Of Mafia Films, Bollywood and India

In Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur I, there’s a moment when Faizal Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) looks into a mirror, catches the spectator’s eyes, and pretends to fire his gun. He makes all the appropriate sounds — the pull of the trigger, the deafening moment of impact. On watching this scene, I’m transported back to my schoolyard where the boys would run around playing chor-police and fire their makeshift guns in a similar fashion. Consequently, it reads to me like a mimicry of our childhood days when kids would spend hours upon hours playing Don and outwitting the world. Siddiqui’s acting here then becomes an imitation of an imitation of an imitation; and besides advancing the film’s plot by positing Faizal as the child within the family business, this scene also cracks the reality of the film by reminding the spectator that it is all an act. By creating this crack, the suspense of the film is not allowed to overwhelm us.

Gangs of Wasseypur I

In Hindi mafia films, the cracks are always visible. This genre of movies self-consciously shatters the mirror, assuring that when the spectator watches these films and identifies with these characters, they can ignore the reflection as a funhouse image and walk out of the cinema hall in peace. Creators continuously hinder this identification through various techniques. In this regard, songs are an extremely popular element. They interrupt the diegesis and, for the duration of the song, pull the spectator out of the film’s particular space and time. Their presence at opportune moments within the film acts like a semi-colon; it cuts through the tension (romantic or comedic or violent) of the preceding scenes, and allows the spectator room to breathe. Consequently, when Sardar Khan in Gangs of Wasseypur is shot to death by the Qureshis, the spectator flinches in their seat — however, the speakers immediately start playing “Jiya Ho Bihar Ke Lala”, and the fear evaporates. Songs place the film’s characters upon a “stage” and draw a clear line between them as performers and the audience as spectators; effectively fogging up the lines of identification we feel with these film’s unsavoury characters. Satya’s director Ram Gopal Varma had in-fact intended to leave songs out of the film; however, he changed his mind because it would have been quite difficult to promote a song-less film. As a result, the Indian cinema witnessed an intense, brilliant story; packed with enough romance, drama and amusing songs to please the mass spectatorship. 

Humour is also utilised in these films to diffuse the tension. High-powered scenes like Vijay in Don (1978) fighting off innumerable goons are not served to the audience without comedic quips (like Vijay asking the goons to allow him to rest for a minute) and a peppy background score. These moments of comedy slice through the thrill of the fight, effectively soothing the spectators’ jitteriness. Comedy is also generated through extremely unrealistic fight scenes in which the singular antihero fights off dozens of goons by performing almost superhuman feats. Here, quirky sound effects and over-the-top violence titillate the spectators. Stunning shots like Karan and Paro’s murder in Parinda, which posit the violence as something beautiful, are quite rare because they discomfort the viewers. 


This urge to protect the spectator seems to speak to India’s film culture, which desires intensity, but with huge spoonfuls of masala and a dash of a hit-single. Here, a film which tries to hang its hat on only one hook seems destined to fail (consider: Bombay Velvet). Even an expectedly dark and ghoulish mafia film like Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai liberally utilises romance, punchy one-liners, sizzling confrontations and blockbuster dance numbers to grow into a feel-good movie which appeals to the whole family. 

This family-friendly platter of Hindi mafia films also serves justice. These films rely heavily on boldly drawn lines between wrong and right to disallow any dubious moralities to seep into their realities. The politicians might be corrupt, but the police are doing their best to defend the public from these menaces. Conversations centred around morals are a common trope in these films–as if they are self-consciously portraying dubious characters and lives while also making certain that the “good” guys would always win in the end, placing the film’s fictional universe firmly on the side of the “light”. Plus, the lack of any clear set of laws (code of ethics – omertà) and organisation within the mafia in these films makes it even easier for the spectators to divide moral grounds and carefully step only on the white tiles; and since the mafia’s law here seems to be a breaking away from the country’s laws, it becomes even easier to villainize them. Hence, the ‘found family’ trope always fails in Hindi mafia movies because usually, the mob collapses because of inner disloyalties and back-stabbings. This vindicates the spectators because, by the end, almost everyone else seems to fall and only the police are left standing. A film with dubious moralities which sees the ethical in the immoral does not seem to work in Bollywood. Consequently, even when the anti-hero wins (Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai), the credits roll in with an apology. So, while these films encourage identification by humanizing the villains and allow the spectators room to vicariously live the thrill of their lives, they cut these ties themselves before the climax sweeps it all away and restores justice. This effectively appeals the film to the spectators by fostering enjoyment; and nip any questions regarding the protagonist’s morals in the bud. 

