Rang De Basanti (2006)
Cast: Aamir Khan, Siddharth, Atul Agnihotri, Kunal Kapoor, Alice Patten Soha Ali Khan
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Music Director: A.R Rahman
Synopsis: Brilliant “coming of age” tale of the youth of today.
You may ask what does History offer the youth of today? So detached is the youth with the trials and tribulations of the past, history appears to be redundant. Consumed by materialism and ravaged by rampant corruption which pervades every pore of society, people today simply adapt to the canvass offered to them and paint their own colours, with few bothered about the colour yellow, the colour of sacrifice. Is it not the story of today to follow what is the American Dream”, each one for himself, at whatever cost. Of course the concept of the “American Dream” has been bastardized in our part of the world whereby “at whatever cost could mean rape, murder, theft, the list is endless…”
With this background in mind, the film opens with a sepia toned flashback of three freedom fighters including Bhagat Singh, going to the gallows for what they believed in, the link with the current story being a journal kept by one of the British jailors, Mr McKinley, of that time. Sue McKinley(Alice Patten), the jailor’s grand-daughter, decides to make a documentary on the freedom fighters in India with the help of her friend Sonia (Soha Ali Khan Pataudi). Auditions for roles in the documentary seem to offer no real contenders for the roles of Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ram Prasad Bismil , Raj Guru etc until she comes across Sonia’s friends DJ (Aamir Khan), Karan (Siddharth), Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) and Aslam (Kunal Kapoor). Apart from DJ, the others are university students whilst DJ is simply a hanger-on, having graduated 5 years earlier.
The group is full of life and yet there is no feeling towards the country or what it has to offer. Aslam is a Muslim, living within a family which has failed to and refuses to intergrate with the hindus around it. This is not their land and they feel “detached” from India , not understanding Aslam’s penchant for being with his hindu friends. Karan, the son of a monied wheeler-dealer Mr Singhania (Anupam Kher), is a complete cynic and simply wants to graduate and leave for the United States ! Sukhi seems to follow the group and Sonia is very much just one of the boys. Finally, there is the rabid Laxman Pandey (Atul Kulkarni), a hindu fanatic who sees the “west” and anything non-hindu as being an abomination of the hindu way of life. But at the top of the group is DJ, the ever joking and bubbly leader, a loyal friend who refuses to leave student life behind, for the fear of what lies thereafter is so abhorrent and depressing, that he would rather prolong his “studenthood” to avoid the inevitabilities of being a nothing in a society where if you are not something, you do not matter!
But Sue’ sees the group as perfect for the roles of the Freedom fighters and despite their lack of belief in the film, they all come around to making the most of it, for Sue’s sake. Gradually, as they play the roles of the great freedom fighters, their perspectives on life, of “being able to make a difference” starts to germinate. As Ajay Rathore (Madhavan) Sonia’s IAF pilot fiancé, says, “Ghar ki safai main kaun haath gande karma chahta hai”. It is somewhat ironic that the voice that leads the group to find some meaning to their lives, that of Ajay Rathore, is itself silenced and heaped with derision, thereby setting about a chain of events leading to the final powered dénouement. Past and present begin to merge, reality at times being blurred between fact and fiction. Parallels from the past find place in today’s times and it’s clear that whilst the enemy has changed, the fight remains the same.
Rakeysh Mehra’s film is an absolutely stunning piece of work, honest and without the accompanying moralising and preaching which is staple diet for any film which touches upon corruption or the youth of today. In the simplest way, idealogy, religion, politics is touched upon without judgments being made, yet the message is loud and clear. Mehra seeks to awaken that spirit within, to stem the apathy, to aspire for hope. For despite the intensity of the film, it is not a film without hope. The narrative flows between past and present as if it were one, in fact, it could have been one. To some extent, the story and screenplay of the film are the real stars of the film.
Rang De Basanti could not have been made without Aamir Khan for had it been, I can safely say that it would not be the film that it is. Being the sole real name of the film, the star had ample opportunity to make every scene his, to hog the limelight and drown the rest of his cast with his own persona. And yet Aamir stands back and simply blends in with the rest of the “group”, never imposing. As the “star “ of the film, he does not have the punchlines to deliver, he does not have songs picturised just on him, he has only the two scenes where he is the solo performer. But what a performance this is. From being the bubbly flippant Punjabi DJ to the weakened DJ, breaking down with Sue after the tragedy that has befallen the group, Aamir is mesmerizing. This is a performance that shows him as a real star, a real actor and a completely secure one at that. Following in his footsteps, you really cannot fault any of the other performances. Siddharth as the cynical Karan, Kunal Kapoor as the emotional Aslam, Sharman Joshi, Madhavan in a brief role and Atul Kulkarni are all outstanding. Special mention must be made of Soha Ali Khan Pataudi who sparkles in a beautifully controlled and effortlessly natural performance. Kiron Kher is also absolutely brilliant and the rare appearance by Waheeda Rehman, even in her brief cameo, manages to bring a lump to your throat.
I leave Alice Patten to the end simply because it is usual to marginalize the “phoren” actors as being simply hangers on or B grade performers from Hollywood films. But Alice Patten never puts a foot wrong, not even in her Hindi which for once, does not look staged or put on. This is a wonderful performance.
A.R Rehman’s background score is phenomenal with its mix of hard electric guitars and mix of modern and traditional songs, some of it set to superb lyrics. Binod Pradhan’s cinematography and the dialogues round off in making this a modern day classic.
Tired of the plethora of remakes like Ek Ajnabee, Salaam Namaste, Zinda etc, it is an eye-opener to see a film so refreshingly honest and original. Rang De Basanti is a triumph for every single person associated with this film. Simply outstanding.