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Column: Saluting Rang De Basanti

Last updated on: February 03, 2006 23:19 IST

A still from Rang De BasantiI'd like to draw parallels between two films I watched on the same day.

I caught Rang De Basanti on a groggy Republic Day morning and Casino, the 1995-film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, later that evening. I felt there was one core quality that bracketed these otherwise diverse films: power. The ability to move, rivet, be audacious and get away with it. The power to disgust and delight. RDB is an outrageous film, any way you look at it. Its central characters put bullets through an unscrupulous defence minister the way we swat flies. It favours taking the law in ones' own hands in extreme circumstances, but is compelling enough to carry it off. Its audacious spirit, then, becomes its beauty.

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Actually, the protests, backslapping and backstabbing should have followed the film's release. But controversy fatigue set in, with news of RDB delayed for a week due to interference by the Defence Ministry, and then for forgoing the law by featuring a banned horse race. The press' ODing on the film's earlier storms might actually ensure smooth sailing ahead.

I had the privilege of watching the film with friends belonging to varying generations and the discussion that followed was heated, bordering on the argumentative. One friend was upset. As you may know, the film seeks shadows of our prominent freedom fighters in this carefree group of five friends, and connects General Dyer (guilty for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre) to a corrupt minister responsible for several MiG crashes and the loss of innocent lives.

My friend couldn't understand how an Indian politician, however crooked, could be compared to a British General. We argued loudly, our point being that a person selling his country was no better than a foreigner's greed for power. And this is where the film won my heart. On the surface, one may mistakenly assume the film to be patriotic. I felt it was more about humanity though, about people wronging innocent lives, and someone getting up to take a stand. In making this statement, the film thankfully did not confine itself to geographical borders. Comparing the defence minister to General Dyer may seem drastic, but it is this alternative patriotism that makes the film so irreverent and, therefore, pure.

I once read an article about today's youth having nothing to fight for -- no wars, nuclear bombs, not even a freedom struggle. And then, the article pondered, perhaps there is a struggle going on, only not as palpable and cohesive. There is nothing 'grand' about this scattered fight against corruption and soulless people in power. There are freedom fighters too, if you care to look for them. The young people who give up cushy corporate jobs to start NGOs, the few who question corruption, the handful of genuine politicians, college students who visit old age homes on Sundays and treat injured animals on roads, fearless journalists¬Ö the list goes on.

This generation has plenty of causes to fight for. Thankfully, there are enough soldiers as well. You will enjoy this thought when you watch the movie. You will also find yourself thinking back to the Tehelka expose on defence-related corruption.

A technically marvellous, commercially entertaining film that makes a social and significant point is rare. Most films hardly manage one of the above. From Aks in 2001 to RDB, it is truly a bridge conquered. A salute to you, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. As you watch RDB, you will laugh as much as you cry, and whether you like the film or not, you will end up taking sides.

Rang De Basanti may not be overtly patriotic. But still, after watching it, we unanimously felt a lot more Indian.

Sonia Chopra



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