OPINION

Rang De Basanti: Detractors Taken to Task

May 06, 2006
Pratyush Khaitan

I watched Rang De Basanti (RDB) only yesterday. There is something about much talked about movies because of which I want to watch them only when I have the mental space to be able to give proper attention. This meant that I watched Sarfarosh four to five months after its release.

That is beside the point. I started reading a few reviews of the movie and was surprised at the reasons pointed out to say that RDB is not a quality movie:

RDB says kill people/politicians and take revenge;

RDB is not relevant today as democracy exists in our country;

RDB is unrealistic. How can one even compare freedom fighters with college-going kids. Hell, how can you replace each person from history with a character. It is high on fascination and thus it is crap;

• It is not a clearly defined movie and fails to know what it really wants to put across;

• RDB hasn't actually created change. So it is just some thing people like to hear and is a failure;

A lot of reasons are given for RDB not being a quality film. None of the reasons seems to have a strong arguement, I am afraid.

Firstly, RDB DOES NOT tell or send the message to the youth to kill politicians and kill when wronged. When Karan Singhania (played by Siddharth) is asked during the last scene of the movie, "Who else is on your hit list?", he retorts that no one is. Is that not clear enough for people to understand that revenge is not the motive behind the killing?

We have to decide first whether our nation is doing very well or we have to have changes. Right, we at least agree on some thing - that changes are required.

The question is, Who will create the changes? The older generation or the nation's youth? History shows that it is usually the youth who enact change, who are the real change agents in any society. So hopefully we agree on another point - that youth would be needed to play a vital role to alleviate the problems of any nation.

Are the youth doing that? Not really. Does the youth feel frustration at the state of the nation? Yes. Else, we would not have people ruing over how x is bad or y is not good enough. A part of it is an entertaiment and time pass factor. The sadness at the state of affairs of the nation felt by the youth can only be discounted to an extent and no more.

The youth isn't doing enough though, is it? Is it because they are not brave enough or is it because they are not awakened? Awakening is necessary. Which is why there are revolutionaries and freedom fighters. The mass supports the revolution and the freedom movement. However, a force or an event or a few people have to exist to light the torch.

The youth are the same age as the freedom fighters back then. The freedom fighters fought for independence. These group of people potrayed in the movie are shown to create an awareness for people to fight for another movement to truly free India. The symbolism is very much relevant - India has many issues which have to be resolved - corruption being the prime one.

To be politically safe, Karan Singhania is made to say that he made a mistake. In an American History X, that did not happen and it is in those aspects that RDB missed a few icings on the cake. Why did Mehra kill the group of youngsters? Could he have not shown them alive? It would have meant less impact. However, it would have meant answering the more difficult questions - how the changes could really take place.

Being a part of the system is advocated by the group, and rightly so. Showing a sort of a revolution in 5-10 minutes and not just students showing support on television in the end would have been a much better ending according to me.

There is the Gandhi versus Bhagat Singh ideology clash. I really do not know where ideology comes into the discussion. People can differ on ideologies. However, given that the ideology adopted has been the Bhagat Singh one, should the issues handled be taken at face value rather than pointing flaws because you do not agree to the ideology of the Bhagat Singh way? Another movie could have been made to cleanse the nation a Gandhian way - equally as powerful.

Some smaller detractions: Changes are occured too fast in characters - my contention is that the characters already felt for the nation - only an awakening was necessary. Another one - the beating up of the people at the peaceful protest was too unrealistic (with media cameras, ministers and what not). Actually, such incidents are common place. The trouble makers are shown going and sitting with the peaceful protestors and creating agitation. Next, the police intervened to control the angry mob. A setup which can take place in real life.

There is another point which is being raised by the detractors of the movie - no change is occuring. So the movie is just beating about playing with the sentiments of the people. So it was crap and my point is validated. This shows that it is you, the detractor who raised the stakes of the movie more than any one else. For, no movie has in the past, nor in the future, will create a revolution. For it, real actions have to be taken in real life.

Reality is much more powerful than any cinema or drama can hope to be. The movie does call on the youth to act. However, it won't happen till the senses are truly awakened. For that, a revolutionary has to create noise - an impact like Bhagath Singh and those with him created - perhaps by violent actions such as placing a bomb in the Assemby, as he did. Do we have some one as brave, fearless and insightful? I do not see it yet.

Pratyush Khaitan is a young entrepreneur. Off the clock, he is a movie buff and a sports writer. He analyses sports at Sportolysis.
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#1
Q Bit
URL
May 6, 2006
01:41 AM

PK:
When I watched RDB, I absolutely loved it. Of course there will be folks who are going to trash the movie-- which is alright--holds for any act of creatvity (whatever medium).

