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.