Bollywood didn’t expect to be in for a surprise too early in the new year. It has come in the form of the Rs.30 crore gamble called RDB. Is "Rang de Basanti" as politically vibrant as made out to be? RDB is the latest in a lineage of recent films that have attempted to address the intertwined themes of youth, disenchantment and rebellion.
“We are useless souls and worth nothing.... we can do nothing!”, cries Aamir Khan, in one of the most touching and defining moments in RDB, as he comes back to Alice Pattern after witnessing his friends being beaten up ruthlessly during a peace protest. As the unbreakable DJ breaks down, with him breaks down everyone in the audience, as much for the emotion of the moment as for the helplessness each one has witnessed in their lives at one point of time or the other-when their blood boiled against some prevalent injustice in the society. With that one scene, director Rakesh Mehra strikes the most important chord with the audience and emerges a champion while Rang De Basanti becomes a landmark in the Hindi film history. While we all have seen injustice in various forms around us, such is India's democracy that it so often has left us helpless, frustrated and feeling exactly the way Aamir feels. (We come out of the theatre feeling good, but at the same time still clueless-knowing fully well that the solution is not for us to initiate). It is not a raunchy comedy nor is it the evergreen shot in Switzerland love triangle. It is a film that talks about something as non-sexy as the lost spirit of nationalism.
It is very well made and a technically accomplished effort, which offers popular fare in new format, especially in its bright, breezy and delightful first half.
The most attractive aspects are the characters. They have become mini icons for the young. Whatever they represent - their values, attitude, lingo and lifestyle -have found an easy echo with GenNow. Everybody in the audience wants to be part of the group, or they think their own grip is beautiful. They travel with the group and after a point; forget that they are fictional protagonists.
Primarily, it’s the historical comparisons and the seeking of validity for present-day violence from the past but it is this "pat" interplay with history that also helps connect the film with today's youth.
You don’t need to put RDB under the scanner to know what is wrong with it. The flaws stare at you hard-the caricaturised minister, the naive politics, the misplaced cause, the violent turn of events, the pat comparison with historical figures and the farfetched confused finale. It bears an improbable relationship to contemporary India, where a group of likeable but confused young men who swing between aimless hedonism and cynical nihilism are galvanised into a task force. This dramatic change is provoked, not by the recognition of systematic injustice in the society that they complain about constantly, but by a sense of private wrong. When their friend, an Indian Air Force pilot, dies in a crash, the accident is papered over to conceal the shady issue of aircraft maintenance. Catalysed by the Defence Minister's insinuations about their friend, and the repression of a peaceful protest, the pleasure-seekers cease to float among the picturesque ruins and become conspirators. With no training in militancy, they defy such security impedimenta as patrols and roadblocks, shooting down the minister as he takes his morning constitutional and escape with dreamlike ease. Vengeance attained, they fight their way into a radio station, claim responsibility for the assassination, and condemn the corrupt and callous State. At this point, a glaring gulf opens up between the domain of the sms poll and the realm of real politics. The Rapid Action Force is deployed within minutes of the broadcast: the young revolutionaries are shot down in the act of addressing the people.
Rakesh Mehra uses his fine ensemble cast to stir urban India's youth out of the privatism that enwraps them, and towards the awareness of larger accountabilities. Despite these advantages, "RDB" fails in its understanding of the political condition and the revolutionary action. Revolution may be provoked by an experience of personal injustice, but it always speaks for the multitudes. Rang De’s protagonists generalise the Indian society, but the heightening of their consciousness scarcely transcends the personal wrong they have suffered. Their perception of the postcolonial State's injustice against the greatest number remains shadowy. Urgent questions of religious unease and ethnic marginalisation are raised, but left swaddled in personal experience, instead of being amplified into an interrogation of official myths and public silences.
No amount of cinematic wizardry can bridge the vast difference between the heroes of India's revolutionary tradition and Rang De’s protagonists. Simply put, men like Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad saw themselves as the vanguard of a popular, mass-based uprising, rather than as solo performers. Rang De translates political activity as a variant on the classical revenge drama.
But then rarely has a film been able to awaken a generation. The bigger question t is, what does it take to awaken a generation? And when will the average Indian on the road feel empowered and in control of his destiny? And when will be his mind without fear and his head held high? Until our judicial system starts functioning properly there will be numerous DJ's in our country waiting to take the wrong route and lose control. At their best, these films bear witness to the young who have, in every generation, given their lives for causes such as liberation, justice, dignity and happiness. Today, in India, there are thousands of people (youth) who can change the country with their beautiful open-minded hearts and their incredibly brilliant minds. They feel that there is no point in even trying because the current political and cultural environment is so much against them. And if you are one of them, you are right. You are the ones to help bring it. Don’t be afraid of the backlash. Stand tall and do whatever your heart knows is right and for all, not just for the benefit of a chosen few. You know that blind ignorance can no longer be a viable option. Don’t stand on the sidelines too lazy and scared to do anything about all of the ugliness around you. Swim and fight your way to the centre of the vortex. Embrace the eye of the storm. One must realize the importance of standing up for oneself. Do not crib about your problems and forget your responsibilities by blaming others. Only YOU are responsible for your destiny and when a whole nation of people realizes this, India will juggernaut its way to the very top. Don’t let your life be just another irrelevant existence. Do not ever go down without a fight. Rise and take charge of your own destiny, thereby leading the populace around you to accomplishments. Only we have the power to script the future.