The message I believe shouldn't be take too literally. Look--our democracy is young. The institutions are in place although they are mostly work in progress. We are however getting better. No body can question that.

I sort of agree that violence oftens helps to attract attention to any particular issue--yet violence never ever has been a solution. And violence always begets violence. This is however a macro-perspective.

A closer look will tell you people tend to be violent when they are immediately affected. Think what led Bhagat Singh, Sukdev and Rajguru to pick up arms-- the death of Lala Lajpat Roy--someone they were close to--they didn't pick up arms to avenge the death of the freedom fighters in the battle of Jalalabad.

The ideological difference is always there. In those days I cannot really blame anyone killing the atrocious British representatives--they figured that was the right thing to do--why? the British killed our own--tortured our own--they deserved that. Hard to argue.

Coming back to present do we need the violence? Do we need to bomb the assembly? No. We don't need that. Violence creates chaos and chaos is the best thing that could happen for the corrupt and the guttered politicians.

I understand the system can frustrate us to hell. I am hopeful :-)

One reason I should mention why I loved RDB so much--with recent Bhagat Singh movies I have found people tend to credit him more that his comrades which I found rather disturbing.
The balanced approach shown in RDB portraying Ramprasad Bismil, Asfakullah and Chandrasekhar Azad along with Bhagath Singh et al deserves a lot of kudos.

How many of us remember Batukeshwar Dutt who accompanied Bhagath Singh to bomb the assembly ? He was sent to life prisonment.

The biggest impact of RDB is to make people talking. Sometimes we do need a jolt--but let's not forget we are better off working our way through the system.

Because any act that fails the institutions is our failure. Those need to be protected at all costs--that's all we have.

And apologies for such a long comment.

#2
mayank
URL
May 6, 2006
02:22 AM

Pratyush:

Do you understand how big a compliment it is to our democracy and our nation when people say that the youth is not interested in politics?

Let me explain: That the youth is not interested in politics implies that there is nothing so wrong with the state of affairs of our nation that it affect the daily routines of public life. Politics of the country is in no way directly affecting the daily lives of Indian people. Yes, things are in a poor state, but not at a verge of collapse, not in such a state that nothing can be done. Despite of corruption and poor infrastructure, there is overall growth in the country and the youth is not just optimistic, but somewhat excited about his future.

If things go seriously wrong with the country then the youth of the nation will automatically react.remember Emergency, Mandal and most recently Mandal II? Did u see how it gave rise to an entirely new generation of youth leaders and youth icons? But do we want such situations again (Arjun Singh might)? Isn't the youth taking to the streets a sign of political instability?

So I find the basic premise of awakening a generation in RDB faulty. let not kids do stupid things. And yes,RDB also shows our democracy in poor light. We are no China, that unarmed, non violent protests will be lathi charged. The media loves such stories, and any minister who allows such a thing will become a political liabilty for his party. A free press is the biggewst achievement of our democracy. Time and again, the top leaders have had to pay for corruption charges. Look at Natwar Singh, who lost his minstry based on corruption charges. Hence no doubt, the director either does not understand Indian politics , or is out to fool the people of India.

#3
Arun
May 6, 2006
07:17 AM

As a movie, I loved it. It's a story, and anything can happen in a story, people should know that.

#4
Wasif
URL
May 6, 2006
07:49 AM

RDB is a movie about young people who could indentify with a cause and were motivated enough to go to any extent.

The connect with the freedom fighters was also the same. Bhagat Singh & Co. identified themselves with a cause (fighting the British) and give something to the society. This identification was the motivation for them, irrespective of the consequences.
----------------------------------------------
Today, we don't identify ourselves with any cause, hence no motivation to bring any change.

Execution requires lot of sacrifice, courage, strength,pain,patience etc.

One should be bold enough to face the detractors, handle ridicules, overcome obstacles and not get demotivated with failures.

Unfortunately, almost most of us want change without action, we have become too materialistic, want to see personal benefit in the cause, are not prepared to give up the comfort. We are too afraid of the society and their reaction.

#5
Wasif
URL
May 6, 2006
07:56 AM

"For that, a revolutionary has to create noise"

Absolutely,No revolution is achieved without creating a noise. It also requires the courage to challenge the existing mindset. Courage to take on the might irrespective of the consequences.Have confidence in the cause.

"Do we have some one as brave, fearless and insightful? I do not see it yet."

The two movements that I can think of are that of 'Paritrana' and 'SIF'

#6
Anil Menon
URL
May 6, 2006
08:37 AM

As a movie, RDB got many things right. The cinematography, editing, and dialogues are great. The period settings looks accurate, and there's the right pinch of masala. Firangs are portrayed as humans; just compare RDB's white characters with the ones in Manoj Kumar's wonderfully trashy Kranti.

