In 3 Idiots (2009), Rancho (Aamir Khan), addresses Farhan’s (R. Madhavan) dad as Hitler Qureshi for his strict and authoritative nature. All of us who have watched that movie will realise that the elder Qureshi is the typical Indian father – an authoritarian control freak who forces his son to take up engineering even though he wants to be a wildlife photographer. So then why would Rancho call him Hitler? There might be a better way to address this “tyranny” but Bollywood has always been loud and boombastic, inadvertently creating a long-lasting relationship with Adolf Hitler. Hindi films have deconstructed him under the strangest of circumstances, making him pop-culture friendly and at the same time trolling him by making him appear like a buffoon.
Take the case of Asrani’s Hitler-inspired moustache in Sholay (1975). The appearance of this “angrezo ke zamane ke jailer” signified in a way the terror that he promised to unleash on the inmates if they went out of hand. Yet, there is no real threat here. The film indulges in farce as much as Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit (2019) that revolves around a 10-year-old German boy whose imaginary friend is Hitler. Unlike his real persona, this imaginary Hitler is quirky, manipulative and also a sort of a father figure for the little boy.
Watching the film, I was reminded of the quirkiest Hitler in Bollywood, who was played by none other than Raghuvir Yadav in Gandhi to Hitler, a direct copy of the German classic Der Untergang (2004). Back in 2011, a bloke called Rakesh Ranjan Kumar decided to make a movie on Mahatma Gandhi’s interactions with Hitler – Gandhi had written a few letters to the dictator urging him to leave the path of violence and stop World War II. Initially, Anupam Kher was supposed to play the Nazi dictator, although he opted out because of protests (ironical isn’t it?) and the makers roped in Raghuvir Yadav as a replacement. In case you were wondering about the extent of excess that this film toyed with, just try and imagine Hitler speaking in Hindi, shouting and screaming. Like in a scene where Hitler simply orders his acolytes, “Isko bomb se udha do,” referring to an important bridge to stall the allied movement.
Bollywood has usually channelled its love for Hitler through archetypes of patriarchy like the father, the brother, or the boss.
Beyond this misfire of Yadav as Hitler, Bollywood has usually channelled its love for Hitler through archetypes of patriarchy like the father, the brother, or the boss. Then there were the references to Hitler to denote a certain kind of behaviour. Take for instance, Mithun Chakraborty’s Hitler (1998), where he is dubbed Hitler because of his strict nature or Krodh (2000), where Sunil Shetty earns the moniker Hitler, due to him being extremely protective of his five sisters.
Yet if I had to pick my favourite Hitler moment on the big screen, it wouldn’t be in an Indian film, but instead in a Pakistani film. Hitlar (1986) that starred the legendary Sultan Rahi, pitted him against the son of Hitler. Yes, you’re reading that right. In the film, as defeat seems imminent, Hitler runs away from Germany and finds refuge in Pakistan (erstwhile undivided India). He becomes a gangster, marries a local girl and has a son, who grows up to become a dreaded gangster himself, tormenting villages after villages till Rahi challenges his tyranny. It gets even ridiculous: This son had a massive portrait of the Nazi dictator in his room. Not only did he converse with this portrait but also promised it that he would become an even bigger tyrant than his father.
Bollywood is yet to come close to rival this level of ingenuity. In fact, in the last couple of years, Hitler’s references have been on the wane. But if there’s one thing you can say for certain about Bollywood, it’s that nothing dies too easily without making a comeback. Everything sells at the box-office, except movies directed by Vivek Agnihotri.
Sayantan Mondal is an instructional designer and writer from Pune. When he is not busy at work, he likes to watch movies, make memes and hunt zombies. He also has a doctorate degree that he uses to ward off evil and other supernatural beings.
This article was originally published in Arre
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