Sunday, February 19, 2006

Bhagat Singh and the Roo Baa Rooo Conundrum

I got a very interesting comment from a friend to my review of "Rang De Basanti". I thought the comment needed to be answered fully and thought I should make it a part of the main-section of the blog. So, if you want the full story, please refer to my review of RDB. I have quoted tafosi's comment in part and have added my response to it.

tafosi said:

" You are right in a way because whatever you've said makes absolute sense due to your interpretation. Going by that, you will find no complaints. However, while seeing the movie, after seeing the movie and after reading everything that people have to say about the movie, my opinion on one thing has not changed. For me it is not a political movie. There was no political significance and I would love to ask the director if that was his intention. For me, the film was a character study of passionate, but flawed young men of India. They are the breed who live their life on the extreme, all about being impulsive and let the consequences be damned. In fact, the freedom fighters whom they portray, were themselves flawed. Once again, passionate yet impulsive. Yes the political message does appear to be resounding, but quite honestly it was never about that with me and once I was prepared to overlook that fact, I really liked the movie."

My Response:

I don't know, Ritesh. I won't characterize these characters as passionate and impulsive. These guys are narcissistic, self-involved and their cluelessness can only be topped off by their self-love. I don't think any other thought (apart from themselves) enters their mind- of course before they loose one of their own. I don't sympathize with these guys.

And to compare them to Bhagat Singh is an outrage. Bhagat Singh was a great intellectual and a revolutionary. The methods he used might be debated, but his love towards his fellow men is unquestionable. He was 24 when he was hanged. But if you read anything that he has written, you will appreciate and understand what a complex person he was. I recently found a good site that has accumulated all his correspondences and speeches:
His now classic booklet "Why I am an atheist" is a soul-searching and bold treatise. If you give one of these documents to the characters in RDB, they wouldn't be able to make head or tail out of it, unless we are able to introduce an item number with Malaika Arora in pitching these ideas to them.

He (Bhagat Singh) and his copatriots were not impulsive- they were deliberate and calculative. When they planted the bomb in the assembly, they went out of their way to make sure that nobody is hurt in the blast and this act was aimed at solely to get their voice heard.

The movie begs to be taken as a political movie. Here are some references the movie throws our way: (i) the saffron-cald activists seen all through the movie, they could have chosen any colour, but the political ambitions of the movie had to prevail. (ii) in the first scence, when Bhagat Singh is lead to his hanging, we see him reading a book by Lenin. So, taking it as a political film, the film fails miserably. If you don't take it as a political film, then, it is even more outrageous - in this case, they are willing to use any historical figure to spice up the proceedings and introduce some fake patriotism.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Rang De Basanti (Hindi)- Movie Review

Over the last few years, one has come to get used to the "hush-hush" reverence with which Amir Khan's new projects are received. And his latest one had even more "hush-hush" factor because it has another "hush-hush" talent A. R. Rahman associated with it. Once the movie was released, the second round of standing ovation started. Superlatives were exhausted. Blogs were clogged with praise.

RDB is the story (well, if one might call it that) of a group of college students with devil-may-care, I-have-nothing-to-do-with-studying, beer-gustling, high-speed-racing-in-the-dark, designer-cloth-cladding attitude, the likes of whom seem to populate every Bollywood movie these days. There lives are interrupted by a documentary filmmaker (a young British, should I spell it out for you, woman), who is hell-bent on making a documentary based on the lives of Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru, Sukh Dev and Chandrasekhar Azad. Our "devil-may-care" college students are cast in the above mentioned roles. There are extended rehearsal sessions that are filled with generous doses of fun, frolic (so that the filmmakers can wedge enough number of song sequences and slick montages set to peppy music) and small helpings of sentiment and reflection. In the course of which, due to some unrelated, unfortunate happenings, they loose one of their own.

Now, the movies' master plan becomes visible and you can start drawing parallels between pre-interval rehearsal sequences and post-interval on-screen happenings. (I advice you to have a box full of sharpened pencils to help you draw parallels, as the filmmakers are hell bent on pointing every possible one with flash backs and ominous music.)

This movie could have been dismissed as another Bollywood potboiler, from which you are not supposed to expect any better. But the movie begs for our attention. It wants to be more. In the early sections of the movie, there are saffron-clad political activists always in incendiary, clash mode. If you start to expect any ideological debate/revelation, you are in for a big disappointment. The filmmakers want to aim for, well- everything. It is supposed to be a sharp political commentary on modern India. It is supposed to draw parallels with history and inspire the brains out of its audience. The problem is : the movie has the political insight of a twelve year old. The issues it raises and the solutions it directs at us have zero understanding of the complexity that shapes the ground realities.

Satyajit Ray, in one of his interviews, said that "artists are not needed to forward a solution for every problem they tackle. Because, the artist might not know the solution, all he can do is point in the right direction". This movie has no sense of direction, leave alone pointing in the right one. Even when it invokes (which our "devil-may-care" college students enact) the sacrifice of Bhagat Singh and his comrades, it doesn't engage in any intellectual probing or political, ideological stock-taking. It just uses their lives to orchestrate action sequences and high-speed pursuits in sepia tinted film, while the main characters deliver pseudo-jingoistic diatribe with lot of eye-squinting, eyebrow-arching fake intensity.

The audience reaction to this movie is another case in point. Mostly, the movie is aimed at ( and received by) the new generation of multiplex going youth. The movie seems to have induced a mixture of reverence, inspiration and admiration. The politics the movie discusses is deemed as extremely relevant and pertinent.

There is a belief/theory that a movie can only be as good as its director. Here is a corollary: a movie can only be as good as its audience. If this movie is deemed by its audience as a matter-of-fact portrayal of the current political scenario and its arguments are accepted as cutting-edge political discourse, then one needs to take a closer look at the audiences' political understanding.

This leads to a larger problem facing Indian soceity: the total political disengagement of the current crop of youth. The source of this problem is not hard to find. There is no half-way decent mechanism for the youth of today to engage themselves politically. Universities and schools in India, where there should be ample scope for such political development, have been completely sanitized of any political movements (barring a few government run colleges). On the other hand, it is considered a taboo to have any political affiliations or dialogue on campus and there is a system that inherently discourages such political engagement. A society with such flawed mechanism pays its price: almost total cluelessness of its next generation.