Movie Review: RANG DE BASANTI (2006)
I thought for this week’s blast from the past post, we would look at a movie that pulled Bollywood out of its years long slump in 2006. This movie really made me think about a lotta shit in terms of my home land and all, so pardon the insane length of this less of a review more of a bitter and impassioned speech. I was pretty high on my soap box while writing this one….
Rating: 5 Out Of 5 Stars
We all tend to whine and bitch about the state of our home countries. And when I say ‘we’ I’m referring to us South Asians living abroad; and when I say ‘our home countries’ you can expand that range from countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka to even your own, if your country is in the same state as ours. Now, through the constant criticism of our countries’ political states, corruption, over-population, blatant environment problems and such, never once do we take any type of action to do something about these things ourselves. Never once do we find the motivation to concern ourselves with things destroying our motherlands day by day. Never once do we question the way our society functions, stepping over the backs of the downtrodden. Never once… do we remember the sacrifice of others that has enabled future generations to exploit and plunder our nations.
Democracy is dependant upon the participation of citizens of the nations to function. Yet even in a ‘super nation’ such as the United States of America, there are times when democracy fails. Then, would not the countries with such unstable political systems like the ones of South Asia require a lot more active participation from its citizens? Should not the people of said countries be a lot more concerned with the affairs of their nation? Should a country, that not 60 years ago won an almost century long war for their freedom, have future generations fighting to maintain that blood soaked freedom that was worth countless deaths just years ago?
We live in a society that has provided us with a lot, and that still continues to provide us with more than can be imaginable by some. We were brought here to be provided opportunities that might not be possible elsewhere; to broaden our minds by experiencing so much more than others have ever been exposed to, to enable us to do more than our capabilities and become much more than generations before us. But all these advantages can be considered advantages, only when contrasted to the quality of life in our home countries. Education and health care is better here, in North America, when compared to the corrupt systems of the developing nations of South Asia. Crime is lower and quality of life is higher here, when compared to nations where the criminal underbelly is a thriving industry and ‘quality of life’ is a phrase as effective as ‘purple-monkey dishwasher’. So it makes sense that we were brought here to be exposed to, and experience a life that is, by all means and by all measures, ‘better’. But what purpose is this betterment of life when it doesn’t affect the lives we’ve left behind? What purpose is it to receive education that is internationally recognized if it does nothing to better the corrupt political systems of the countries of our birth? What use is a career that enables us to secure our future, if it does absolutely nothing for the economy of the struggling nations that we whine and bitch about in our free time?
It seems we’re comfortable in our lives here, with the best of education, beauracratic systems that actually work; where we’re judged based on ability and talent rather than whom we know, and where there is no discrimination based on social classes or our bank balances. I mean why should we worry about things happening thousands of miles away, when it doesn’t directly affect us to begin with? So what if the history and legacy of our culture is being destroyed day by day by the social plundering of corrupt politicians and people willing to exploit the citizens for profit? We shouldn’t have to bother with matters that don’t affect us. Or do they? Fortunately there are a few who are rightly enraged by the unjust system that is responsible for deteriorating the freedoms and rights of countries that previously rose up and took arms solely against an empire. Fortunately for us living abroad… that there are still people willing to give their lives to maintain the freedom which lives were sacrificed for decades ago… fortunately for us all.
Lives like Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Akbar, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and countless others whose names litter historical documents like leaves on an autumn day, have been given in order for us to have countries to call our own. And it’s these lives that we must remember when we whine and bitch about the state of our countries yet refuse to do anything about it ourselves. Although, regardless of how vigil we are in keeping their memory with us, there are times when we need to remember once more. There are times we need to be reminded of our history and hear that history beckoning us to take a more active role in our present. More recently, that reminder came in the form of a film. A film about a group of youth of today that are deeply affected by the actions of the past… and, inspired by the past, act according to their beliefs in an attempt to better the world… A film that will forever have generations proclaiming… ‘Rang De Basanti…!’
