Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Review of 'Rang De Basanti'

At a time when protest has become pedestrian with the current national obsession being something like whether Sourav Ganguly should be wearing boxers or Y-fronts, here comes a movie which recoups some of that lost glory, and where protest is put on a pedestal. RDB is a very significant (and I do not use that term lightly) movie in that it has succeeded commercially and has become a cult movie despite it being a very serious and topical movie.

The Story

The movie revolves around a gang of four – DJ (Aamir Khan), Karan (Siddharth), Aslam (Kunal Kapoor) and Sukhi (Sharman Joshi). DJ, actually named Daljeet, is a Sikh and almost bordering on the lunatic. He has been out of college for a few years but hangs around there because he is scared of the world outside. This is actually a clever attempt to make Aamir act like a college kid though he does not look like one. Sukhi is DJ’s booze-um buddy. Karan is the strong and silent type while Aslam is a bit of a poet. Apart from Karan, most of the others come from middle to lower-middle class families.

All the four are great buddies – these are friendships born out of deep experiences like shaking hands without washing them after visiting the loo. They are having a great time in Delhi – drinking, driving, drinking, driving and everything short of 'Brokeback Mountain'.

Sue (Alice Patten), after coming across the diary of her grandfather -who was a jailor when Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev et al were in prison, comes from Britain to make a documentary on them. Soniya (Soha Ali Khan) is her local contact who is helping her out. After several frustrating (to her) and funny (to us) auditions for selecting the actors to recreate the historical roles, she sees light in the form of our four protagonists.

The guys, like most of our generation do not believe in revolutions and are pessimistic about the benefits of protest. They can’t identify with the historical characters and do not want to have a saffronite play the part of Ram Prasad Bismil. They are on the verge of walking out when copious tears shed by Sue ensure that they devote their energies to the task.

Things take a serious turn when their personal lives start taking on parallels with their roles in the film. The film keeps cross cutting between the Bhagat Singh story and the story of the protagonists. A deeply personal tragedy pushes them into a maelstorm of politics, arms dealership, terrorist acts and finally ends in a blaze of glory.


I was initially sceptical about this movie. The promos felt a lot similar to Dil Chahta Hai (DCH) and I thought it would be similar – loves and lives of some rich guys, essentially a usual growing up kind of theme. You have been through enough such movies before. But it was a very pleasant surprise to find that RDB is actually a very serious and topical movie.

The two most important elements of RDB are the script (Story by Kamlesh Pandey, screenplay by Renil D’ Silva, dialogues by ad man Prasoon Joshi) and editing (P.S. Bharathi, who is incidentally the director’s wife).

All the characters are finely etched, from DJ’s Sikh family background to Aslam’s lower middle class traditional Muslim upbringing. The dialogues are crisp with a good dose of college lingo.The allegorical script finds a very fine balance with the editing which cross-cuts between the present and the past. Non-linear story telling sometimes is done more for form (like in Ayutha Ezhuthu(Yuva), where the stories are not even and a bit disjonted) but here content drives the format.

Some critics have said the latter part of the movie is a bit simplistic, naïve, requires some imagination and suspension of disbelief etc. etc.. I accept all of them. But I condone them, as the movie is about youth and the urge to get things done. It is but natural for 20 year olds to be all of the above, in fact even Karan in a scene says that their actions were of weakness, not of strength. That is the answer to the critics.

In fact the movie eschews the easier path. With a firang girl and Aamir Khan in the movie, having her succumb to India’s greatest kisser before Emraan Hashmi would have been easy. Having a good college song and dance routine with some cheap college humour would even easier. Having the guys being acquitted in court would have been a slam dunk. There are no songs too in the traditional sense, in fact all the songs only run in the background. In every step, the movie evokes an art-house flavour in its realism.

All the performances are top grade, especially of Siddharth (who has done some decent performances as hero is some Telugu and Tamil movies) as Karan. There are fine little cameos by Om Puri, Anupam Kher, Waheeda Rehman etc.

