Friday, February 03, 2006

Review of 'Rang De Basanti'

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.

By,
Rohithari Rajan

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rohit, if it makes you feel any better, a number of other people didn't
care for the movie. See:

http://middlestage.blogspot.com/2006/01/against-rang-de-basanti.html

http://indianwriting.blogspot.com/2006/01/rang-de-basanti-watch-out-spoilers.html

I haven't seen it, of course, but it just sounds so unspeakably dumb
that I'm against it anyway. This means that your are definitely part of
a group larger than three.

Oh, and I think you're wrong about Adam Smith (remember, he wasn't
arguing for welfare, only for pricing efficiency - nothing in that
system guarantees optimal social outcomes) but you already know that.

Aseem

Entropy said...

Hello! I can't believe that people rubbish a movie without even
seeing it. Atleast Rohit had formed an opinion after watching the
movie instead of
giving airy gyan based on reviews.

Anita

Entropy said...

Hello! I can't believe that people rubbish a movie without even
seeing it. Atleast Rohit had formed an opinion after watching the
movie instead of
giving airy gyan based on reviews.

Anita

Anonymous said...

Why not? It's more efficient. Rohit spent hours watching this thing and
then came to the same conclusion I reached just trailing through blogs.
And making intelligent choices based on reliable information is what
having an opinion is all about. If we had to test everything
empirically ourselves we'd never get anywhere. Besides, arguments are
only really fun if you don't have facts to back them - it's like
fishing without bait.

Also, I wasn't really rubbishing the movie - I was just saying that it
sounded dumb and so I was against it. That's hardly 'airy gyan'. If you
want that, you should check out:

http://2x3x7.blogspot.com/2006/02/whats-martyr-with-these-people.html

Now there i'm really expressing an uninformed opinion.

Cheers

Aseem

Anonymous said...

spoken like a true doctorate student.
btw, people, check out the latest entry in scott adams blog
http://dilbertblog.typepad.com. in an interesting coincidence he has
written a piece on his fav source of knowledge being 'some guy told me'.
Regards
Anita B

Anonymous said...

:-). It's doctoral actually, not doctorate. But don't take my word for
it. That would be forming an uninformed opinion. Go check the OED.
Although, of course, that's just some guy's opinion too.
Aseem

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip, doctoral student. And may I add my own. Smug smiles
usually don't get represented by : - )
Unless some guy informed you otherwise.
Regards
Anita B

Entropy said...

INQUILAB ZINDABAD !
aaj himalay ko choti se phir humne lalkaaraa hai,
door hato
door hato aye duniyawaalon
hindustan humaaraa hai.
JAI HIND !
(not entirely relevant, but i hate being left out of a good argument. am watching the movie in a few hours, hopefully will have something a bit more relevant to say after that.)
Zenobia.

Anonymous said...

Well, if everybody decided to be efficient by doing nothing but
waiting for someone else's reliable opinion that wouldn't get us
anywhere either.

and looking for reliable information is inherently biased. the
converted will always go to the evangelists, and yell
hallelujah.

Nikhil Pednekar

Anonymous said...

Sigh.

How could doing nothing and waiting for someone else's opinion be the
most efficient way to find out something? At least try to be logical
people. Obviously you use secondary research if you can get it (and
think it's reliable), otherwise you do primary research. That way
you're sure you're only researching things that there's no reliable
information on already. It's something Rohit's friend Adam Smith calls
division of labour. If we all decided not to believe in Newton and
incessantly test gravity for ourselves we'd be falling down a lot,
wouldn't we?

As for seeking information from other people being biased - perhaps,
but the bias isn't in the procedure it's in the individual, so that any
other procedure would yield the same result. The converted will end up
saying hallelujah anyway, precisely because they are the converted. If
anything, using multiple sources of external information means that you
can, potentially, be objective - something that's impossible if you've
actually experienced something yourself and therefore have opinions
about it that are tied to your own identity / self interest. There's a
reason plaintiffs aren't allowed to judge their own cases.

if you genuinely believe that the only things we have a right to have
an opinion about is things we've experienced ourselves, then I'd love
to hear what you think about the following: death, cancer, god,
language, mathematics, nuclear warfare and the fact that the world is
round. And how you'd go about verifying any of those opinions
empirically and from first principles if you had to.

Aseem

Anonymous said...

i think there is a fundamental difference between watchign a movie and
scientifically verifying whether the world is round. Agree with Anita
that there is not much point in reading someone's review of a movie
which they haven';t even seen- if the same info is avaialble in a
colelction of blogs we can very well go and read the blogs ourselves

coming back to the movie - i for one thought it was great. didn;t have
much expectations based on the trailers but it turned out to be much
better than expected. maybe all the actors are not Oscar winners but
there was good chemistry between them all and somehow the story seemed
believable
Rohini Rao

Anonymous said...

really? And what would that difference be exactly?

Also, note - I didn't review the movie - I just pointed out a couple of
blogs that had interesting reviews of it (by people who had seen the
movie) which I suspected most people on this mailing list hadn't read.
i thought sharing multiplicity of perspective was the point of this
mailing list. Not merely blatant self-congratulation.

Aseem

Anonymous said...

good so we agree that the point is to share perspectives. and
perspective on movies is more easily gained by watching it (and the effort is
not really much more than reading blogs on it)
Rohini Rao

Anonymous said...

Ah, but that's just your perspective. :-) (and no, Anita, that is not a
smug smile). Mine is that it's much more fun to read blogs about a
movie than to actually watch it - that way you get a much wider range
of opinions and manage to avoid what has the makings of a really bad
film by going to watch the new Neil Jordan flick instead. And it's way
less effort to see reviews of it on blogs you read daily anyway, than
to spend upwards of two hours watching Aamir Khan not act.

Incidentally, is it just me, or does one anyone else see the irony of
arguing that it's better to watch a movie than read reviews of it on a
mailing list that essentially doubles as a blog?

Aseem

P.S. Oh, and another perspective: it's fun not taking yourself
seriously and being contrary just for the heck of it. You guys should
try it some time.

Anonymous said...

I dont need to believe newton. for all that i know he might not
have existed. I fall regularly, so experience the effects of
gravity regularly, so I believe in gravity. i dont know what
gravitons are but i am sure somebody will find 'em.

calling a movie unspeakably dumb without falling down, based on
opinions made by reliable sources 'ie people that subscribe to
ones own personal biases' is anal to say the least.

movies are about somebody telling a story. the basic criterion
for commenting on the story telling would be to listen to it.
leave alone expound opinions on the basis other people's
opinions.

i do agree making up your mind based on a wide range of opinions
is great. especially when you are talking about death, cancer
nuclear weapons. but get a grip, this is movie. if you cant be
bothered to watch it, don't. nobody cares why you won't be
caught dead watching one.

and as regards what my opinions about death, cancer, nuclear
weapons, and other things that i may not have experienced
intimately, i am open to revising them when i go thru the
experience myself. the verification will occur with the personal
experience. i always thought i was good at maths, until i tried
Math 203.
Nikhil Pednekar

Indian said...

I think it was a great movie. One thing I would like to comment on those who just didn't like it and found it dumb etc..is that you are doing something very similar - sitting there and cribbing about it not being good. At least people like me take some inspiration and start thinking seriously about doing something rather than sit and criticize it. My 2 cents