These self-conscious attempts at playing safe are also reflected in the protagonists’ backstories, and the utilization of character foils to soften the antihero’s edges for the Indian spectators. Even within a clique of antiheroes, there’s still always a single ‘don’ who’s early on established — through an impactful display of physical and/or mental prowess — as the antihero of the film, like Kishen in Parinda, Sultan in Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, Satya in Satya, etc. This makes it easier for spectators to connect with the characters. Their backstories, more often than not, situate the mafia as a phoenix rising out of the ashes of a pitious childhood spent swallowing poverty. Every mob boss has an origin story, and it usually narrates a turning towards crime because of bad fortune. Hence, it immediately becomes absorbed into the larger poverty-crime nexus of the country. Again, the mafia becomes an avoidable consequence, available to self-rationalisations by the comparatively richer spectators as to why this reality is so very different from theirs; and they can unhesitantly enjoy the movie. However, if this antihero’s backstory is not a sufficiently convincing reason to have pushed them into a life of crime, then an alternate character is placed to enhance their kindness and “straight” morality for the spectators, like Anna and Karan in Parinda, Shoaib in Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, Bhau in Satya, etc. Unlike Johnny in Bombay Velvet who chooses the life of crime instead of being thrust into it; spectators aren’t usually forced to identify with a protagonist of dubious morals. The rationalisation is always present. 

[image source] Sultan Mirza & Shoaib Khan, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai

Through their attempts to integrate real-life social issues, mafia films give people a point of reference for conversations around police and crime. The police are always forced to abandon restraints of justice, because that is the only way to deal with these criminals — “laato ke bhut baato se nahi mante” (Stubborn menaces cannot be transformed through mere language; they require violence.) By ensuring and repeatedly reinforcing the mafia’s position in the country’s history by harking back to the real political environment, it becomes easier to blur the lines between fiction and fact for spectators. This influences the way people perceive police brutality, and convinces them that they should be allowed privileges in order to deal with the Dons and Annas of this world. 

Natural illnesses are liberally portrayed: Vidya’s ailing father in Satya, a prostitute in Bombay Velvet suffering from gonorrhea, Anna’s mental disorder in Parinda, Rihana suffering from heart disease in Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, Rohit’s friend suffering from bone cancer in Hathyar, etc. These exhibitions allow the threat of human fragility and mortality to humble the mafia’s invulnerability. In the films, women play a similar role. By showing quirky domestics between the mighty dons and their wives — in which the latter always wins — these films find resonance in the Indian familial culture. It also becomes a way to further reinforce the normalcy of these dons and their presence within the Indian milieu. To establish the mafia’s presence as “realistic” within India’s space, Hindi mafia films are also prone to consistently referencing other Bollywood movies, and comparing their own actions to being imitations of cinematic mob dons. Shots of newspapers, mentions of the year and date, and other attempts like exhibitions of cricket to evoke “Indianness”, and to weave the film’s narrative into the temporal space of the country’s history are ever-present. This lends itself to a continuous push-and-pull which simultaneously makes the mafia feel “real”, while constantly reminding the spectators that they are watching a film. 

This tug of war is the most important and fascinating element of Hindi mafia films. Any attempt at integration with the spectators’ reality would fall apart without simultaneous efforts to distance themselves from their lives. The “cracks” become pivotal here. These films allow us to graze our fingers across the mafia’s thrilling lives; but pull us back before we can be tempted to question their choices. They create enjoyment by validating our moralities and good beliefs about the world; and by providing us with other fun elements like romance, comedy, music and drama to focus on, the mafia is relegated to a mere singular piece of the larger patchwork of the film’s universe. Through this, Bollywood makes certain that the mafia will always be the bad guys in the spectators’ quieter lives and the mirror remains cracked. 

“Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo”: The Anatomy of Patriotism in the 1960s

Lata Mangeshkar singing the song for the first time on 27 January 1963. Source: Akmal Hussain/ Facebook.

Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo is an iconic song which was first sung by Lata Mangeshkar, written by Kavi Pradeep and composed by C. Ramchandra in 1963 to honour the fallen soldiers in the 1962 Indo-Sino war. It was first sung by Mangeshkar on 27 January during the Republic Day celebrations. Since then, this song has been revered as one of the most patriotic and heartfelt odes to the Indian nation. 

However, alongside the inherent brilliance of the song, it was also the anxieties and fears of the Indian public in the 1960s which influenced the way they consumed and produced this text. Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo was first sung to an India fumbling the ball with international relations and defense strategies. The overwhelming defeat in the unexpected 1962 war with China had put India on the back-foot and made the recently decolonised citizens anxious and looking for someone to blame. Honourable defence minister Menon had to resign, and P. M. Nehru barely escaped with his dignity intact. Amidst these anxieties, the song came as a perfect articulation of the emotions of the masses, and eventually became the marching band for the heartbeats of a million Indians in 1963.

Therefore, the object of my analysis in this paper is the song, which I plan to analyse by placing it in the middle of its social, political and historical context. I also plan to analyse the song using the tool of the “period rhetoric” mentioned by Roland Barthes (1961) in his text “The Photographic Message” by drawing a contrast with the connotations the song held in 1963 vis-a-vis those it holds in 2019. Barthes (1961) also mentions that a text “clearly only signifies because of the existence of a store of stereotyped attitudes which form ready-made elements of signification” (p. 201). Therefore, I acknowledge at the outset that the nationalistic fervour, its associations with the army, and the anxieties of the Indian polity in the 1960s created this store of stereotyped attitudes which influenced the emission, transmission and reception of the song. Barthes’ (1961) claim that a “…. second meaning, whose signifier is a certain “treatment” of the image (result of the action of the creator) and whose signified, whether aesthetic or ideological, refers to a certain “culture” of the society receiving the message” (“The Photographic Message.”p. 196-197) is utilised in the paper through an analysis of Mangeshkar’s voice and the ways through which her distinct tenor influenced the reception of the song. 

In the first four lines of the song “ऐ मेरे वतन के लोगों / तुम खूब लगा लो नारा / ये शुभ दिन है हम सब का / लहरा लो तिरंगा प्यारा” (O! People of my country! / Keep on chanting the slogans [the slogans praising India]. / This is an auspicious day for all of us / Unfurl our beloved tricolour) the use of “mere” (i.e. “mine”) in the first sentence immediately binds the singer and the listener as a part of a collective whole, where each and every citizen feels the same way. The use of the term “watan” (i.e. “country”) instead of “desh” or any other term signifying “country” is really interesting here, for it harps back to its original meaning of “motherland” and “homeland” in Arabic over simply “country” and thereby establishes a deeper familiarity with the listener. The phrase “Unfurl our beloved tricolour” employed as a synecdoche for the entirety of the Republic Day celebrations is an acute exhibition of the relevance of the Indian flag, and symbols and images like the charkha and khadi used to connote nationalism in newly independent India (Virmani, 1999), especially on the auspicious day of Republic Day. The reference to the fallen soldiers in the next few lines “पर मत भूलो सीमा पर / वीरों ने है प्राण गँवाए / कुछ याद उन्हें भी कर लो -२ / जो लौट के घर न आये -२” (but don’t forget that at the borders / brave people have lost their lives. / Remember those / who never returned home) establishes the main spirit of the entire song: commemoration of the martyred. The call to not forget the warriors who have lost their lives on the border plays into the cultural context of the time wherein the memories of Indo-Sino war were overshadowing the entire country, and even an occasion as joyous as the Republic Day couldn’t be isolated from it. The repetition of the last two lines further reiterates this point. 

