Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Against Rang De Basanti

On Saturday I went to watch Rang De Basanti with some friends at Paras Cinema in Nehru Place. Aamir Khan's latest foray into Indian history is without question a cinematic venture of remarkable daring - it left me completely stunned. In almost two decades of watching Bollywood productions I have never come across such preposterous drivel as that served up in the second half of this film (one reason for this, of course, is that Rang De Basanti takes itself so seriously).

Rang De Basanti is about a group of youths, pleasure-loving, individualistic, largely ignorant of their country's history and cynical about its future (this much of the film is by and large well done; the characters are true to life and the dialogue is witty). Under the direction of a young British filmmaker keen to recreate some of the episodes of the Indian independence movement, particularly from the lives of Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad, they begin to gain a sense of a past that is now remote to many young Indians, and are forced to rethink many of the beliefs and attitudes towards life that they previously took as given. Although the sudden metamorphosis into sepia-tinted drama, in which the characters play out episodes from the lives of Indian revolutionaries, is clumsy, one accepts it because Hindi cinema is rarely perfect - at least it is an attempt to do something inventive.

But what follows not only stretches the boundaries of logic, it also sends out a dangerous and incendiary message that, if anything, works against what the film seems to be trying to convey to us: that we should stand up to be counted, attempt to honestly do what we can to improve our situation.

Halfway through the film there appears a young army pilot Ajay Rathore (played by the actor Madhavan) who baits the other youths about their cynical attitude towards their country - he voices, as it were, the message of the film. Later, Rathore is killed when his plane, one of the MIG-21s which have earned such notoriety in our country, suddenly crashes. At first his friends are only griefstruck, but later they become outraged when it appears that official negligence, especially corruption at the highest levels of government, has been to a great extent responsible for the tragic loss not only of Ajay's life but those of other young pilots. They take out a demonstration against the Defence Minister (Mohan Agashe), who organises a police lathi charge to deal with them, in which Ajay's mother is seriously injured.

At this point our heroes suddenly begin to hear the whispers of history in their brains. What did Bhagat Singh and Azad do in a similar situation (the lathi charge is likened to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre)? They took matters into their own hands. Thus, inspired by their newfound idols, they decide arbitrarily that no other recourse exists than to assassinate the Defence Minister. They carry out the assassination in a cold-blooded manner - and this is where the film is most dishonest, showing us a reconstruction of the revolutionaries lying in wait for Dyer, and then cutting to the youths waiting outside the minister's house in the same pose.

Also, the father of one of the youths is a henchman of the minister's, and also has blood on his hands in the matter of the defective MIG planes. The solution here again is to kill him in cold blood - his son does this himself. Clearly, when it comes to sounding the drum rolls of justice, family ties are of no importance. Indeed, there is something chilling and repulsive about a young man so willing to play judge, jury and executioner to his own father for the crime of corruption. Rakeysh Mehra may believe there is something tragic-romantic about the character's behaviour, but in truth it is nothing other than barbaric.

Even worse things are to come. The country is shocked by the minister's assassination, and with a bit of help from his party's propaganda machinery (the bright saffron worn by the functionaries leave no doubt as to which party is intended) he becomes a martyr. Our heroes are once again in the throes of despair. What is to be done now?

Another bright idea: the revolutionaries of old actually furthered the cause, the spread of the truth, by giving themselves up to the police, thereby enlisting the country's sympathies. So our young men make haste for the All-India Radio office, take it hostage (again they feel no qualms about drawing guns), and broadcast the truth about the minister's evil deeds over national radio. Hundreds of people around the country are shown listening to the broadcasts, and being persuaded by their message that the steps they took were the only ones they could have possibly taken. They phone in by the dozens to express their support. The building in which our bright young revolutionaries are holed up is surrounded by the police. In another of the film's many excruciatingly painful scenes, we see the young men celebrating the success of their mission, and embracing each other warmly in at least a dozen successive shots as victory music plays on the soundtrack. Never do they appear so self-involved, deluded, and plain daft as at the point when they have apparently made their greatest sacrifice. Right after that they are gunned down by the police, and become martyrs themselves.

