Thursday, July 19, 2007

Rang De Basanti

I’m going to break a rule and talk about the story here – the assumption is that even if you haven’t seen the movie, you would already be aware of the plot (as I was before I saw it this week). Also, this is going to be a long review as the movie provokes a lot of thoughts.

The Story
Sue (Alice), inspired by her grand-father’s diary, written while he was a jailor to Bhagat Singh and co, comes to India to make a documentary about them / their role in the freedom movement. Her friend in India, Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), introduces her to her friends circle - DJ (Aamir Khan), Karan (Siddarth), Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) and Aslam (Kunal Kapoor). Part of the modern, westernized youth of India, they are hardly aware of the freedom struggle or its heroes and definitely do not share the same ideals. Relcutantly, after much persuasion from Sue, they agree to act as the revolutionaries in Sue’s documentary along with a fiery saffron brigade youth politician, Pandey (Atul Kulkarni). As they read the diary and the script, they begin to think about their country, their mission in life (or the lack of it) and gradually they begin to immerse themselves in their characters parts – reality and their screen parts almost begin to blur into one.

Suddenly, the death of their friend Ajay (Madhavan), an ace pilot in the air force and Sonia’s fiancĂ©e, in a plane crash, jolts them back to reality. There is a corrupt defence minister, a scandal affecting the MiG’s that Ajay was flying but the official response is swift and brutal, instead branding Ajay as a impetuous learner pilot, brushing aside any questions and crushing any sign of protest ruthlessly with force. Seeing no alternative, they kill the defence minister, but even that does not bring the issue of corruption to the forefront, with ‘foreign hands’ being suspected of the murder and the usual platitudes / paeans of praise being sung for the 'honorable' minister. They announce their hand in the murder and their reasons during a radio broadcast and decide to surrender to the cops, but are instead killed by the corrupt machinery.

The Review
First : The movie is extremely well made, beautifully crafted, I don’t think Rakeysh Mehra (the director) puts a foot wrong in the whole movie. The acting of each and every character (I thought Aamir was outstanding but then so was everyone else, its almost unfair to single him out), the songs, the cinematography (especially the way they capture the heart and flavour of North India) is brilliant. The movie manages to combine the past and present and also rural and urban India all together without confusing us or losing any authenticity.

Second : Few things provoke me more than visuals / stories of the British Raj. Blame it on my sheer inability to reconcile myself with that shameful part of our history – how we let a few people from so far away, take advantage of our foibles and rule over us. How could we have been so stupid ! Any shots of the British ordering Indians around or mistreating us invariably makes my blood boil and I get an even worse reaction when I see Indian soldiers, acting on orders of the British, attacking other Indians. Why ? I had to be restrained from walking out during the first 30 minutes or so of Lagaan and here too, there are parts where I just couldn’t bear to watch…Lala Lajpat Rai get beaten, Jallianwala Bagh etc. If you're like me, be prepared to suffer...

Third : Unlike most movies which sit on the fence, this one makes choices, its characters are sufficiently provoked by the apathy and imperfections of the system to stop the usual idle intellectual debate and actually do something about it. They actually decide to take law in their own hands, to murder someone. They come to this option gradually, naturally, almost logically - its not a classic Bollywood hero seeking revenge and beating up / killing the corrupt neta. Its realistic enough for you to be able to put yourself in their shoes.

Fourth : I disagree completely with the choice made by the central characters – taking law into their own hands / killing the minister etc. Almost every terrorist in the world today is fighting for some cause. If his cause succeeds / comes to fruition, he will become a freedom fighter, else continue to be a terrorist – it’s a fine line. Bhagat Singh is a freedom fighter today only because India gained independence. Hamas is a terrorist organization because Palestine hasn’t. There are some distinctions - killing of innocent people vs killing people in office etc, but they are very intellectual distinctions - both get the death penalty in most nations.

Fifth : However, I agree with the ethos of stop cribbing and do something. There are lots of other things the characters could’ve done – gone to a news channel / kidnapped the minister and made him confess / gone to the air force and found a ‘smoking gun’. There are always options / things you can do, to help make your country better. And in today’s day and age, with the power of media / internet etc, it’s a lot easier to make an impact.