But perhaps RDB aspires to be more than just another movie. For me, the most amusing aspect was the trust placed in politics as an agent of change. C'mon. The main job of politicians in a democracy is to pretend there's someone in charge. Do we really want them doing anything more?

As is often the case, the real story is told by a tangential character. DJ's (Aamir Khan) mother (Kiron Kher) runs a dhabha, supports her son's college education and takes care of her old father. She's lived through Jallianwalla Bagh but bears no ill-will towards the white woman who's comes probing into her life. She feeds people, possibly the most non-violent act there is. Perhaps she's the true symbol of what India's achieved since independence. Bhagat Singh could've learnt a thing or two from the quiet effectiveness of this Goddess of small things.

#7
temporal
URL
May 6, 2006
10:39 AM

very well said anil:)

one other thing that is overlooked in the ga-ga and hype is its impact

will it bring any significant change in the years to come?

yes, it is only a movie!...but haven't folks beeen hyping about its message?

#8
Pratyush
URL
May 6, 2006
10:56 AM

Q Bit:

You do not have to apologise for any long comment to me. I always like knowing your insightful thoughts.

Violence creates chaos and chaos is the best thing that could happen for the corrupt and the guttered politicians.

First you agree that violence creates impact. Then you say it is not needed as politicians thrive in it. You tell me then, how can people be awakened to join the system?

I understand the system can frustrate us to hell. I am hopeful :-)

I am less patient, specially considering disturbances our country witnesses, the common lethargicness of most youth to do any thing.

One reason I should mention why I loved RDB so much--with recent Bhagat Singh movies I have found people tend to credit him more that his comrades which I found rather disturbing.
The balanced approach shown in RDB portraying Ramprasad Bismil, Asfakullah and Chandrasekhar Azad along with Bhagath Singh et al deserves a lot of kudos.


I liked this aspect a lot too.

#9
Pratyush
URL
May 6, 2006
11:04 AM

Mayank: I am afraid, I completely disagree with you on some points.

Yes, things are in a poor state, but not at a verge of collapse, not in such a state that nothing can be done.

Oh really? Gujrat, Baroda continue to occur in this country. If that is not a poor state, what is?

remember Emergency, Mandal and most recently Mandal II? Did u see how it gave rise to an entirely new generation of youth leaders and youth icons?

Mandal - the youth mostly protested because they were directly effected by it. I do not see the youth not being active in the country's fuctioning as a compliment.

We are no China, that unarmed, non violent protests will be lathi charged. The media loves such stories, and any minister who allows such a thing will become a political liabilty for his party.

Actually, crowds get lathi charged. It is not a huge secret.

A free press is the biggewst achievement of our democracy. Time and again, the top leaders have had to pay for corruption charges.

Free press? I do not see the press being brave in exposing political mess in a huge way. Natwar Singh issue was not brought out by the press but by the Volcker report. If some thing comes up, the press tries to put oil to burn the issue as much as possible - an important part no doubt, but not much more than that.

#10
Pratyush
URL
May 6, 2006
11:06 AM

Temporal:

I answered your point in my piece. I do not understand why you raise it again.

You cannot expect a movie to create huge change.

#11
Rohan Venkat
URL
May 6, 2006
11:42 AM

From a purely filmgeek point of view, but viewing the movie in a vacuum, I wouldn't consider this an amazing movie.

Well, not after the second act. The usage of the same dialogues in the docu and "real" life ("Mar dalo usay") was fairly campy, and the same goes for the reuse of the method of the murder.

Having said that, considering that this movie is intended to bo received by a mass Indian audience, and still needs to create dramatic effect, change s that cheesiness somewhat. It still feels like you're being talked down to, but at least you can understand that those scenes create a big impact on a passive film viewer.

#12
Q Bit
URL
May 6, 2006
11:47 AM

If anything RDB reminds us to look beyond the cushy comforts of self-centred attitudes--what can we do to make a difference?

PK:
First you agree that violence creates impact. Then you say it is not needed as politicians thrive in it. You tell me then, how can people be awakened to join the system?

Violence creates an impact--for sure. Now let's not get too carried away here. Revolutionaries across the world use violence to send their point across--but inevitably and without an exception it costs human lives.

During the British raj a good fraction of the freedom-fighters believed violence was needed to make people aware--and also to send a clear message to the British--which was "we are willing to die and you are going to die with us too" -- it served a purpose and the Gandhian movement benefited a lot from it--because most people would rather care for their lives and yet wish to contribute.

Presently as I said, we do not need violence--violence works well for the politicians--for ages the "ruling class" are better off by making people feel insecure.

We have a constitution . We have the legislative-executive-judiciary branches in place. Agreed the corrupt politicians, buerocrats, cops and judges are a nuisance--but these people, minority as they are will become incosequential eventually. The system will necessarily filter these folks--always happens.

