Monday, January 31, 2011

Unforgettable RANG DE BASANTI: A Retrospective Review

Forget mainstream Bollywood, forget candy floss, forget boy-chases-girl-chases-boy around trees... As adorable as regular fare from our favorites at Film City may be, 'Rang de Basanti' takes each and every member of the audience on a totally different ride and upon each viewing I say:


Last week, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's groundbreaking film was screened before its cast and crew in honour of its 5th anniversary (26th January). Several fans of the film across the world also celebrated the occasion by parking the RDB dvd in their drives that week and I am happy to have joined them.. There is a saying that claims "there is no place like home" and that is exactly how I felt as I re-watched one of my all-time favorite films, not only from India, but from around the world. Yes. This is a film I bought several times in order to distribute copies to friends and of course purchased the special edition with a "gem disk" that features Mehra's ultimate commentary. I could never get enough of it!

For those readers who are Hindi cinema newbies and therefore not familiar with what all this justified fuss is about, a brief synopsis follows the trailer below (purple text).

Sue (Alice Patten), a young film maker from London sets to shoot a film about India's freedom fighters based on her grandfather's diary (a British jailor in India during the pre-independence struggle). She hence flies to Delhi and finds whom she believes are the 6 perfect actors for her film. After hesitatingly accepting to participate in it, all 6 youngsters embark on an awakening journey that will shift their view of their country and will make them act upon it together in order to change a corrupt status quo.

I would personally have wanted to be a tiny mouse under Mehra's chair perking my ears up by listening while he narrated his script to one and the other before he finalised his cast. How he produced such a fantastic ensemble of actors remains astonishing to me: impressive Soha Ali Khan, Southern Indian stars R. Madhavan and Siddharth, extremely talented Atul Kulkarni and Sharman Joshi, superstar Aamir Khan, a very dedicated Kunal Kapoor, a highly convincing Alice Patten and mature secondary actors such as Om Puri, Lekh Tandon, Kirron and Anupam Kher as well as yesteryear belle Waheeda Rehman. Six of these actors were given substantious roles that cannot be substracted from the plot, making each and every one of them essential for the story to take place.

Casting was not the only merit. 'Rang de Basanti' masterfully merges two stories that end up generating an intricate climax that is heavy with purpose. The film compares India under the British rule to contemporary India, governed by corrupt politicians, while also placing a finger upon what the youth of India can do to make today's situation progress. I wonder if anyone before Rakeysh Mehra had pulled off a film in India with such a statement and without reeking of  overdone or preachy nationalism.

The writers successfully gift us a story about:
* college friendships,
* a brief close-up on the strength of India's freedom fighters,
* a critique on fundamentalism, 
* a view of the consequences of taking justice into one's own hands,
* sound advice inviting the youth to become involved in their country and to transform it from the inside out.

Other directors / screenplay writers would have gone haywire with so many meaningful things to say in solely one film but this is not so with Mehra and his team, who succeeded not only in getting these messages across but also in keeping the audience engaged until the end of the film, with a climax one could have rarely predicted.

The climax was indeed a surprise and for many audience members remained a mystery or a drawback. In its defence, I would say that the writers gave us two possible endings in one film, which I personally find to be a very intelligent approach. It somehow reminds me of those books some of us read during our childhood called "Choose your Own Adventure", where depending on the reader's choice of action upon ending a chapter, he/she advances to page X or to page Y. I remember sometimes "cheating" out of curiosity and reading both pages X and Y! Well, this is more or less what happens with the ending of  'Rang de Basanti'. One gets a glimpse of two possibilities, both of them actually make up the climax in its totality, and the director leaves the audience to sift through it all and to choose which was the best option.

The stellar performances, fresh aesthetics and original script with tight dialogues give us a taste of college and help us penetrate the coming of age of  Indian youth in a subtle but bold and humanistic manner. My brain was reeling after I watched RDB for the first couple of times and I would venture to say that the film could apply to the youth of many a country in this planet, which makes for a grand international appeal. Last but not least, a stupendous soundtrack by AR Rahman peppers the film's situations and blends into the images with natural and tasteful ease.

All of this makes 'Rang de Basanti' sound like a very deep and serious film. It is certainly deep, but its master stroke is to also be highly entertaining.
In the end, after having us experience lighthearted fun and making us follow the film's characters through thick and thin, Mehra seems to say to critical souls "Stop whining... think... now take action!". And we, besotted with the film, are bound to keep listening.

RANG DE BASANTI (Colour me Saffron)
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Screenplay, story, dialogues: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Renzil D'Silva, Kamlesh Pandey, Prasoon Joshi
Cast: Aamir Khan, Siddharth, Sharman Joshi, Kunal Kapoor, Atul Kulkarni, Alice Patten, Soha Ali Khan, Madhavan, Waheeda Rehman, Anupam Kher, Kirron Kher, Om Puri, Lekh Tandon
Production:  Adam Bohling, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Guruprasad M., Shyam P.S., David Reid, Ronnie Screwvala
Music: AR Rahman

Rang de Basanti in Wikipedia
Buy Rang De Basanti music on Itunes

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