The most famous four lines of this song “ऐ मेरे वतन के लोगों / ज़रा आँख में भर लो पानी / जो शहीद हुए हैं उनकी / ज़रा याद करो क़ुरबानी” (O! People of my country! / Shed a few tears. / Of those who were martyred / Remember their sacrifice.) have over the years come to represent the spirit of this song. The call to shed tears over the fallen and remember their sacrifice remains till date an appeal with heavy overtones of patriotism. The connection presented here between the army, their sacrifice, and nationalism is an association born of its social and historical context, wherein the people who had laid down their lives in the independence struggle, the 1948 war with Pakistan and the Indo-Sino conflict are true patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice for their watan. In the next stanza “जब घायल हुआ हिमालय / खतरे में पड़ी आज़ादी / जब तक थी साँस लड़े वो / फिर अपनी लाश बिछा दी / संगीन पे धर कर माथा / सो गये अमर बलिदानी / जो शहीद…” (When the Himalayas were wounded [by Chinese forces] / when our freedom was in peril / as long as they had any breath left in them / they fought… ), the usage of Himalayas to represent the Aksai Chin border and North-East Frontier Agency (Arunachal Pradesh) becomes extremely important when placed within its historical context wherein it has served as the first insurmountable line of defense and a symbol of grandiose for India over the centuries. The wounding of the Himalayas, hence, connotes the wounding of India’s primary line of defense and therefore poses a serious risk to India’s security. Hence, the next line “खतरे में पड़ी आज़ादी” represents the overwhelming fear felt by the Indian populace post the conflict with China wherein a singular defeat is equated to a risking of freedom. The next five lines reemphasise the willing sacrifice of the martyrs, and how their conscious laying down of their lives for our country has brought them eternal glory. 

The lines “जब देश में थी दीवाली / वो खेल रहे थे होली / जब हम बैठे थे घरों में / वो झेल रहे थे गोली” (When it was [the festival] of Holi / they played [it] with their blood. / When we were sitting in our homes celebrating Diwali / they were being pierced by bullets.) brings out the theme of civilians living comfortable lives in their homes while the soldiers get their hands dirty in the process of defending the country and protecting the former. The contrasting usage of the festivals Diwali and Holi to present specific different scenes is based on the associated eliteness and purity of the festival of Diwali, vis-a-vis the “dirty” festival of Holi where regular social norms are suspended and “playful reversals of gender, generation, class, and caste are enacted in a variety of ways.” (Copeman, 2013. “The Art of Bleeding: Memory, Martyrdom, and Portraits in Blood.” p. 7) The trope of symbolising bloodshed with the fun festival of Holi — where brightly coloured substances are thrown as a part of celebrations — is quite common in pop-culture. It has famously been used as a part of a dialogue in the film International Khiladi (dir. U. Mehra, 1999): “Bachpan se aaj tak maine kabhi Holi nahi kheli … magar ab kheloonga khoon ki Holi” (“I’ve never played Holi all my life … but now I will play Holi with blood.”) and as the names of episodes in the TV shows Adaalat (2010-): S01e103 and in C.I.D (1998-): S01e933.

The next stanza “कोई सिख कोई जाट मराठा / कोई गुरखा कोई मदरासी / सरहद पर मरनेवाला / हर वीर था भारतवासी / जो खून गिरा पवर्अत पर / वो खून था हिंदुस्तानी / जो शहीद…” (Some were Sikh, some were Jat and some Maratha / some were Gurkha and some from Madras. / Whosoever died at the border, /every such warrior was an Indian. / The blood that fell on the hills of the Himalayas / that blood was Indian.) harps back to the 20th century theme of ‘unity in diversity’ wherein the boundaries between regions and regional backgrounds fade away amongst the bonds of army solidarity and ultimately, every fallen soldier on the enemy lines is an Indian. This denotation connotes the claiming of every martyr by the nation (and the state) as a feather in its own hat. The sanguinary visual of bloodshed of Indians on the mountains reflexively evokes intense feelings, which are usually associated with feelings of patriotism. This sanguinary visualisation continues into the next stanza where the denotation of “थी खून से लथ-पथ काया / फिर भी बन्दूक उठाके / दस-दस को एक ने मारा / फिर गिर गये होश गँवा के” (Their body was covered in blood / yet they picked up the rifle / each soldier killed ten enemies / and then fell to the ground on losing consciousness.) blends into the connoted idea of the ideal soldier who is aggressive and fights for his country till his last breath. This aggressiveness was even more pronounced in the aftermath of the 1963 conflict where India’s unpreparedness and submissive complacency had led to global embarrassment. This idea of the ideal soldier continues into the next few lines “जब अन्त-समय आया तो / कह गये के अब मरते हैं / खुश रहना देश के प्यारों / अब हम तो सफ़र करते हैं / क्या लोग थे वो दीवाने / क्या लोग थे वो अभिमानी / जो शहीद…” (When the moment of their death arrived / they said, “We are now going to die / be happy, my fellow countrymen / now we will go on this journey.” / They were brilliant men, / they were proud men.) where with his dying breath, he greets death like an old friend and wishes happiness for his fellow countrymen. The last two lines reemphasise this ideal by describing the men as brilliant and proud (alternatively: arrogant), and the connoted message transmitted to the public represented these traits as one and the same. 

