Rang De Basanti

I was just thinking the other day how, out of all the Hindi films I've seen, there's only been 1 or 2 that have evoked any tears from me. Today I add 'Rang De Basanti' to that list. I am not Indian, nor would I characterize myself as an outwardly political person, nor do I, as Canadian, feel like I face the kind of struggles a lot of other people in the world do, but I am patriotic and I carry a huge amount on empathy for others which is probably why this movie struck such a chord with me. I probably won't be able to do it justice in this review so I will simply take a deep breath as I try to express why I totally and completely loved this film.

Director Rakeysh Mehra, I think, set out to make a film about political unrest and patriotic youth, but what the film emerged to be for me, more than anything else, was a story about friendship. You expect Aamir Khan to deliver an astounding performance and he does, despite looking a bit old to play the younger DJ, but he gets into the skin of the character and delivers a knockout performance from start to finish managing to bringing not only smiles but tears (with one of my favorite scenes being the one where DJ breaks down in Sue's apartment after Ajay's service). Yet, it is not Aamir only that you applaud in the film. Every actor is unique and leaves an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of even the most jaded cinema buff. Atul Kulkarni (Laxman) is fantastic, Kunal Kapoor (Aslam) is understated and natural, Sharman Joshi (Sukhi) is by turn hilarious and heart-breaking, Soha Ali Khan (Sonia) is a revelation, Siddharth Narayan (Karan) is absolutely outstanding, and even Alice Patten (Sue) was great as the British foreigner (she also inspired me to continue with my Hindi lessons!). This ensemble of actors is truly inspired and you can't help but feel that if you sat down with this group one evening, you'd hear stories of their experiences as a unit.

The first half of the film focuses on our group on protagonists aptly capturing the lives of the youth. The dialogues are crisp and written extremely well. This is a movie where the lines themselves are humorous and where the movie does not rely on silly situations to provide a forced "comic relief". And then comes the second half, where suddenly the plot just takes off, but unlike the MIG-21's, does not come crashing down. What you see is something that leaves you gaping at what happens, not just because you cannot imagine such a daring step being thought of and executed in a Bollywood movie, but simply because of the extremity of what happens itself.

There's huge debate on the climax and how illogical the last sequence of events are, but I've decided to look at it as the director's attempt to push his message across, even if it's somewhat far fetched. What Mehra asks us to do, however, is not far fetched. He asks us to take a good long look at ourselves, and then asks us to do something about what we see when we do. This is entirely the sort of movie that will put you at odds with yourself because there is a little bit of all of us in its characters. Thus, we sense that the things they do (or don't), we may well do (or not do). There is a moment, early in the film, where DJ, explains to us that he should have finished college years ago, but he remains there because on campus people know him, he has a name, he has the warmth and affection of his peers. If I leave this place, he says, I'll disappear into the hordes that have gone before me, and I will be and feel as insignificant as them. Certainly a sobering thought if there was one.

Cinematically speaking, the film is beautiful to watch, though the mixing of scenes from the freedom struggle with the present scenario worked only most of the time. At first I thought the sequences were stricly Sue's filming, then they became more elaborate I thought "How is she shooting this with her hand held?", then it became evident that they were entirely just narrations from the past... I think. See, confusing. Also, maybe it was just my copy, but the narrations by Sue's grandfather, which were recorded in English and then dubbed over in Hindi were missing any subtitles, as was Sue's monologue at the end. I'm sure I missed huge things during those times.

The music in this film is beautiful, melodious, and inspiring and served well to push the movie forward without overshadowing the story. The most touching and most creative piece of the album is 'Luka Chuppi' by far. Lata Mangeshkar has never sounded better in this maa-beta tune. Full props to Mr. Rahman for invigorating the piece with a sensational play of the guitar and the classical touch of the tabla. Not to mention Rahman has sung this piece with passion, as he does all his songs.

The cast, the music, the visuals, the dialogue, the whole movie in fact, is a vast mosaic of all these, a whole that is not propped up by one or two of its parts alone, and that what qualifies it as a masterpiece in my opinion.

