Rang De Basanti – Redux

A lot has been written about this movie and most of it has been flowery and positive – so much so that I have not felt a need to add my own thoughts to the mix. However while trolling through Amit Verma’s blog (India Uncut) I made a detour to “The Middle Stage” and read with great interest Chandrahas’s views on the movie. [Read “Against Rang De Basanti” to get a better idea of his perspective on the matter.]

I beg to differ slightly from his take – very slightly – he thinks the movie is bad karma; I think the movie is great.

Before we go further lets split the movie into two parts:
1. The movie from a cinematic experience.
2. The message of the movie.

There were a lot of – I would not say innovation or originality – but rather interesting takes in this movie from a cinematic experience. The primary one was that it came together for me in such a way that I was engrossed – my eyes stuck to the silver screen – for the whole time with nary a thought of a break. That for me is the first sign of the movie being worth the admission. Going further another interesting aspect of the movie was the use of the soundtrack in the movie – especially when it plays as the theme for much of the violence in the movie. Not original but effective, very Godfather-ish. Then the mapping made of today’s world to the world under the Raj was worthy of note. Maybe I am the only one but many a time does come when I really feel that our politicians are no different from the colonial British. At least the gora’s were honest about enslaving us. Of course this is not the standard path that my thinking takes – still the thought does pop up once in a while. In the same way the riots mapping to Jalianwala Baug – how many of us have not thought of that parallel before?

So what I want to say in all those words is that I found the movie engrossing and reflective of a lot of feelings in me – so much so that it evoked many a string in my heart. Does that make me a sucker for Indian Cinema’s emotional propaganda -maybe it does – but hey that’s all right.

So on the first point I take no cause to have issue with Chandrahas – he has his opinion and I have mine . In fact I don’t think he has much issue with this anyway.

So let’s move on to the message – for his blog is ALL about the message.

Consider this important paragraph from his post:

“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.”

First a disclaimer: I do not care much for the boundaries of logic in art – I have enough boundaries of logic in my real life:)

Moving back to the message – is there one? I mean Mr. Mehra must surely have wanted to put forth one – but do we have to accept it? And if we don’t accept it does it negate the whole experience and the medium of that message?

That Mr. Mehra has made an anarchist movie is clear to see. But has he pointed out anarchy as the way? I am not sure about this point. Yes he does weaken the movie at the very end with the martyr stuff (which funnily brought to my mind scenes from the Gladiator:)) Yes, he should have closed the movie at the freeze in the radio booth. Yes he does try to preach, albeit not very convincingly, that violence is the wrong way. But all in all I do not think there is a clear message in it. No, anarchy is not the message he wants to put out.

He has played to the gallery but in a manner that has left a lot of hearts uneasy – and that I think is why the movie is great. The fact that Chandrahas strongly feels a certain way after seeing the movie is a victory, for I am sure he would not have such strong feelings after watching a standard run-of-the-mill fare. However in his feeling he takes the message too literally and THAT is wrong.

And that is the crux of all our troubles today – taking the message of any work too literally. Be it the paintings of M.F.Hussain, the cartoons of the Prophet or this movie. Why do we have to take it so literally!!! We get the gist of the movie – we understand it – suspending logic for 3 hours we do personalize the experience either agreeing or disagreeing with the protagonists. Fair enough. Still,why take the message so literally? The movie is intended to make us uncomfortable, plain and simple, and it does – thereby scoring on that point. It is unto us to take a positive approach towards all that has made us uneasy – to come up with a way that matches our psyche and our principles to remove this feeling of disquiet that has filled us. And that makes for great cinema – both from an entertainment and a social perspective.

I liked both Yuva and Swades (in fact I like most movies:)) I find RDB better than both. Yuva was way too preachy while Swades feeding our guilt trip for too long to be effective. RDB does not have that problem – you start enjoying a film, it takes you down familiar tracks, puts up some new stuff and suddenly – BANG!!! Things are beyond your control, you don’t know what is morally correct and before you know it the decision is out of your hand – the deed has happened and all you can do it either be gung-ho about it supporting the decision or sit by D.J’s mother weeping over the waste of her son’s life alongwith the lives of six others.

Curtains down, light’s on and life moves on!
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One thought on “Rang De Basanti – Redux

  1. You hit the nail on the head Brij!
    As a community (Indians) we are short-sighted – we can not see beyond the face (which is good sometimes), beyond the stone idols and yet so rarely when we actually do … we wear our skeptical lenses and make boundaries!
    I loved the movie – so I may sound biased (and I’m opinonated too!) – but its a movie! so if you’re going to go beyond that and interpret it then do not go about criticizing the movie itself! Thats an eerie parallel to why men fight with other men on “interpretations” (sic) of their religion, their gods, their temples, their nothings!! Dang!
    I concur COMPLETELY with you Brij.
    As for Mr. Chandraha well I was tempted to retort but I’m going to stay away – because he is entitled to his opinion , albeit rubbish 😉 Besides he doesn’t even have his history correct! Azad et al. avenged Lalaji’s death and not the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre! well …

    -Venky

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