-wars-to-fighting-social-evils-evolution-of-patriotism-in-bollywood-republic-day-special-119012500432_1.html)

Press Information Bureau, Government of India - How Nationalism Evolved in Hindi Films (https://pib.gov.in/newsite/mbErel.aspx?relid=170197)

IMDb - Indian War & Patriotic Movies (https://www.imdb.com/list/ls074940032/)

IMDb - The Great Bollywood Patriotic Movies (https://www.imdb.com/india/Indian-patriotic-movies/ls059035810/)

The Transformation of Interest Politics in India (1995-196) (https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/political-participation)

The Times of India: Lok Sabha Elections: At 67.1%, 2019 turnout is a record, Election Commission says (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/at-67-1-2019-turnouts-a-record-election-commission/articleshow/69419715.cms)

Indian Express - Propaganda comes of age (https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/propaganda-comes-of-age-films-uri-chalo-jeete-hain-modi-5952337/)

The Michigan Daily - Proma Khosla: Bollywood Westernization more a way to address taboos than a step towards modernization (https://www.michigandaily.com/arts/bollywood-westernization)