Rang De Basanti … Some thoughts

Perhaps the fundamental problem is that I had very high expectations from this movie. The blogosphere was raving and ranting about it. How brilliant it was. How different it was. And how it took their breath away.

It is different. I’ll give it that. But it isn’t brilliant. When you shift a complicated idea like interleaving two stories with themes of justice, death and revolution onto celluloid – there are so many ways you could be killing the very core of the movie. This is what the movie does. However, it did have its moments of *goosebumps*. As always – this is no review of the movie, but a set of immediate reactions.

I have to admit, I loved the first half. The non-righteous one. Delhi, with its undeniable Punjabiyat. So what if they used India Habitat Centre as Delhi University, and decided to keep shifting geographical points of monuments. The problem is that the movie does an over-kill. Just because a story has a million possibilities – doesn’t mean you have to indulge and explore each of them. Everyone has repeated the story a million times – but in short the movie traces the life of two women and five men as they begin directing/ acting in a documentary that explores the story of revolutionaries such as Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad. In a sense the movie attempts parallels – overlaying the theme of anti-establishment and youth.

At a more meta level, it is severely unfair to compare the lives of revolutionaries and these young men. These young men who are mostly brats seem to have a fluffy existence. Amir Khan with all his cheek fat is somehow supposed to be a college kid, till somewhere in the movie you are told that he graduated from Delhi University a good five years back and is too scared to go out into the world. There is something essentially wrong with his character. I am not going into stereotypes. But if you know Delhi University (DU) and around – you know what I am talking about it. It’s a fake character. He’s got no intellectual pretensions. He has his high points where he leches like any good Delhi man and sprinkles his conversation with various references to your sister – however he’s not genuine. As a student in DU, I frequently met people who should have technically been outside the campus years back, but stuck on to do course after course, those who were extremely intelligent when it came to quoting texts but were uncomfortable to put their ideas to test in the “Real World”. (Aside – Who’s to say that a Campus is not real? It is. Terrifyingly so.)

But coming back to the mismatch. These young men are not nudged into revolution because of what they perceive to be a larger systemic injustice but to avenge the death of their friend who dies in the infamous flying coffin (Mig 21). They don’t sit to understand the larger notion of corruption. They don’t even pay attention to some of the final words of their now-dead friend – That one has to enter the system to make the change. They decide to go the “revolutionary” way and kill.

It pisses me off when people abuse the notion of Inquilab (Revolution). The notion of a revolution being bloody has Marxist legacy but is not necessarily true. Revolutions can be silent, passive, reactive and slow. Revolutions are about paradigm shifts.

The core of the movie should have been the helplessness of the situation. Which red tape seas could they have waded through? But, they don’t even try. It confuses you – are they after some sort of justice, or some sort of revenge? They don’t even attempt reaching out to people and places where they could have communicated their anger. When they decide to kill the Minister who they think is the pinnacle of that particular case of corruption, it is almost amusing. What were they thinking? What were they going to accomplish? And what about all that storming of a Radio Station? Eeww! Credit me with a little more intelligence next time.

It’s also interesting that nouveau patriotic movies have a recurrent theme of an “external” catalyst. In this case it is the documentary maker Sue, and in the case of Swades, a man who is influenced by some notion of “American” values. This movie has nothing to do with the supposed awakening or enlightenment. Violence is violence. It’s how you perceive it. I am not judging violence here. However, one cannot shroud violence in righteousness.

Was this movie about purposeless of youth? Because if that area interests you – please go and watch Lakshya. One of the few movies devoid of patriotic jingoism, which focuses on that merging point between personal aspirations, the exploration of self and the notion of patriotism – and finding purpose somewhere in between. Incidentally – what is the core of the purposelessness experienced by some of the characters and are they supposed to be indicative of this generation? Do they really think that nobody is aware of the Indian Independence Movement or that people find “Vande Mataram” a tongue twister. Is it easier to make a movie on morons?

There are parts where the movie shimmers and shines. Its gentle humour, the irony of situations, the disconnect between politicians and most of India, the comfort felt with confidants and the vast expanse of Delhi. But that doesn’t make a movie, not beyond the intermission anyway. If this is the answer our generation finds to our problems, it’s a very sad world we’re looking at.

PS – Oh yes! I completely dug the music, especially two to three tracks. And who would have thought that Daler Mehendi and Chitra could sound so good together!

20 Comments

Filed under Random Links

20 Responses to Rang De Basanti … Some thoughts

  1. The movie had a director who shot what he felt like and forgot to employ someone called an editor.

    I haven’t seen such meandering ramble in long.

  2. Anonymous

    The movie was so long I slept thrusome of it. The songs were great tho!

  3. Anonymous

    haven’t seen the review. But I like the way the review was written.