Unholster your pistols then, O youth of India, and if you've been wronged in any way, think of who it is you want to eliminate. The worst thing about Rang De Basanti is that not only does it sloppily promote the idea that violence is fine as long as you are persuaded that the cause is right, it uses an absurd parallel from history to legitimise it, and at every stage superimposes the frame of history upon the action. Even as it seems to argue that the youth of the country should take responsibility for our shared predicament, it finds a convenient scapegoat for our problems in the figure of a politician, and makes the elimination of one or two people the object of the action. Attempting to stimulate us to greater awareness and maturity, it instead promotes an adolescent view of political action. It wildly mixes all kinds of things from all kinds of places, and rolls them up into one gigantic farrago of nonsense which it attempts to rush past the viewer and stun him or her into agreement.

It seems to me that it is high time that Aamir Khan got off his nationalism-patriotism-'wake-up, you-people' hobbyhorse. His last two attempts in the genre have produced two turkeys, and he appears to have forgotten that he after all an actor, someone who gets into the skin of different kinds of people with varying motives and preoccupations, not just someone who embodies the voice of the resistance in different accents and from different points in history.

We are often told that we should attend to the lessons of history, but if there was ever an argument against it, then that is Rang De Basanti.

Here are some older posts about other Hindi films: Nagesh Kukunoor's Iqbal, and Anurag Kashyap's Black Friday.


Read@Peace said...

Excellent review. Entirely agree. For a moment, particularly in light of all the raving reviews it felt like I'd watched another version of the movie. Glad to find someone else who has serious issues with Rang. - Deepika Shetty

Anonymous said...

Dude, put in a SPOILER ALERT! somewhere within your post. I skipped through out post half-afraid you would be giving something away.

Don't spoil the treats for the kids.

Pareshaan said...

It may be simplistic, exxagerated, and formulaic in parts. It may be ethically or morally skewed. It does play to the gallery and a lot of things could have been better.
But, the fact remains that given the present state of Hindi cinema, this movie stands out as an effort. It tries and says something that needs to be said.
And it addresses a huge audience as a commercial bollywood movie.I think RDB needs a pat on its back for doing that.
I liked your review, but the last paragraph is something I can never agree with.
Given the mind-numbing crap that Bollywood churns out with such regularity, I deem it a great injustice, when people who can write so well (such as yourself), come out with all guns blazing (as you did in your closer), against a movie like Rand De Basanti. It just doesn't seem fair.

Rohit said...

Hey Chandrahas, I couldn't agree more. Watching a movie like this in light of the success of the "Gandhian Way" to attain freedom from imperialism is sickening given how it extols the virtues of executing people and promoting violence to get people to look up and correct the imperfections of the Indian system. I'm glad someone at least has the gall to look beyond the hype of Bollywood and speak out. Kudos to you!

roswitha said...

I'm so tired of people claiming this film is a superior effort in relation to the rest of the Hindi film industry's output. I'd frankly suffer a screwball comedy or family-values weepie with much less trouble than I did this excuse for a narrative. It doesn't even make a case for or against learning the lessons of history, in my opinion. It skewers history to suit its own bewildering ends.

Word on an honest review of a terrible, terrible film.

xyz said...

Isn't this too much of an extreme view to take? Violence is probably justified but it was never made the sole purpose of the movie. It was at least, never glorified.
The fact is, that it is a commrcial movie at the end of the day. Commercial movies must have an extreme/simple to understand message or view. This does not mean all the college kids (who are ordinarily non violent)will pick up guns tomorrow. It does mean, that they will watch the movie, enjoy it perhaps, and take away something from it. More likely that they will take away the bit about the apathy than the bit about the guns. At least, that's the way it was for me.

"Indeed, there is something chilling and repulsive about a young man so willing to play judge, jury and executioner to his own father for the crime of corruption."
But it wasnt only abt the cause but perhaps also the revulsion he felt for his father otherwise.

Shan said...

This is a ridiculous diatribe.

I'm afraid you have fallen into the trap of confusing the medium with the message. Why excoriate Aamir Khan for acting in a film that you don't like? Why put the responsibility of social change on the film itself? You seem to have either forgotten the first Law of criticism i.e. not look for a message YOU like in a text, or you are a full fledged proponent of the Art for Life's Sake school of thought. Remember Roland Barthes at all?

What responsibility does RDB has to give a Gandhian message? What makes you feel that the actors making a film should always pass on a overwhelmingly positive/politically correct message to the audience? They are in business Chandrahas, if you have forgetten, and their business is to make a good film (succeeded in that) and put their point of view across, that's it.

Since you moralistically criticize RDB for preaching violence, I am sure you would have the social responsibility of unleashing the same kind of vitriol in a film like Man, Woman, and Child for glorifying adultery or Godfather for glorifying violence as well. That would be consistent, you Gandhian sorry excuse for a critic!

