Review of ‘Rang De Basanti’
I understand that I am among the three people on this planet not in raptures over Rang De Basanti. While the distinctiveness is flattering, my company among the trio isn't. And so this is as much an attempt to give some sort of deep intellectual credibility to my movie preferences as to distance myself from the crusader and the minister.
OK, so RDB gets high marks for creativity. Not only is the basic story idea new, it manages to stay focussed : I kept waiting for Om Puri to have a sudden change of heart, throw out the elder son and start apologising profusely to the younger son. I was all set to watch Kirron Kher fall madly in love with Anupam Kher and make an honest man out of him. Neither happens. We don't even get to see Soha and Sue break into an item number to distract the Defence Minister before he is shot. (Damn. )
The truly breakthrough part of the movie is the awesome narrative structure. The essence of this is the way the past and the present are weaved in, especially when you start seeing one influence the other (And, to digress, I thought Aamir did an awesome job with that line about one foot in the future, one foot in the past). That apart, the narrative structure is also enhanced by the way RDB remains a film about a bunch of people rather than a hero and a villain.
I found Sue's hindi irritating, I thought Kunal Kapoor was terrible, I thought the first half dragged and if I thought the first half dragged let's not get me started on the second half, but these are all minor (and very subjective) issues. RDB starts out by being realistic enough that one is willing to put up with the slow meandering, until that meandering is eventually heightened by ridiculous melodrama. But even that, I suppose, is subjective. In the theatre where I saw it, RDB's climax received a standing ovation. But then I saw it in Gurgaon.
It is now a cliche to point out that when we like something, we ascribe a higher order identity to it. So RDB is no longer just a movie - it is now a wakeup call to the youth, a big "message" that the system must be reformed.
Now I am all for telling the youth to do something about whatever it is that they do not like, but the solution to the problems (of any society) does not lie in becoming a bunch of naxalites and shooting everyone down. ‘Hazaaron Kwahishein Aisi’ did not have Aamir Khan and A R Rahman, but it had a realistic message that beautifully tempered the idealism with realism, and was told through a story in sync with the times it portrayed. Each of three strong characters in an Emergency India chooses a different path, but none of them chooses "The Right Path", and none manages to reform the "System".
Now take Anita's intro. Sure, her (and my, and your) parents / grandparents could not have dreamt of a high-paying job, a house and foreign vacations. Our generation can, but then it can do so precisely because it has struggled in a manner very different from the struggles of the ones before it. Anita may never have tossed a home-made bomb (yeah yeah, she owns her own house, why would she risk building a bomb in it?) or stoned a public bus, but in living the "middle class dream of a degree from a decent university" etc, she and her generation have "Changed the System", which is what ‘Hazaaron Khwahishein’ and ‘Rang De Basanti’ are about. To my mind, software engineers and MBAs and call centre employees make a difference that no revolutions achieved, and also get a complimentary gold credit card in the process.
And there is a fundamental, if simple economic-philosophical theme in that. I see a strain of Adam Smith's invisible hand here (why do I just know this is where Aseem will come in with all guns blazing!), in that the actions of people driven by self-interest lead to a better outcome for society as a whole. Go do your job, and if you do it well enough the system will benefit (karmanye vaadhikaaraste, anyone?). But then it is so much more romantic to carp eloquent about some vague macro "system" and use that to justify blatant excesses. So we see a bunch of supremely sensitive kids who get riled when the Defence Minister chooses to question their dead friend's competence, and then it's time to go Bam! Oh, that's not why they do it of course. They do it to reform the system. It is wrong to riot on Valentines Day because you do not like teens snogging (or because you aren't getting any), but if you're fighting to prevent moral degradation and corruption of the system, let's stone the Archies ! [I am sooo tempted to mention Iraq here...]
RDB is an unusual, entertaining movie with much to recommend it. But the solution it offers (to an inadequately defined and existentially ambiguous problem) is one that has always been inadequate and is now also outdated - as demonstrated by the beautifully shot sepia-toned example in the movie.