    Ishwar

  4. Anonymous

    May be the way they answered was wrong.. The movie is a call for everyone to find their own answers and do something..

  5. Excellent review, i must admit, although I havent watched the film, its great to hear a different opinion about the film.

  6. Nilu: :D The editing was shoddy. (If there was any at all!) I found myself tripping with laughter in one scene when they have this poorly done visual of two frames of Amir Khan – contemporary and historical. Hilarious!

    Ishwar and Praveen: Thanks!

    Anon2: Unfortunately the movie doesn’t give me that message. It’s a movie filled with hopelessness. (Which is okay – but let them not pretend to be otherwise!) It wasn’t a call or anything. I thought it was about some very immature kids who had weak personalities and fell prey to the “characters” they were playing.

  7. hemanth

    Well you being a student of DU might feel its not that realistic at some cases, and you even feel that at no point you should be comparing those brats with the greats of indian History… But tell me onething wat is wrong if ppl are aimless??? cant they change… I want to quote here something “It is the situation which makes the people great, it seldom happens the other way round!!!!” I have seen ppl transorming and transforming for good…

    Yeah i do agree the editing at some point is hopeless… but if u see it with a open mind, you will appreciate the way it convey’s MESSAGE for the youth with lot of masti attached… and when u try to do such experimentation mistakes ought to happen… All i am trying to say here is you at some point should acknowedlge for giving us something new…

    BTW you mentioned about Lakshya, fair enough i agree one can deduce confidence from that movie. But why cant u catch the same good from RDB, ignoring few things related to characters, some err on editing and all other technicalities… I GUESS U HAVE A MENTAL BLOCK!!!

    It is so very damn easy to PREACH, but give it to the director for preaching it in a right way…

  8. Hemanth: You’ve obviously had an emotional reaction to the movie. As a student of History – I see Bhagat Singh and other comrades from his time very differently. They weren’t exceptional men, except for the fact that their responses were exceptional in a tough time. This movie to me had no message except one of hopelessnessness. While I am comfortable with the message of hopelessness – I thought the director did a shoddy job of conveying it.

    These men could have killed an innocent man, isn’t it? Was there anything about having established the Minister’s guilt in the entire scenario? Did they do some research before figuring out it was he who was corrupt? Did the director want me to feel sorry for these men?

    Yes, I do have a mental block when it comes to badly made movies. I am quite comfortable with that. :)

  9. Anonymous

    In general, media/stuff does not translate across domains. You study a painting, eat good food, experience a movie, write a book, listen to music, etc.
    This idea of meta ie. writing about good food, writing about movie, writing about music etc – is a non-starter to begin with. The feeling of drinking great filter coffee – can it be conveyed by writing about filter coffee ? ‘course not, but ppl try regardless. Simpler thing is to just drink the coffee & go your own way. Why take all possible forms of stuff and boil it down to writing about said stuff – you end up cannibalizing both the stuff and your experience of the stuff in the guise of sharing your said experience with some audience – and in turn cannibalise their experience of it as well.
    Rang De Basanti is a movie meant to be watched & experienced, just as a bicycle is meant to be rode. If you write about riding a bicycle instead – it will simply serve as rhetoric & wordplay, won’t actually take you places ( literally speaking ). Just because writing is cheap/free doesn’t mean you substitute writing as an activity for other activities/stuff that need to be experienced in their own ways.

    Now go think about it. Note – go actually think, not write about thinking.

  10. Anonymous

    I agree to a large extent, with Neha’s points. One of the things is that the director’s message is not clear. It is a different thing if you drive home a point, and in the process, commit a few cinematic mistakes. But if you muddle your message/intentions in the process, it does not serve you right. The movie could come out saying that the guys were totally confused, and just took an inspiration from the film they were working on to do what they believed in.Or the movie just saying that the situation is so hopeless that there cant be much done abt it other than killing the people who you think are destroying the country? It is a different thing if what they did was a reasonable thing to do. It is not clear if the director says that the cause for which the guys were risking their lives was as worthy as their idols died for.

    I think the issue with characters is not a small thing. You cannot spend more than an hour before the actual action starts, and not characterize your protagonists well enough. It is not clear as to what DJ prevents from entering the real world (though he just says that he is nobody in the real world..as if he is someone really important in the campus).

    As for the radio station scene, why did they have to wield guns to get on the air? could they not have done that with lessser hungama?