Chandrahas said...

Dina, you say, "What do you want out of a movie? The same naach gaana? If the same movie came out of Hollywood, I bet you would have called it brilliant. It is all in our heads." This is just guesswork on your part, and very complacent guesswork too. You can't judge me by what I have not done. That way I'd also be guilty of a whole lot of other things.

Well whatever, it's clear from the title of my piece, or at least the first paragraph, that I'm writing a polemical piece about the film that engages with its moves pretty closely. That seems enough of a spoiler alert to me.

Pareshaan, I kind of get your point. Bollywood does churn out a great many bad films. But to judge a film against the general average is often not the best way of looking at it - often it needs to be thought about in terms of what is specific to it. I agree with you otherwise.

Deepika and Rohit, thanks for your kind words.

Chandrahas said...

Shreya - I agree: it's a commercial film, and succumbs to the imperatives of most commercial films. But one of the themes of the movie is the relevance of our history, and the main plotline shows the characters attempting in all seriousness to engage with that history, both in the film-within-the-film and in their own lives. This unusual treatment raises all kinds of complex questions. I thought that, far from making the film more interesting, it made it morally shallow and unconvincing. I don't mean to suggest that people will take to the gun as a result of watching the film - only that the way violence was depicted in the film showed its poverty of ideas.

Chandrahas said...

Shan, you introduce your post with the words: "This is a ridiculous diatribe." You're quite correct - these were exactly my thoughts on reading it. It packs so many accusations, misreadings, and irrelevant thoughts into three paragraphs that it makes it the comment-equivalent of Rang De Basanti.

xyz said...

Well i'll agree that the movie begins to take itself too seriously in the second half. But "morally shallow and unconvincing'?!?!?!" makes me think you're taking the movie a bit too seriously as well. :)
At least the movie doesnt bore you/ or, to rephrase, it didnt bore ME-
If it were over the top nonsense (ie govinda, mithun) it wouldve been 'acceptable', but if it is just a little bit of nonsense, the critics are too harsh with it? I doubt the movie aims to change the world... what I do like about it (allegations of moral shallowness notwithstanding), is that it entertained me. It may not have been, The Epitome of Perfection in Moviedom, but I doubt anyone is saying it is.
I doubt it deserves the harsh criticism- or is the fact that it is getting harsh criticism, in fact an indicator of its worthiness as compared to the other commercial movies that are out now?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful review. You said it all!
Obviously, something "different" is not automatically worthy of praise. Even now, I feel a cringe coming on whenever I think of "Black". Incoherent rage grips me when I think of that movie, so I'll stop here.

Anonymous said...

"Well whatever, it's clear from the title of my piece, or at least the first paragraph, that I'm writing a polemical piece about the film that engages with its moves pretty closely. That seems enough of a spoiler alert to me."

No it's not clear from either the title or the first paragraph that you are going to give away the complete storyline. Read it again and then say. For those who haven't seen it and were planning on seeing it, it was a bloody shallow act on your part. Kinnda like the storyline.

Shan said...

Chandrahas, I apologise for the language in the previous post. Written fast, unthinkingly, and rudely.

But obviously my post couldn't have been the equivalent of RDB, because then you would have tried to answer at least some of the arguments there. But you passed without any real understanding of my points - very much like your reaction to RDB. :))

The simple point I made (and obviously I typed a lot of stuff in 3 minutes leading to obfuscation - my mistake) was that it is NOT incumbent on filmmakers, or writers, or painters to send a positive message through their texts. Even you have to admit that much. Rakeysh Mehra wanted to make a film with an anarchic message, and he did a brilliant job of it.

Let's look at it from the emotional/story/moral angle as well. As for the story, remember that this is a commercial film. While I do admit if the protagonists had met the Defence Minister and through emotional dialogues, shamed him into admitting his wrongdoings, it would have been amazingly wholesome and Gandhian, but somehow I don't see you accepting that ending as realistic either. The truth is, for us cynical viewers there is no realistic denoument to the situation portrayed in the film. So Rakeysh Mehra chose the show the visceral reaction - feelings that all of us have but don't act out on. But since this is a film, the protagonists are acting out our desires.

The greatest success of this film is that it lights a spark, at least for some time, in the hearts of the most cynical viewer. That's the film's ultimate success - message be damned.

Chandrahas said...