The lyrics and music deserve a special mention. A.R.Rehman is in his best form after some years of tripe. The spirit of the movie has been finely captured, with funkiness and sensitivity wherever required. The lyrics of Prasoon Joshi, are also apt for the mood. Songs like the title track, “Loose Control” and “Lukka Chuppi” are wonderful, especially the last which draws a very fine analogy for Mother India calling back her country which has gone astray (sounds corny but it isn't).

Rakeysh Mehra’s main effort is in bringing diverse talents together and creating a tour-de-force. My main liking for the movie, is in its earthiness and realism. There is no gloss or garish sets and costumes. No Punjabi song and dance movie of the Chopra-Johar clan has ever evoked the sounds and smells of Punjab as the Sikh festival shown in RDB. No amount of nostalgic meandering about “makki ki roti” and “sarson ka saag” in those movies can match the genuine warmth of the tandoor in Kiron Kher’s house.

RDB is patriotic without being didactic, nationalistic without being jingoistic. It shows that filmmakers after all do care about the country and the success of the movie shows that even the audience cares. Yes, we do.

Post – script

It is almost like the writer read my earlier review HKA’s (Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi) post-script “HKA sometimes make you wonder what you will have to say to your kids when they ask “what did you do in your twenties?……..” Now RDB offers one answer, an answer which is blowing in the wind, blowing in the breeze of Basant.

Vamshidhar Guthikonda
(more reviews by him at

1 comment:

Manu said...

Saw the movie last night.

The movie has very original polish. The kind rarely seen in Hindi movies. Every dialogue and song is crisp and elegant. This is all the more amazing an accomplishment when you see that the characters are not elegant classy people but ordinary college students with very real attires, attitudes, vocabulary and accents. All of them are developed with finesse and justice. It is also the first movie in a long time to deploy a sense of history effectively. Most people watching the movie with me had little idea of who Chandrashekhar Azad was. Ramprasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Rajguru and Durga Vohra were complete strangers for them.

The movie is stirring in its nationalism. I had never heard the full verse of "sarfaroshi ki tamanna" by Bismil. It is up there with the best of urdu poetry. Overtly emotional, melancholy and passion evoking. Atul Kulkarni's recitation of the verse is exceptional and one of the high points of the movie. If the biggest tragedy of our education system is lack of Indian culture and History in it, the second biggest tragedy is the downfall of Urdu. What ails most Urdu poetry today is the third grade quality of the Khayals. If you Google sher-o-shayari, this is the first website
The words are beautiful and arranged perfectly. Well written poetry with third grade Khayal.

That's exactly my opinion of Rang De Basanti. Exceptionally well-made. Appeals to the higher senses, quality through and through. But for what? The same old "system sucks" argument and the same old drastic shortcut measures to fix the problems.

I sympathesize with Indian politicians and cops. Nothing they could do would receive any credit whatsoever. The only political accomplishment of the last two decades that people praise are reforms started by the current PM in the early nineties. As if no political achievement was made in two decades. There is nothing to celebrate the strides our nation has made in so many spheres. What drives these guys to wake up in the morning and do their work, leave alone go above and beyond in improving the country?

Does the movie glorify protests? I don't think so. It reinforces the futility of protests. The lack of faith in law keepers of India is a serious problem. This movie reinforces that opinion by painting RAF (Rapid Action Force) and the commandos who fight terrorists with the same broad brush of distrust. It even equates the democratic government of the Republic of India with imperialists. It also clearly targets the BJP government which for all its faults and problems, had a far better track record on security than any other government in decades.

Some trivia:
1. The bombs thrown in the parliament by Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt were intentionally made to have low intensity. They even threw the bombs away from the people to avoid hurting anyone. They were sent to the gallows anyway.

2. The last scene where a kid bhagat singh is shown appeared to be edited. Bhagat Singh had tried to grow guns in his father's farms as a young kid ( It appeared that they had shot this story but decided against showing the guns for sanity's sake.