Rang De Basanti (Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, 2006)
A few years back, I had a sweet gig where I got free dvd rental from the local arthouse dvd store (now sadly defunct) in return for reviewing whatever the owner picked for me to watch. Seriously: sweetest gig ever – I got to see a huge variety of international festival releases, including some I’d never have picked out for myself, for absolutely zip, as long as I reviewed them for the local college paper.
So that’s how, technically, Rang De Basanti was actually the first Hindi film I ever laid eyes on. I didn’t view it in its entirety – and I don’t think I ever reviewed it, because I remember HATING it. I only got to the intermission before switching it off in favour of some French film, thinking that “Bollywood” was SO not what I had expected. (The next Indian film the dvd store owner would give me to review I absolutely loved: Deepa Mehta’s Water; but it would still be several years till Hindi films lured me back).
Next weird fact: I now own no less than FOUR copies of Rang De Basanti, and I DON’T KNOW HOW OR WHY THIS HAS HAPPENED. Especially since, given that initial experience, my mental association is BAD MOVIE DO NOT WANT.
Guess what? I must have been on crack or something that day (or more likely: the weight of my unrealistic newbie Bollywood expectations: e.g. when video store guy said “this is a Bollywood film” I heard “ALL GLITTER AND SEQUINS AND DANCING AND SINGING AND HAPPINESS ALL THE TIME HOORAY”; + my complete lack of knowledge about India, Indian film and Indian history added up to a disappointing experience) because I put it on the other day, figuring I have four copies, I may as well watch one of them, and OH MY GOD YOU GUYS WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME THAT I WOULD TURN THIS FILM OFF?
I LOVED IT.
I LOVED IT SO MUCH.
I LOVED IT SO MUCH I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO CONVEY TO YOU HOW MUCH I LOVED IT. THERE AREN’T BIG ENOUGH LETTERS OR BIG ENOUGH WORDS.
Rang De Basanti (Paint it Yellow) is the story of Sue (Alice Patten), an aspiring English filmmaker who is inspired by the journals her grandfather kept during the freedom struggle in India in the early 1900s. Her goal is to make a film about Bhaghat Singh and the other revolutionaries who were martyred for the freedom movement in a way that made a deep impression on her grandfather.
Sue flies to Delhi, where she eventually finds a motley crew of fun loving, laid-back college students to play the revolutionaries in her film: DJ (Aamir Khan); Karan (Siddharth); Aslam (Kunal Kapoor); Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) and Sonia (Soha Ali Khan).
The problem, though, is that Sue’s modern-day cast can’t identify with the driven, passionate characters they are supposed to play: well acquainted with partying, but strangers to patriotism, they cannot understand or begin to imagine the mindset of someone who believes in a cause enough to die for it.
Until something happens that changes everything – causing even the most apathetic of the bunch to take drastic action in the name of a cause; causing those with long-held, passionate convictions to reassess everything they thought they knew and defended as “true” and “right”.
The first thing I have to mention about this film is that – contrary to what I had expected – it’s NOT just an Aamir Khan vehicle. It really isn’t. This is a true ensemble effort from a superb cast, and everyone is strong. That said, I have to say that Sharman Joshi as Sukhi especially stood out for me – he’s adorable and underrated; and Atul Kulkarni as Laxman was RIVETING. His scenes alone were amazing enough, but the storyline with Kunal Kapoor GUTTED ME. And yeah, Aamir is slightly too old to be playing a 25 year old, but there are scenes – like this:
- when he breaks down at the breakfast table with Sue – when you forgive him just about anything, because he’s that freaking good.
Secondly: this film is heartbreaking. I don’t think I have EVER cried so much watching ANYTHING. I don’t know if it’s because it juxtaposes historical events against the present day – drawing parallels between the freedom fighting revolutionaries and the Delhi gang, and touching on things like the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, racial and religious tension, and the story of Bhagat Singh and his contemporaries who died for India’s freedom; or because of the other thematic threads – the kind of Dil Chahta Hai melancholic ideas about growing up and moving on from your idyllic youth; learning unpleasant things about the world and becoming an adult.
Thirdly – having seen my fair share of “patriotic” films (and a large chunk during Deol Dhamaka) I’m more than familiar with the off-putting tendency for these things to descend rapidly into jingoistic, hate-filled ranting; positioning one country or one race on one side as the wonderful ideal and everybody else (if not a specific country, race or religion) as the evil enemy. Rang De Basanti comes at it from an entirely different angle. The very people of the country that is supposed to be celebrated see nothing to celebrate, only seeing its flaws: its corruption, its poverty, its religious tensions. There is no outside “enemy” – the film is about realizing the value of the nation and the message is that no country is perfect, that the people have to work together to make it better.
It’s this kind of patriotism I much prefer to see played out on film – something like this, or Heroes, or Swades.