Shan - Ah, that's much better. It's possible to listen to you seriously now, and you make a more reasonable argument - it's slightly speculative, but one sees the point of it. I will say only one thing: nowhere in my piece have I implied that it IS "incumbent on filmmakers, or writers, or painters to send a positive message through their texts." There is a great deal of distance between thinking that and trying to address what is good or bad about a specific piece of work, which is the first task of all criticism.

Unknown said...

May I direct you to a Tamil movie called "Ramana"? Or, in more recent times, "Anniyan"?

The former has an "Anti-Corruption Bureau/Squad" which goes around murdering the most corrupt officials in each field. So the top 10 bribe taking ration shop fellows are put away. As are the top 10 most corrupt Public Works Dept. And so on. Amongst the victims is also the father of one of the members of the ACB.

The second movie has this guy with MPD taking umbrage with the flouting of rules, and generally going around killing the people who do so.

Here I make the disclaimer that I have *NOT* seen RDB, but from all accounts, it sounds pretty much the same. Angered by government/public apathy, the protagonists take the law into their own hands.

Big deal. Happens *ALL THE TIME* in Indian Cinema. How does this movie portray it differently, that warrants such harsh words?

Is it because you have an axe to grind against Aamir Khan? I can see no other reason.

Would you rail against QSQT for "glorifying suicide"? Against "Romeo and Juliet"?

Anonymous said...

Very childish review. Granted that the taking-law-into-own-hands wasn't the greatest of alleys to venture down. But its a story woven into the Bhagat Singh deal of assissinating someone and then sticking their necks out to gain audience. To simulate a parallel one can understand the director going down this route.
In other words, it doesn't take much see that it was just a metaphor, that couldn't be avoided in the context of how the story was told, does it?

Yes, I would have liked it better too if they had found a subtler way of achieving this. Its unfortunate they couldn't. One needs to cut some slack on this count for two reasons:
1. Movies need not be 'correct'-in that if you take any of the reform/improve society movies, it can be easily shown that they are touting a flawed or very ineffectual approach. And this without a PhD in developmental economics.
2. Indian movie is still a sub-par product on the whole, so to expect someone to carry all aspects of it to perfection is like wishing SRT won u every game. There will be flaws, one needs to balance them against the merits and then critique.

For an otherwise excellently made and acted movie, to be judged harshly due to one's very specific and narrow angle of approach is quite a shame.

R. said...

Have you seen the movie "Airheads"? It has a bunch of musicians taking over a radio station so that they would play their song. Now that was considered a good comedy. It didn't promote anything but 2 hours of entertainment.

You are ofcourse entitled to your views but it does seem to me that you have confused a commercial movie with something that requires deep thought (or a history lesson as you say).

RDB in my opinion is a rather badly made movie but i'm not going to get my underwear in a knot over it. I thought i'd suggest that to you as well but having seen your painstakingly written responses, I take it back, you DO like your underwear in a knot.

Nikhil Pahwa said...

Found myself nodding in agreement while reading the review. While I haven't seen the movie (and don't plan to either), even from what others have told me about it, the second half seems ridiculous.

Incidentally, the AIR scene reminds me of an English film where a rock group takes over a radio station at gunpoint so they can play their music on the Radio. Yeah, I know - just as ridiculous.

Jabberwock said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Akash Sethia said...

Dear Chandrahas

I do not wish to be part of youe readers who flame in their comments. I am just trying to be someone with a difference of opinion. I wrote the following in response to a similar review. I reproduce it verbatim for you

The film does not justify their action as being parallel to that by Bhagat Singh and company. In fact the frustration that follows their action of killing the minister is a great touch of the same realism that pervades the movie.

The film positively makes us think - not about the so obviously rampant corruption - but about the all pervading cynicism among youth about it and mostly about the real space that our martyers have in our life however old their history might be. Lastly in its own way it calls for Revolutionaries like Bhagat singh from among the youth to try to make a difference.

To cut a long story short - while I agree that the filn is definitely not the first ever "three hours of inspiring stuff" - but in the enthusiasm of proving that your review might be taking away a very genuinely deserved credit that it should (& I believe it will) make our youth sit back & think for a few moments.

Chandrahas said...

Shrik and Anonymous, I think I've already posted answers to queries like yours.

AKS, your point is taken.

Rabin, you use one phrase so much, and so strikingly, that I do believe that in your worldview people are divided into two groups, those who have their underwear in knots for one reason or the other and that minority of cool people, such as yourself, who don't. There is the germ of a pretty good ad campaign for underwear here, but as a comment your words seem fairly pointless.