  11. While I do think your analysis of the fil is pretty much on track….what I want to point out to you is that apart from the fact that its a badly amde film, unrealistic and has a forced sense of revlution….there are a few things one can definitely take back.
    The first half does, very cleverly shows the aspiratons and frustrations of youth in our country right now…how they give up before trying, how they feel completely detached from the problems of the country…and how they are reluctant to do anything about the problems they crib about and want solutions to.
    And while I think their “awakening” was a bit extreme, there are things that we ought to be doing, for the country, what is in our power, but which we dont really care about…

  12. btw…the AIR that they showed was Modern School, Barakhanba …did u notice? ;o)

  13. Neha :

    I never look for those glitches like editing, etc, maybe coz I am novince in
    understanding them or never cared for.I watched this movie and got a few point
    refreshed in my mind.

    First, people with power can use and abuse you as many times as they wish to.
    You are at mercy of them, if stuck up in a situation.

    Second, we have to clean politics. Some of us can enter politics, IAS etc, but
    the larger public needs to get awaken , else all efforts can go in wain.

    Third, I am not very happy about their killing the defence minister as it was a bad
    move, for , the defence minister could have been puppet in the hands of someone else.
    But the fact is , we have Al Queda being run by Osama Bin Laden and his other member
    are just doing their job, but they were also killed by american forces, why ??
    Because you and only you are responsible for your action. The speech of minister
    stating the pilot was a novince , was a grossly offending statement and he had to pay
    for that. ( I know , killing someone is not the right penalty for all, but then who decides
    the penalty when the courts themselves are being used as a whorehouse by politicians)

    Fourth, the point DJ made about going to the real world, was a very stupid one. You cannot lie
    in your safety cocoon forver, else why didnt he join his lovely mana’s dhabha and enjoyed the
    world from there.

    Fifth, situations change you a lot. You can become from a saint to a beast, if situation demands.

    Sixth, the bigger picture is, we need to imporve our country ,not necessarily a violent way, but do
    something , dont sit on your haunches and wait for the country to change.Remember, the guy answered
    in the radio station saying “We are sorry” in response to the caller saying “your killing of the minister
    was a very week attempt(something like this).

    I dont mind editing errors and the likes, if they can drive home a point of realisation that we should
    make this country a better place, method of doing that , you decide as you feel comfortable and practical.
    But do something for your country , as our “Sons of India” had done 50 years back. Its your country and you
    have to take moral responsibilty to make it a better place.

    As NDTV ad put it beautifully, “Tum Koshish toh karo, badlegaa India”.

    PS : I would say movie was avery trivial things, it was the message it carried which had a lot of substance.

    -ATG

  14. Anon (Of comment no. 9) – Read your comment again. Does it actually make sense? Of course media/ arts translates across domains! It has a life and soul of its own but not an independent existence. It is a product of its times and its context!

    So accordingly to you none of us should write about our experiences or bother to articulate what we feel?? I really. No.. Really find your comment absurd.

    Anon (of comment no. 10): I agree. The director put the personans into convenient stereotypes. For god’s sake hadn’t they heard of a free-booze press conference? If any time you want to be covered by media – send out an invite that says “followed by cocktails”. Every T, D and H will landup to cover the conference!

    Chandni: Yup. The first part did have much promise. However, I refuse to see what they did as awakening. (Maybe I don’t believe in the concept of awakening – only sudden realizations.) I agree – there are a few things to take back – namely – don’t be foolish when attempting to address a wrong.

    Yeah. I recognized the building’s facade! :)) Good days!

    ATG: You make too many points in a single comment, and I disagree with some of it.

    I don’t like the virtue embedded in this mighty “WE”. Who is we? The people? And what are politicians? Monsters? Politicians reflect the society they come from. The larger public is dying of cholera-enhanced misery. Awaken them? Who will awaken them? Why assume some sort of superiority? Just because we are reasonably articulate doesn’t imply we become evangelists, or that we have halos around our heads.

    And please – Don’t even get me started about the AQ – The analogy is a complete misfit here. That’s like saying – lets kill every bugger in the Def. Ministry!

    Why do you assume that sitting on haunches is a bad thing? That’s such an elitist thing to say! The vast majority of this country eats, cooks, works, sleeps and shits while sitting on its haunches. I thought the young men were a bunch of fools. To be actually apologetic for what one does and not stand up for it, is even worse.. IMO.

    And I really do mind editing errors and all. Given that these are mega budgets – these guys better learn to make decent movies.

    The “Daughters of India” have done a lot for this country too.. incidentally.

  15. Shoddy editing,huh??

    Neha, the movie was brilliantly edited!

    Too tired to debate at the moment!

    My own feelers about the movie, the first night after i saw it..

    http://theevilp.blogspot.com/2006/01/rang-de-basanti-45-stars.html

  16. neha :
    I wish to debate over your comments on my comments, but it becomes a very slow and lengthy process. Writing comments then next day reading comments. More so in topics like these, which have enough material to debate for hours.

    I would say this thing, every person should be honest in his capacity and should take complete responsibility for the actions he perform.
    No matter he is an AQ man or PMO fellow.