The movie is amazing because it engrosses, charms and provokes you, makes you think, choose a side. And it is laced with extremely funny moments, very strong characters and haunting music / lyrics.
I’m a great believer in the ‘starfish story’ – where a young man on a beach finds thousands of starfish stranded in the sand and starts throwing as many as he can back into the water. An older man walks by and questions what the young man is doing and asking him what difference it will make since there were too many starfish for him to throw back. The young man responded simply by saying that at least what he was doing made a difference to the starfish that made it back to the water. Too often we don’t do something but sit and complain. The beauty of this film lies in the fact that at least its a call to action if not a call to arms. We need more films like these.


Anonymous said...

I really liked the movie, i liked the humour as well as the point it made. yea i agree the killing was something extreme, lol but i wish they had killed him and left a note saying all what they said at the radio wud have been perfect...but it wud have been too good to be true...even this 'morning walk' murder...umm was sort of depicted as child's play..u know get to know his routine...and nail u knw wat i mean.. but the movie really made me think.. this movie came out when id finished my first sem, in the 2nd sem everyone was in the RDB trance...the songs, the dialogues( "sue kar mere mann ko" stuff), i was hoping to see one or two ministers getting popped after the movie released..but didnt happen.. too bad. :)..great review..

Ravi Abhyankar said...

1. The Bollywood industry is actively seeking to "shrink" its market. Hindi films are made in English, or English-Hindi or is the case here in Punjabi. I didn't see the logic, nor do I find it acceptable.

2.The premise of murdering a minister is so faulty, it took away all my joy. While I am not against censoring these things, in a semi-literate country, such premises of a popular film are actually dangerous.

3.Songs are hyped. I believe most modern Bollywood songs are thrust down our throats so consistently, that we have no choice but to hum them. Not sure ten years later, Rang De Basanti songs will have any value.

Overall, I didn't like the film - certainly no question of seeing it gain.


Anonymous said...

I liked the movie- period. Unlike you, I have reconciled myself with the British raj. Yes- they came, saw and conquered - enabled in a large degree by us. People tend to forget that. They shouldnt.
My thoughts- Instead of torturing kids by making them learn about the the Freedom struggle and then vomit it out during exams, I believe the movie Gandhi should be shown to Kids every year. Do you remember the Dharasana Factory satyagraha scene where they march upto the police who promptly bash them? Never have I felt more indebted to our ancestors for the freedoms that I take for granted than when I watch that scene.

The lesson that I think we should take home is stop sitting on the fence and act. We, Indians are too passive (except when it comes to wife bashing, abusing women and kids and generally illtreating the powerless - somehow the Indian guys seem to think its OK to mistreat people who cant protest - Anyway, I digress).
We need to be more empowered. We need to know our rights and our responsibilities and we need to enforce them.
I loved the movie because it made me think. I cant say that about a lot of hindi movies these days and thats why I think it is a must see.

moksh juneja said...

One thing that I completely agree with you is that it does make you think, more than that makes you feel that you need make the difference and not just keep thinking, talking but also ac on it.

Unknown said...

I am annoyed when I see this movie being constantly praised.
This movie was an overated and overhyped piece of shit and is likely to be forgotten in a few years

Constant overacting by the supporting cast...and Aamir Khan's smug attitude and goatie made me cringe...

I don't know whether others noticed but there was a scene when Aamir Khan is sitting injured by bullets in the news studio in which he does not realise the camera is on him and he stops acting and just relaxes into normal mode! Hilarious!!!

Songs were a sickening combo of Indo-Western progressive rap. I am sure some find the songs catchy and each to his own...but to nominate them for awards!!??

I get far more inspiration about my country from seeing one of those National Anthem ads.

And please...can we please stop making movies in which Indian characters fall in love with horse faced and boney goris? The on screen chemistry just doesn't work and it is painful to watch. Aamir Khan and his ilk may love pale lilly-white chamri and he is free to spawn as many bastard love children as he wants...but please dont subject us to this. We already have to deal with Rahul and Priyanka in the years ahead.

I am glad at least one person in India (Ravi) agrees with me about this shit made-for-an-evening-DVD movie.

Vande Mataram!

Anonymous said...

I must say bhaiya....i have seen this movie many times, even have the original cd now but the review you have given has made me want to see the movie again.This has to be the best movie review of yours. Loved it, fabulous.

Keep Rocking

Waiting fr ur reviews on aap ka suroor and naqaab

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