10 Response to "Rang De Basanti"

  1. theBollywoodFan says:
    June 11, 2009 at 1:53 PM

    Great review! Agreed on mostly everything, and I'm really glad you are able to appreciate it for what it was always intended to be, going by what R. Mehra and Aamir have said of it.

    I also like that you paid attention to that DJ is almost supposed to be like a desi Van Wilder. Yes, he looks old to be a college student, but there's a solid justification for it, which only adds to the film. Everything about him, from his wardrobe to his demeanor, is aligned well with the group dynamic, I thought.

    The DVD has two audio tracks, Sue's grandfather's dialogue dubbed in Hindi is the local audio track, so try going into the audio setup menu and switching it to international. It'll be worth it -- those words guide the film and the plot at their core.

    And finally, I invite you to check out this post and this one.

  2. shell says:
    June 11, 2009 at 3:24 PM

    It's funny that you should send the links to both of the reviews on your site because I nearly linked to them in mine. I thought they were both fantastic!

    Thanks for the advice with the audio. I'm going to definitely try it. I'm sure it gives huge background to the insights of Sue's grandfather.

    Thanks again for the nice words and for visiting.

  3. Jules says:
    June 14, 2009 at 10:27 PM

    Can't wait to borrow this one then!! Can you bring it next time you come over?

  4. shell says:
    June 15, 2009 at 6:18 AM


  5. yves says:
    June 20, 2009 at 2:55 AM

    Hello Shell,
    Very interesting review of that great movie seen some time ago now, but fondly remembered. You centered on the theme of friendship, I on that of sacrifice (check http://www.letstalkaboutbollywood.com/article-14544848.html if you like).
    Also it's nice to see you're learning hindi! So am I! What sort of level have you reached? Do you have a teacher?

  6. shell says:
    June 20, 2009 at 7:15 AM

    Yves - There are many sides to this film I think, which allows all sorts of people to enjoy it for lots of different reasons. Sacrifice was definitely one of strongest and most obvious themes - I'll have to go check out your review.

    My Hindi is very basic and then even limited to the 16 audio lessons I had (a program called Pimsleur). I've learned stuff like kitna baj raha hai (what time is it?), Kya ap doopahare ka khanna khanna chahta hai (do you want to eat lunch), number from 1-20, and a bunch of other little sentences to do with money, buying stuff, eating and drinking, greeting - that kind of stuff. However, it is strictly audio so I have no idea if I'm spelling stuff right. Plus there's the little bit of stuff I've picked up on watching movies. I plan on continuing on my own as soon as I can afford the rest of the program - then it's 100 lessons. I'm hoping that by the end I'll be pretty much fluent. How about you?

  7. yves says:
    June 21, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    wow, impressive!
    It's difficult to say, I suppose I'm much in the same situation, I've been following a French method (Assimil), and have now reached lesson 34 (they're 55), and contrary to you, they impose the learning of reading on top of understanding and expressing. The problem is that I don't have people around me to test all this on!! Last year there was a student at my school who came from Delhi, and I managed to grab a few conversation lessons, but now he's gone back, so I have to find another one!
    cheers, yves

  8. shell says:
    June 21, 2009 at 3:02 PM

    I've no one to practice with either. I pretend that I'm exposed to it daily with the movies/music/tv that I watch, but it's much different when you are actually having a real life conversation I'm sure. I wish I could find a good program that taught the reading, but not the script. I'd much rather learn the English translation. You see more of that in magazines and lyrics than script. Plus, with the audio it can sound like something and then you read it and go "Oh, that's what that is!" For example, one of my last lessons I learned the word for money, which I thought was bessa, turns out it's Paisa. You can think you are saying it right - and it may sound right, but it's not.

  9. Anonymous Says:
    July 27, 2009 at 7:07 PM

    Very good review of an excellent movie.

  10. shell says:
    July 28, 2009 at 7:50 AM

    @ Anon - Thanks!!