Shweta said...

It is perfectly right that not all work (films) can be or should be weighed up for social responsibility, simply because most people do not make a social consciousness/conscience the core of their efforts. It is otherwise with RDB. From the film’s title to the tag line, to its appropriation of a historical episode along with its era-bound contextual sentiment, the film seethed with a social message. If this is not proof enough for those who persist in comparing its content with Mr Dhawan’s films or fabulous accounts of psychopaths with multiple personalities, the pre release interviews in which every member of the cast and crew claimed for the film a higher moral status because of its engagement with ‘real’ social issue should be conclusive.
While David Dhawan and his kin have been shouting from the rooftops to be absolved of any social responsibility, RDB has been to strenuous efforts to be regarded as a film with a message. Given this, if the message is irresponsible annoyance is inevitable.
More over what I look for in a film is not that it offers me some isolated islands of merit but if it ultimately achieved what it set out to do. If it does not it is bound to be judged against its own standards and found wanting.
I have further vented elsewhere: http://shwetavyas.blogspot.com/2006/02/colour-me-true.html

Anonymous said...


My problem with the movie is not the method by which they went about getting back at their grouse i.e. by killing minister, dad and a fm station.

But, the lack of elaboration on the crime itself that INSPIRED the boys to do what they did. They way it was depicted seemed far too reactionary, casual and juvenile, for it to be given a serious viewing / listening.

Too casual, too ad-commercial like.

The last problem I mentioned is endemic to most mainstream, stylised hindi movies these days. For instance, Sarkar, was the closest I've seen a movie resemble an ad film. And its been hailed as a classic. Crap.

Shan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

good review - just watched it yesterday and agree with most. the movie changed track suddenly midway adn took a southward turn.
also a lot of the visuals in the first half seemed out of place.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chandrahas -
Commenting on Middle Stage for the first time.
I share your disillusionment with the second half of the movie, and in fact echoed similar sentiments when I came back.
But in defense of the movie - there is this one scene where Karan (I hope i remember his name right) in the Q&A session (for lack of a better word)is asked by the public whether he thought he did the right thing - and he says "No." I think thats the message of the movie - and I think its rather strange that that one line, which should have been the clincher, got slipped into the conversation so inconspicuously.

Subsequently, I watched Rakeysh Mehra being interviewed on Headlines Today - where he said they had used the violent route to tell the youth that that was NOT the route to take - and that there are plenty of other legitimate options available - IAS, etc...which also finds a brief mention in the Q&A.

If that was indeed the intent - then why was it only shown in one/two stray lines here and there - Is my question to the director. Maybe there wouldnt have been enough melodrama.

Anonymous said...


let me tell you that i specially read your review coz' mayank shekhar mentioned about your review in one of his recent pieces. Personally i think you are being too critical of the movie, some parts i agree, depict a certain kind of preachy attitude which could have been tamed. But overall Rang De is a not a bad watch.

Anonymous said...


I guess time has come for mature audiences to appreciate what a film is trying to highlight. If you could just read between the lines, you would realize that Rang De Basanti is probably one of the best movies to be made in contemporary cinema. It shows what friendship is all about. It shows you should stand up against what is wrong. It shows if you do something illegal you will end up losing. It shows in what state our country is today.

Truly speaking a movie which shows a light to young people like me what life is all about

Anonymous said...

Hey Middle Stage,
Your review gives an interesting and alernate viewpoint but I certainly disagree with you.
If this movie is wrong, then so is Legend of Bhagat Singh or any otehr movie on a revolutionary who chose "Anti-Gandhi" path. Because even historically, gandhi and bhagat singh had opposite views both both loved their country and there is nothing "wrong" or "right" in such situation.

Its a free democracy, people have right to present their opinion. Why should anyone talk only about gandhi....

Of course, we cannot encourage people to start killing our politician if they are wrong, but if our politician doesnt earn the resepct of this country, then a civil war is bound to break out..

This movie, may be taking an extreme step, but deifinitely indicates that possibility and I dont see anythig wrong with it.


Anonymous said...

Pity you didn't understand what Rang de basanti tried to convey. When things are out of hand, you got to do something that seems as strict as it could be, specially for corruption. Whats brits did a 59yrs ago is being repeated in a different way, and u need people to step forward to stop that. You need some of Bhagat Singh, some courage to accomplish this goal. this movie tries to bring out that courage inside many of us. We know something is wrong, but we cannot just watch and let it happen. Stop being worried about the bloodshed and let the youth take decision. After all, aged will perish, let the newbies be clean and honest in their thoughts.