    Sitting on haunches for all the purposes mentioned by you,is useful but not for the topic in discussion.
    I remembered a joke , “Once a guy goes to temple and prays dedicated for hours and asks god to get him a lottery.
    He would come veryday and would ask for the same. Then on one sunday , when he went there to ask God the same thing,
    God slaps him and says “Abay nikammay Lottery ki ticket toh khareed lay”.

    Well it may be a misfit, but just recalled it in this context.

    And well “Daughters of India” have done more than “Sons of India”, no doubt.
    Its just that “Sons of India” is a little more popular :-)

    -ATG

  17. puranabrahmam

    A movie of this genre has the capacity to touch the viewer at different levels. As long as we expect to be entertained or engaged in formulaic ways the reaction to it can be along one or more of many dimensions. when you accept this movie holistically without succumbing to a tendency to judge aspects of it,the message seeps through. the movie unmistakably carried messages though one could dissect and cavill the director’s packaging ad nauseam. a theme can be handled in many different ways.this movie is an artistic expression as much open to scrutiny as the color of the wall on your neighbour’s house.

    The movie did not sugarcoat gross realities nor offer a`panacea for the problems that afflict our nation.it is a honest portrayal within the canvas that the charcters and their circumstances allow the director to paint on. An undercurrent of frustration and restlessness among the youth is brought to the surface through the experiences in real life even as they prepare to play the part of the revolutionaries for the documentary. The parallels between the pre-independence era and the present when the country is at the crossroads are unmistakable.

    It is easy to get distracted by the superficial elements of the movie when its core is in the gritty messages that stare us in the face. at the end of the experience you could walk out having felt the soul of the movie or merely recall what you liked and disliked. it is visceral and different than most churned out by those pandering to the galleries.

  18. Neha,

    It pisses me off when people abuse the notion of Inquilab (Revolution). The notion of a revolution being bloody has Marxist legacy but is not necessarily true. Revolutions can be silent, passive, reactive and slow. Revolutions are about paradigm shifts.

    Beautifully put. Did you mean, proactive (i hate that words generally, but passive and reactive?). That apart, nice blog. I haven’t seen the movie, and I don’t know if I would. However, I enjoyed your review. You’ve got an excellent blogsite. Off to read more.

    asuph

  19. After watching the film I was myself confused – Did I like the movie or Did I not? I guess I wanted to like the film. I waited for this film for a long time. How many hindi movies actually turn out to be good, scratch that, how many movies actually turn out to be good. So I just wanted to be positive, like someone who gives in after four years of anti-arranged marriage protest and marries the next best thing. So I desperately discounted some of the stupid parts about the film, that you have truthfully highlighted.

    Killing the defence minister was really dumb. I do not think the Film comes out with any message that i have not heard from somewhere else, or some other movie. So can’t give points for that. You wont be a great film just cos you have a message.

    The cinematic elements were better than many – the cinematography, the music, the funny writing, the actors etc. But that alone doesnt help make a film great.

    I don’t have any problem in Aamir Khan’s character. A guy who is hiding from the bigger world and wants to stay a big fish in the small pond. Thats a very real character.

    But the film apart from the cosmetics has nothing new. And this was the disappointment. I expected a lot from the film. I thought it is gonna try somethign new. But that did not happen.

    Rang De Basanti wont awaken the generation, it will act like… I guess redbull or a cup of coffee, at the end of a tired day you would feel thrilled to do something great from tomorrow, but tomorrow you will go to work. But it did to me is make me ask questions about myself, about my priorities – me, my family, my nation, what comes where.

    So the film is not a great film. But I don’t think Rakesh Om Prakash Mehra minds it. He has made some money with the film which was very important for him. Had this film tried anything on the lines of silent, passive, reactive and slow it would’t have made any money. Gandhi doesn’t sell.

    By itself Rang De Basanti is not a great film. It is only the theory of relativity (when you look at this film that belongs to an industry that comes out with Shadi No. 1, No Entry, Veer Zara, and copy cat films) that can make you believe this is a good film. And this is unfortunate.

    (sorry i cudn’t keep myself brief.)

  20. This review is fabulous. I find the underlying ideology of he movie very disturbing. I think it is derogatory to equate Bhagat Singh with the rich kid and other useless fellows with the revolutionaries who tried to find a real and intelligent justification for their movement. The context is also not the same. Bhagat Singh was a very well read man, and they were very aware of Gandhism. Although he acknowledged the link with early revolutionaries, he was much more aware of rights and wrongs of use of violence. They were not dumb youth – equating them to irrational, revengeful, impulsive acts of violense ought to be offensive to every indian. The fact that Indians do not recognize this shows how much mental stagnation and ignorance has crept in our present society.I am just glad to see not that there are others who recognize this.

    -Pia Tripathi