For example the way election commission functions today as compared to 10-15 yrs ago-- you will get my point.

The disturbances that we are witnessing are hard to swallow--but again, look at all the major democracies around the world--they all went through turbulent times before they stabilized themselves. For the United States it took almost 200 years to establish equal rights for everyone!!!!

Ours' is only sixty years old. We have a long way to go. But times are a-changing.

It is hard if not impossible to notice the changes right away for they occur at the micro level and gives us the feeling that nothing is happening. But surely you will agree lives of people are better than it was 20 years ago.



#13
K
May 6, 2006
03:41 PM

Mayank #2
Do you understand how big a compliment it is to our democracy and our nation when people say that the youth is not interested in politics?

That the youth is not interested in politics implies that there is nothing so wrong with the state of affairs of our nation...


Well said, and worth repeating.
---
However, we have to shake the feudal-mentality off the masses.

If ministers are spending our tax money, we need to know how they are spending it. Which businesses are they giving contracts to, and what is the bid process they are using.
What is their tax-revenue and how have they spent the money?

Ministers should be accountable.

That said, RDB is all flash no substance. Peace.

#14
bevivek
URL
May 7, 2006
12:11 AM

Ultimately RDB is just a movie and as one of the Anil's said, free to tell its story the way it wants to. So if 4 kids take to violence to right one wrong and go on air to explain why, well, why not. Its their way of registering protest, not perhaps very effectual but well, their day in the sun.

Of course, if we ask how we would have made the film, then there is much I would change. For one, as the other Anil pointed out, I was also disappointed with the fact that the agents of change (as stated by Siddharth in the end) are all Sarkari, politics, IAS and that line. There was also a subliminal message sent thru Anupam Kher's character that big business is evil.

I much preferred the quieter message of Swades, that ordinary people with the help of technology and common sense can effect lasting change, social, infrastructural and economic. In Swades, the heroes are not IAS officers, politicians, goondas with a big heart or dacoits on white horses. Swades of course was also flawed but that's another story.

#15
Pratyush
URL
May 7, 2006
01:05 PM

Qbit, we disagree on how the state of the nation is. I do believe more youngsters need to come in the system and a way to do it would be for them to be aroused in some way.

We agree to disagree then. :)

#16
mayank
URL
May 10, 2006
01:32 AM

Actually, crowds get lathi charged. It is not a huge secret.


But Lathi charges occur when crowds get violent. In Haryana recently, the police lathi charged striking Honda employees not because they were protesting, but because they turned violent and beqat up the police.

the press tries to put oil to burn the issue as much as possible - an important part no doubt, but not much more than that
BUt isn't it effective, getting Natwar Singh 2 resign.Free press also moulds public opinion. The Freedom of expression also allows us to express dissent in the form of blogs.

#17
Pratyush
URL
May 15, 2006
07:38 AM

Misses this earlier and hence the late reply.

1)In the movie, trouble mongers were shown to sit in the crowd and cause commotion in the peaceful demonstration. Lathi charge ensued only after that.

2)Natwar Singh resigned not because of the act of press but because of the Volcker report. The press didn't go out of their way for that news - it was there. I don't see out of their way journalism in India, I am sorry.

#18
sumanth
URL
May 15, 2006
11:33 AM

There can be a large number of perspectives which can be explored in such themes.

RDB signifies the cynicism and resignation of today's youth against the "system".

The young are somehow conditioned and even "educated" to believe that its almost impossible to change/improve the system.

So, some extreme actions can give the sluggish system a jerk which may guide the system to another stable/positive equillibrium.

The conceptual weakness of RDB comes from the fact that it presents to the audience a "symptomatic solution".

Is the root of the problem, the defense minister? Are the corrupt politicians the real roots? Where does the disease really exist?

The disease of corruption exists in the minds of every common wo/man in the nation. Unless people are cured with a mass social transformation, the corruption will not go away.

RDB's method cures the symptom and miserably fails to even locate the disease. Killing of a couple of politicians can not bring a transformation in an "Animal Farm".

The dangerous signal this movie sends to youth is that, revolution is always violent and reactive. That can turn off many young from attempting to contribute meaningfully(with patience) towards the society.

Finally, every system will always resist change. If you are a rebel, you will get crushed by system slaves who are everywhere.

So, real revolutionaries have to work in a highly strategic manner. Revolutions succeed due to strategy and not due to intolerance, cynicism or resignation.

So, this movie conceptually weak and it does not suggest a middle (but strategic path) towards social transformation.

I personally know that transformation is not as painful as it is picturised in movies like RDB and Nayak.



#19
sumanth
URL
May 15, 2006
03:04 PM

I did not knew that Alice Patten is Cris Patten's daughter.

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