Anonymous said...

There is no need to take a contrarian approach just for the sake of attracting attention.

Having your article titled "Against Rang De Basanti" makes it all the more obvious.

Chandrahas said...

Champak - it appears from your narrative that you first read my piece in its entirety, then (disgusted by how much of the plot had already been revealed to you) went to see the movie, and then constructed your counter-arguments to my post and sent them in. My piece hints from the very title that it is going to engage with the movie in some detail. Instead of thundering away in capitals, you might the next time want to arrange things in a more reasonable order. Nobody's forcing you to read my post till you feel ready to.

And Anonymous - "Stop being worried about the bloodshed and let the youth take decision. After all, aged will perish, let the newbies be clean and honest in their thoughts." It is clear to me that you are not an aged person.

Anonymous said...

Contrary to popular opinion I think Rang De Basanti's ending is perfect and flawless...

Most of the critics stated that the only flaw in the film is the climax,But I think the absurd
climax of RDB is the USP of the film...

If the film had a constructive ending where all the boys venture into different fields of Indian
society like politics, IAS,police force...to uproot corruption and defects in the system which would
eventually transform the society is idealistic and perfect...

Life is imperfect and unfair and the 5 characters in the film are not portrayed as fake perfect characters unlike most of the Hindi movies here
the hero is projected as perfect and the one who can do no wrong but the 5 characters in the movie are quite realistically portrayed as flawed and imperfect, JO JAWANI KE JOSH MEIN AAKE DEFENSE MINISTER KO TAPKA DALTE HAIN cos they wanted justice which they could never get from the law,thanks to the loopholes in our judicial system...
but eventually they regret their act at the end cos they realised that assassinating someone does'nt solve the problem it only complicates it,but unfortunately before they could repent their action they had to pay with their lives for the
crime committed.To me that is the essence of RDB.

Had the film ended like Yuva & Swades with a normal,logical and boring climax, RDB would have
become preachy and pedantic and would have bombed at the box-office just like Swades & Yuva did.
RDB has got both critical acclaim & box office success thanks to its unusual ending...
...A Realistic ending that is so different and weird that it will stay with me for life.
To me this is the best possible ending a movie could ever have...
Bravo RDB.

Anonymous said...

I think you pretty much saw the movie with a single perspective in mind. You have to understand the essence of the film. No one is glorifying violence. The group of friends did what they thought was correct. They didnt want anyone to follow their way. Remember when one of the protagonist answers on the radio "I am sorry" when he is questioned about the righteousness of his deed? The message was loud and clear. You dont have to go on a shooting spree. Join military, politics, IAS, police...and do the needful for your country. The problem is that WE INDIANS dont understand things until its put in a dramatized way. And the film only proves the point. It goes to the extent of preposterity so that we talk about it. And then we find our own ways to develop our country.
About the juxtapositioning of the past with present, I think it is a good way to do it. The actions of the group of friends can be compared with the actions of our revolutionaries. I am just saying "Actions" and not the "cause". The "cause" or whether the corresponding "actions" were required or not has always been a debatable issue. We do have two different perspectives about our history: the Gandhian school of thought and the Azad way. MK Gandhi never accepted what the revolutionaries did. But then who can say whether Gandhi was right or Azad was right? Again, perspectives.

I hope you do understand my point.


Anonymous said...

hi chandrahas,
i liked your take on RDB very much.i share your views on the movie and believe me, i came out of the cinema hall with just the same kind of thought that u did.what i felt best about this review was that it explored the seemingly darker side of the movie,and to a great extent helped me out in seeing its pros and cons in the same light.almost all the other reviews that i have seen came all out in praise for the movie,completely sidelining the all-important theme.perhaps this movie too,like all its predecessors succumbs to the so-called "demands" of commercial bollywood flicks.but had this movie been in hollywood, it would have been a different picture altogehter,i guess.but on the whole i think your review was par excellence.keep up the good work.

brij said...

I see that much has been spoken about this post in the comments section. My take ahs been put up on my site: http://brijwhiz.wordpress.com.

Nonetheless Chandrahas - must commend on you a well written post. Wish I could write like that:( :D

Niket said...

Excellent review... I share your view.

