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.


Naren said...

Probably the first blog to deplore the much hyped RDB. I appreciate your insight about the current political knowledge of your devils. I just simply have a question for you. Where will you bury your face if this film is nominated for next year OSCAR?

nmagesh said...


Thanks for you feedback.

If you take the list of films that have been sent for Oscars, from India, for the last ten years, you might form a different opinion. For eg., Satyajit Ray's films (he made more than 30 feature films, most of which are gems) were never nominated.

Moreover, I feel one should air ones' own opinion irrespective what the popular/public opinion is or what the Oscars committee might possibly feel. If one starts to align his/her opinion in-line with the popular opinion, that is a sure fire route for intellectual atrophy. So, I'll keep my head high even if it is nominated for Oscars- well, Oscars are over-rated anyway.

nmagesh said...

Damn, after reading my comment- I feel I should lighten-up seriously. Re-reading my reply, I sound like a pompous, self-righteous, tightass. So, with the promise of taking it easy- cheers!

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. I felt that it is the best film, amongst all the others which I have seen this year. Unless Indian cinema comes up with anything better, this is the entry for Academy awards.

No, Academy awards in my opinion are not over-rated. They are the highest recognition of excellence and the only film-makers who may call it over-rated are those who have never won it. Ask anyone who has, and they will call it their proudest moment. Yes some brilliant people like Ray, Scorsese, Hitchcock, Chaplin never won one, but they never gave up did they? I still remember the look on Scorsese's face in 2004 or Ray clutching the trophy on his death-bed. I agree that the choice of Indian movies leaves a lot to be desired, but I do not wish to lable the entire process as unworthy. The members of the Academy may be prejudiced at times, but they have earned their right to vote.

Glad to see that you also write on movies which you dislike. Keep it up.

nmagesh said...

Ritesh, I have made my reply for the first part of your comment as part of the main-section of my blog.

And as far as the Oscar question goes: First of all we have to remind ourselves that Oscars is hollywood-specific. Oscars do throw a bone or two to foreign films. If and when they recognize any foreign film in the main sections, it is driven by market considerations (meaning that the respective film has done well in North American box office). Moreover, films are such a personal medium, and the films that have worked for me so well, have never even come close to being recognized. So, to impose a market-driven opinion poll on my cinematic tastes is sort of perverse and unfair.

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