The last stanza “तुम भूल न जाओ उनको / इस लिये कही ये कहानी / जो शहीद…” (Lest you forget them / this story has been recounted) reiterates how important it is to not forget their sacrifice. Following this, Mangeshkar ends the song with “जयहिन्दजयहिन्दकीसेना”(Victory to India, and victory to the Indian armed forces). The association between the victory of the army and victory of the nation is reestablished here. The usage of the lines “जो शहीद हुए हैं उनकी / ज़रा याद करो क़ुरबानी” (Of those who were martyred / Remember their sacrifice.) at the end of every single stanza (post the third stanza) in the song further emphasises the significance of this idea. 

A song, alongside its lyrics, also credits its reception to its tone and composition. The soulful, “shrill, adolescent-girl falsetto” (Sundar, 2008. “Meri Awaaz Suno: Women, Vocality, and Nation in Hindi Cinema.” p. 6) of Lata Mangeshkar, “”cleansed” of all those qualities that would in time be read as markers of decadence, immodesty, and by extension, in the warped logic of Indian nationalism, Muslimness” (Sundar, 2008. “Meri Awaaz Suno: Women, Vocality, and Nation in Hindi Cinema.”p. 7) is one of the most important reasons for the evergreen nature of this song. The increasing influence of fringe groups like the Hindu Mahasabha on the INC during the freedom struggle (Bose and Jalal, 2004) and the retention of this power can be credited for the overwhelmingly positive reception of “Mangeshkar’s “good” Hindu voice” (Sundar, 2008. “Meri Awaaz Suno: Women, Vocality, and Nation in Hindi Cinema.”p. 7). Her image as a simple, devoted and religious woman, placed alongside her unmarried status and refusal to sing “vulgar” songs had paid credence to her “virginal” status and thereby, represented her as a culturally positive symbol for the Indian state. Even today, the vocal style of “Lata didi” (big sister Lata) is mimicked by contemporary playback artists such as Alka Yagnik and Kavita Krishnamurthy. 

The connotations associated with the song in 2019, when analysed using Barthes’ tool of “period rhetoric” are revealed to be analogous to those in 1963. The similarity between these connotations over five decades can be credited to the resurgence of the influence of Hindu groups like RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), BJS (Bharatiya Jana Sangh) and BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in the past few years post BJP’s victory in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Plus, the escalating emphasis on “nationalism” over globalisation has led to an increasingly reactionary approach which is in line with militant Hinduism as “…in the minds of many Hindu nationalists, the ability to use force is intricately tied to India’s self-image as a nation.” (Vaishnav, 2019. “The BJP in Power: Indian Democracy and Religious Nationalism.” p. 79). This has been accentuated in instances like 2016 Uri attack, 2017 Doklam standoff with China and 2019 Pulwama attack. These events have contributed to the reemergence of a culture wherein military might is intricately tied with national glory, and ““pure” voices” (Sundar, 2008. “Meri Awaaz Suno: Women, Vocality, and Nation in Hindi Cinema.”p. 7) like that of Mangeshkar are deemed acceptable to represent the Indian nation. 