So many times, we have seen movies build up the background so painstakingly, only to disappoint at the end. My main complaint: do you not have an imagination to come with any other ending that shooting the wrongdoers in cold blood? Is really taking arms the only solution? If you really believe this to be the solution, can you not see a possible civil war in the offing?

The film takes itself seriously, and so I believe this criticism is justified.

Though, I would like to see a sequel... a movie which chronicles police and politician's POV... what went behind the scenes in those days, between the death of the minister and the AIR broadcast. Where the police realized that this perhaps wasn't a foreign hand. Where they still didn't have clues because the killers had no prior criminal record. And the commandos NOT shooting these five in cold blood, but because they didn't have information that we audience did: that these five were not planning to shoot and kill.

Something more imaginative and less uni-dimensional... is that too much to ask? Perhaps it is.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic review! After reading other reviews I had no clue what was in store when I went to watch the movie. I found the ending absolutely ridiculous. Using the history of Jalianwalabagh and the aftermath to justify what those five guys do did not make any sense. It completely ignores the context and the times we are living in. I liked the movie until that MIG crash - it had great musc and quite entertaining - but everything after that was very disappointing. There are million other ways the movie could have ended!

Anonymous said...

Sure, the movie was ridiculous in parts. But your review misses its basic (and obvious) rationale for the violence: that there is no real difference between the Indian government now and the British, in its violation of civil rights and its abuse of power (what about the most recent case, of Ms. Iyer, the journalist arrested for an innocuous article that pissed off someone powerful?)

What the film (tries to) underline is that the problems in the government are so entrenched today that you need a new revolution to bring about change. The form of revolution that the movie promotes can be disputed - common violence is a dangerous tool, but we certainly need some kind of uprising.

But the extreme scenarios went cheek to cheek with an interesting message - that the middle class needs to wake up, realize the situation our governance systems are in (consider the deaths of Manjunath and Dubey, the few days of uproar, and the silence after it. Has anything substantially changed?) and more importantly do something about it.

So, hamhanded in parts or not, lets not pretend that the film was completely silly in its message. It had its points - ones that shouldnt be ignored.


nina said...

Excellent review!
and I totally disagree.

the film didn't tell me what to do, it showed what those idiot/hot-headed buddies did.

Nor did the murder/assassination come across as the reccommended response. the irony of reality was painfully obvious.

the final showdown at the radio station was full-on draamey-baazi and sho-sha... butch cassidy and sundance kid meets bollywood masala bhaashan.

pitch-perfect over the top.

loved it.

still enjoyed your review though. i like the fact that there are others out there who also feel strongly about it.


Chandrahas said...

Nina - that is a charming comment. You've divided your compliments almost perfectly between the two sides. "Full-on draamey-baazi and sho-sha" - yes, I suppose that's the best way of seeing it.

well_whatevr said...

Couldn't agree more. Let me add some of my own observations:

Firstly, let me be clear, I have issues only with the movie-making aspect of Rang de Basanti, and not the moral message it tried to communicate - and fumbled, badly.

The characters are flimsy and unreal. Their characters are transformed too easily. They move from committing a serious, moral, deadly action in one moment, and then laugh reflexively with po-mo sarcasm at each other in the next moment. ?? . C'mon man, that doesn't look real ...

Rakeysh Mehra has a rather simplistic understanding of the mordern teenager; he tries to reconcile it with the sensibilities of the revolutanaries - and believes it can be done, and the difference is superficial. Well, it is not.

BTW, I liked the feel-good images, the feel-good shots, too. Kind of makes it worth the ticket price.

But if Bhagat Singh saw himself portrayed by these feminized men - with their continuous self-congratulation, reflexive skeptical laughter, namby-pamby liberal sensibilities, he would shoot himself again.

It pisses me off because the message is important. As Bastiat once said,

"The worst thing that can happen to a cause is not to be attacked skillfully,but defended ineptly."

And, Rang de Basanti notwithstanding, the truth is the middle-class does need to stand up to these political elites. It is our country, and we should take it back.

Vj said...

check this out

Anonymous said...


