Sara Ali Khan Reflects on Patriotism and Performance in ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’

Sara Ali Khan has not only made a mark in the Indian film industry with her performances but also holds a distinguished academic background with a degree in History from Columbia University. Her intellectual insights are as striking as her acting prowess, which she brings to bear in her newest cinematic venture, ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’. Scheduled to release on Prime Video on March 21, the film promises to take viewers on a journey back to the pivotal times of the Indian freedom struggle, highlighting the instrumental role played by Congress Radio, commonly known as Azad Radio. The film revisits the year 1942, when this underground radio station played a crucial role in propelling the Quit India Movement, effectively challenging colonial propaganda and galvanizing the masses into action, all without modern-day social media or mobile technology. Spearheaded by the indomitable Usha Mehta, a 22-year-old student and political activist from Wilson College, Mumbai, the radio became a beacon of resistance and hope.

Sara, portraying Usha Mehta, delves deep into the zeitgeist of the era and the courageous hearts of those who fought for freedom. “She was one of the countless female heroes who contributed to India’s freedom with their courage and sacrifice,” Sara commented while reminiscing about the brave souls and lessons that contemporaneous youth can draw from history.

The parallels that the filmmakers draw between generations are evident in Sara’s reflections on the film and its contemporary relevance. Empowering slogans like “Karo Ya Maro” (do or die) resound as much in the past context as they do today when standing up for one’s beliefs is vital, be it in political, social, environmental, or professional arenas.

Sara emphasized that bravery transcends physical strength, and that emotional resilience and femininity are equally integral to the concept of fortitude—qualities embodied by Usha Mehta. Mehta, a follower of Gandhian philosophy, made immense personal sacrifices for the country—a level of dedication that Sara finds both overwhelming and inspirational.

In her pursuit of authenticity for the character, Sara chose not to imitate Mehta’s Gujarati accent, aiming instead for a more universally understandable Hindi dialogue within the film. Sara stressed that ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’ is less a biopic and more a tribute to the unsung heroes of India’s fight for independence. To bring old Mumbai back to life, the filming included meticulous period design, featuring trams, broadcasting equipment, and charkhas (spinning wheels), while being shot around real locations like Horniman Circle Gardens. Sara also humorously noted the de-glamorized essence of her role—a departure from traditional Hindi cinema heroines—as she sported a khadi saree true to the time.

Sara also shared her custom of re-watching her own performances as a means of self-critique and growth. This introspection has helped her appreciate the audience’s love for her previous films and underscored the importance of unlearning in preparation for each new role. Sara noted the challenge in– and necessity of– shifting between polar opposite characters for different films, such as Bambi Todi from ‘Murder Mubarak’ and Usha Mehta from ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’.

Off-screen, the actor reveals her penchant for literature, currently re-reading ‘Sophie’s World’ by Jostein Gaarder, a book which deftly intertwines various philosophies into a narrative. She confessed to being old-school in her love of physical books, often seen with her father, pencil in hand, engaging with the written word even amidst the digital distractions of our age.

‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’ stands as a testament to Sara Ali Khan’s commitment to storytelling and historical remembrance, fortifying her role not just as an actor but as an ambassador of India’s rich heritage in freedom and cinema.

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