Therefore, the chosen text till date connotes deep-seated patriotism and inspires nationalism in the Indian populace. It is also an acute exhibition of the influence of a country’s hard power over its soft power, and how they interact to produce feelings of solidarity and pride in a suitable environment (i.e., culture). The production and consumption of art deemed “patriotic” in the 1960s was heavily influenced by the social, political and historical context of that decade of which the iconic song Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo is a prime example. The recent resurgence of BJP in the last few years can be credited for a similar reception of the song in 2019, thereby illustrating the utilisation “of the existence of a store of stereotyped attitudes which form ready-made elements of signification.” (Barthes, 1961. “The Photographic Message.” p. 201).


Barthes, Roland. “The photographic message.” A Barthes Reader, edited by Susan Sontag, Hill and Wang, 1961. 

This paper argues that alongside on-the-surface denotations, an image also transmits various connotations. It also argues that these connotations are prone to influence by various elements prevalent in the image. For the purpose of this paper, I have utilised the concept of the “period rhetoric” mentioned in Barthes’ text, and the following two quotes:

  • “clearly only signifies because of the existence of a store of stereotyped attitudes which form ready-made elements of signification” (p. 201)
  • “…. second meaning, whose signifier is a certain “treatment” of the image (result of the action of the creator) and whose signified, whether aesthetic or ideological, refers to a certain “culture” of the society receiving the message.” (p. 196-197)

Bose, Sugata and Jalal, Ayesha. Modern South Asia. Routledge, second edition, 2004, p. 117.

This book is an analytical text on the political happenings in India since the coming of the Mughals through Partition. For the purpose of this paper, I have utilised the idea in this book which states that fringe groups like Hindu Mahasabha had started pressuring the Indian National Congress during the freedom struggle. 

Copeman, Jacob. “The art of bleeding: Memory, martyrdom, and portraits in blood.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Blood Will Out: Essays on Liquid Transfers and Flows, 2013, p. 149–71. https://www.jstor.org/stable/42001734

This paper analyses the genre of the Indian blood painting, and how different art forms are used to depict patriotism. It focusses on the sanguinary element in these art pieces, and its relation with preservation of memory of martyred soldiers. For the purpose of this paper, I have utilised Copeman’s translations of the Hindi lyrics Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo into English and one quote:

  • “playful reversals of gender, generation, class, and caste are enacted in a variety of ways.” (p. 7)

Sundar, Pavitra. “Meri awaaz suno: Women, vocality, and nation in Hindi cinema.” Meridians, Vol. 8, No. 1, Duke University Press, 2008. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40338915.

This paper analyses how playback singers’ voices contributed to the construction of a national identity post 1947. For the purpose of this paper, I have used four quotes:

  • “shrill, adolescent-girl falsetto” (p. 6)
  • “”cleansed” of all those qualities that would in time be read as markers of decadence, immodesty, and by extension, in the warped logic of Indian nationalism, Muslimness” (p. 7)
  • “Mangeshkar’s “good” Hindu voice” (p. 7) 
  • ““pure” voices” (p. 7)

Vaishnav, Milan. The BJP in Power: Indian Democracy and Religious Nationalism, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2019. 

This text analyses the rise of Hindu nationalism and its influence on BJP’s policymaking. It also talks about the relevance of these conversations on the eve of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. For the purpose of this paper, I have utilised one quote:

  • “…in the minds of many Hindu nationalists, the ability to use force is intricately tied to India’s self-image as a nation.” (p. 79)

Virmani, Arundhati. “National symbols under colonial domination: The nationalization of the Indian flag.” Past & Present, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 10-11. https://www.jstor.org/stable/651278.

This paper argues that during the freedom struggle various symbols gained prominence and became associated with nationalism, especially the national flag. For the purpose of this paper, I have utilised the examples of the charkha and white khaddar mentioned in Virmani’s text.