Not sure if I've seen this, and subsequently commented, too late, but I was warmed by how articulately you've laid down my instintive reaction to this who Rang de Basanti business. I would simply say, "I couldn't have said it better," but the truth is, I could barely say it at all. But it's time films like this - apparently it has done record numbers at the box office - stop pretending to talk to people at a more serious level than pulp, and even look down their noses at other "fully mainstream" film. There's nothing mature about Rang de Basanti, and, in my opinion, without maturity and pause, nothing enduring can emerge.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen RDB and inspite of the hype don't intend to but judging by this review, arguably even the violence bit seems part of what may well be an amoral generation. History (aka Bhagat Singh) is taken out of context and used as a peg on which to hang a quickfix generation's idea of justice. And no doubt they will emerge with a suitable self-congratulatory moral glow of "having done something to change the system". And when will we send an end to Hindi movies that end in a bloodbath to appease audiences looking for resolution and some gun porn.

Aamir Khan is a lame actor - it a long time since he jumped the shark. He's now at a point where he takes his reputation as an actor so seriously that all you seen on film is an actor showing off his bag of tricks rather than a character. And I agree with confused - what's with Black being seen as European in temperament (what like Italian and we all know where Italian cinema is today). Black is an awful movie that I forced myself to watch for an hour with the hammiest of Indian actors (the Big B himself) and if the best people can say is its better than the average Hindi flick then our standards are very low indeed.

Shruthi said...

Excellent review... had not read it before, coz I wanted to wait until I watched the movie. If anybody asks me how I liked the movie, I will guide them to this review.

N said...

I completely and totally agree with your review. Violence is not the answer. The movie had a very depressing end; even more depressing-many people actually like this movie.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if there is much point in writing a comment considering I am practically 2 months late but unfortunately I live in Canada and Bollywood movies take a while to reach here. I found your site as I googled for people's opinion on the movie. I personally enjoyed it a lot. Granted, violence is not always the best solution but I never paid much attention to that part until you pointed it out. To me, the movie was about potential. As I was telling my father, this movie highlights the opportunity for change that will appear as our generation comes into power. It is an opportunity for us to put aside racial discrimination, corruption and selfishness. The movie is sufficient in making the viewer realize that we are responsible for the state of the world. After all, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Btw, I have to commend you on your, as well as the others who posted comments', quality of writing. Even though English is my native language, I could never hope to write like that :)

Anonymous said...

this might be coming at a point when everyone's forgotten the film..but was plasantly surprised, actually grateful for this review.

its a dangerous film. dangerous as only the exceedingly naive can be.

apart from the reductive take on the subject, it also reveals shoddy scriptwriting. you cannot take on the mantle of 'awakening a generation' without at least spending some intelligent time on plot. obvious moments like Madhavan's mock-funeral, the ridiculous lathi-charge on a bereaving mother... the very pivot of the MiG crashes was simply not comparable to the freedom movement.

now, especially after Lage Raho Munnabhai... this debate is interesting. Gandhi has to be the most fashionable figure to malign today. but the choice between violence and non-violence is a difficult one. especially since the former is so romantic, exciting and of course, cinematic.

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

hey, what say you about the message of violence stealing a march over that of peace to the oscar!

5 years back there was a low budget malayalam film 'for the people' directed by jayaraj - it had a similar message- 'for te people' is the name of a website where people post their grievanced which are redressed by a bunch of youngsters - here too it's murder all the way.

what's remarkable is despite being a film with not a single known actor in any role, big or small, it was a big hit. the film was rather amateurish with all the actors facing the camera for the first time in this film(last time too- never seen them after that). nevertheless, the film was an event.

the message is not to be missed.

Anonymous said...

I read this after having watched the movie. I take your point about the messed up message that the film conveys. I also take the point made in several comments that the the film has no responsibility to convey a Gandhian message.

I must say that when i watched this move, i did not read an iota of patriotism into it. i saw its message as being strangely Orwellian - the film sought to point out that being grown up amounted to being dispirited in today India. The whole idea of DJ and his friends being college students who finished college but couldnt stop being college students - the telling line was "Gate ke andar hum zindagi to nachaate hai, Gate ke bahar zindagi hame nachaati hai".

It seemed to me to be a film about grown ups, more than being a film about frustrated youth.

Anonymous said...

I read this after having watched the movie. I take your point about the messed up message that the film conveys. I also take the point made in several comments that the the film has no responsibility to convey a Gandhian message.

I must say that when i watched this move, i did not read an iota of patriotism into it. i saw its message as being strangely Orwellian - the film sought to point out that being grown up amounted to being dispirited in today India. The whole idea of DJ and his friends being college students who finished college but couldnt stop being college students - the telling line was "Gate ke andar hum zindagi to nachaate hai, Gate ke bahar zindagi hame nachaati hai".

It seemed to me to be a film about grown ups, more than being a film about frustrated youth.