The Religion of Cricket

image source: sportskeeda

India used to be known as the “land of benighted heathens and lesser breeds” (Singer 11) across the West during the pre-colonial and colonial periods. Gradually, these archaic “scratches” (Singer 11) on the minds of the Europeans and Americans have been replaced by the flamboyant images of PM Modi, the sensational Bollywood film industry, and undoubtedly, our cricketers: the Men In Blue. 

In contemporary India, the image of ‘cricket’ is intimately interwoven with the image of the nation. Historically, the English colonisers introduced this sport in our colony, and soon the game became a way of beating the British at their own chosen sport — a way for the slaves to one-up their colonial masters. Today, India has wholeheartedly embraced this piece of colonial legacy.

This image is of Kapil Dev, the then-captain of the Indian cricket team, receiving the World Cup trophy from Robert Carr (also known as Lord Carr of Hadley; Carr was the chairman of Prudential Assurance, the company that sponsored the World Cup in 1983) (Quora) in Lord’s, England. The Prudential World Cup victory of 1983 was the first appearance by an Asian nation in a World Cup final and the first time in the history of this tournament that India had won the world cup.

The inclusion of Indian cricket in class IX CBSE Social Sciences’ syllabus and its prominence in Indian cinema is a testament to the power of its image. The film Lagaan (dir. Ashutosh Gowariker, 2001), the most popular representation of cricket in India is a stark portrayal of the caste system in the country, and racism during the British Raj. “Cricket-fever” is also visible through newspaper headlines (‘The Dream of a Billion Comes True’; carried by a leading Bengali daily on the opening page after the Indian cricket team completed a Test series victory over Pakistan) (Ray 1637), radio shows, and advertisements, including the Kamla Pasand pan masala’s advertisement during the 2019 World Cup which ran with the tagline “Ek Aur Baar”; which coincidentally holds an uncanny resemblance with BJP’s tagline for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections “Phir Ek Baar”. These sources are also an exhibition of the overlapping sentiments of cricket aspirations and nationalist feelings in our country.

A longitudinal study of Indian cricket brings to light a trajectory very similar to that of Indian civilisation: Along with the gradual progression of Indian images in the minds of Europeans and Americans from a peace-loving, stuck-in-the-past, democracy-promoting nation, India has grown to be acknowledged as a vibrant, rapidly technologically advancing, aggressively dominant nation; who holds a firm hegemony over cricket. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the richest and most organised cricketing board in the world. This transition in India’s cricketing image is in synchrony with the shift from the image of “Nehru, the intellectual world leader” (Singer 11), to Modi, the shrewd politician. This shift can be further exhibited through the ‘Monkeygate’ scandal of 2008 (Scroll.in), where Indian bowler Harbhajan Singh insulted the Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds — a man of West Indian descent — by calling him a “monkey”. This incident is a stark portrayal of India’s evolution from a formerly-oppressed nation, to a country with the soft power to be the oppressor. 

Today, we have moved far ahead from this image of Kapil Dev — humbly accepting the World Cup trophy from a White man, wearing a standardised white shirt with a dark-blue overcoat; to the immediately identifiable bright blue of our jerseys, and to the image of six-sixes in an over by Yuvraj Singh, the “God of Cricket” Sachin Tendulkar, and boldly brilliant Captain Kohli. In our modern India, even today superstitions and pujas become the rage when a cricket match is on. It’s certainly not far-fetched to claim that in contemporary India, cricket is held to the standard of a ‘religion’: only what remains to be seen is how strikingly these Gods will continue to live up to their image in the upcoming years, both within the country and abroad.


Quora. “Who presented Kapil Dev the World Cup in 1983?” www.quora.com/Who-presented-Kapil-Dev-the-World-Cup-in-1983. Accessed on 6 March 2021.

Ray, Somshankar. ‘The Wood Magic’: Cricket in India – A Postcolonial Benediction. The International Journal of the History of Sport. 2008.

Singer, Milton. Passage to More Than India: A Sketch of Changing European and American Images. New York: Praeger Publishers. 1972.

Scroll.in. “The ‘Monkeygate’ scandal and how it strained India-Australia cricketing ties”. scroll.in/field/902884/the-monkeygate-scandal-and-how-it-strained-india-australia-cricketing-ties. Accessed on 6 March 2021.