Five years ago, an ad director made his first foray into full length commercial cinema after launching his own production house. The film was soon to be forgotten by everyone, but years later he would immortalize his name into the annals of cinematic history. The film was AKS, which if nothing, was an ambitious attempt at the original. With an unconventional super-natural take on the ‘cops & robbers’ genre, AKS provided some great storytelling coupled with performances by both the superstar Amitabh Bachchan and someone who, following performances in SATYA, SHOOL and ZUBEIDAA, quickly became known as an immensely strong actor, Manoj Bajpai. Commercially not meeting the success it had hoped, AKS came and went, leaving only the trace of Amitabh’s goatee as a reminder. But despite its commercial flop, AKS was admired by critics and allowed director Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra to get his foot in the door.
The biggest commercial success of 2006 so far, has undeniably been one film that has topped all box office charts internationally and has been able to single handedly bring the Indian Film Industry out of its slump, if not for a short while. A film that not only commercially, but also has been critically acclaimed, comes in the form of Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra’s RANG DE BASANTI.
Mehra’s visually stunning treatment of this film about patriotism and political activism leaves one in awe of the way in which this story is told. A screenplay written by Mehra himself along with Renzil D’Silva is a real work of art as it never lacks pacing and has to be one of the most original screenplays in the history of the Indian Film Industry.
After a string of films about pre-independent India such as 1947 EARTH, LAGAAN and more recently MANGAL PANDEY: THE RISING, this time we see a contemporary Amir Khan, who ends up transforming himself into a modern day Krantikaari (freedom fighter). Despite an actor of his magnitude, RANG DE BASANTI is hardly an Amir Khan film, but rather surprisingly, belongs to an ensemble cast consisting of star kids, one hit wonders, sensations from the south, one British woman incredibly well versed in Hindi, and not to mention already established performers belonging to art house cinema in the Indian Industry.
The superstar’s portrayal in RANG DE BASANTI causes Amir Khan the actor to become lost within the performance, and all one is left with is Daljeet, or DJ. Portraying a youth of today is no easy task, given the youth of today are at times misguided and shallow, but Khan does this with impeccable accuracy. As an aging young with no goals and no plans of having any kind of a future, Khan gives one of his best performances in a long while. The strength of DJ’s character increases as the film goes on, and the growth of the character is incredible to watch happen on screen. Omprakash Mehra’s screenplay revels in its own genius as the growth of all characters are incredibly subtle, especially at a time of utmost turmoil within their lives. RANG DE BASANTI is one of the rarest films where, in 157 minutes, the audience is able to live, experience and feel for all the characters. A film about becoming socially aware and attempting to change the world through more drastic steps if not through activism is essentially what RANG DE BASANTI becomes. The story of young kids, that have to take up arms to right a wrong that has been committed against them… and ultimately, on the society in which they live.
Known for his talent, star status, and since the last few years, his exclusivity when it comes to starring roles, Amir Khan needs no introduction in the Indian Film Industry. But in this film, his role is not the typical college hero, as always seen in the industry. Khan’s depiction of a young man unable to face the reality of the world even after years post college graduation is sad to watch, but intentionally so. Khan’s DJ is similar to that of many a youth today whose education provides them with little as they step out into the real world. In the film, this character is seen as a rowdy, no good kid with no goals or ambitions in life; who later finds a cause to fight for, after a terrible loss which awakens the previously un motivated DJ. Khan provides an intensity rarely seen within the industry as he portrays a character on whom the realization dawns that the world is the way it is due to his own inactions. Although DJ is driven through out the story mostly due to personal reasons, it is still gut wrenching to watch a youth finally having reason to fight for a cause, despite the tragedy that ensues afterwards… Amir Khan’s capabilities might be un matched, but the ensemble cast of RANG DE BASANTI provides an incredible complement to the veteran actor’s abilities.
Debuting in an artistic art film, as is the case with any M. F. Hussain film, Kunal Kapoor was appreciated by critics everywhere for his bold performance in an intellectual movie. Although since MEENAXI: A TALE OF 3 CITIES, it seemed as if the promising new comer had disappeared. That is until the release of RANG DE BASANTI, in which Kapoor made up for the two year absence since his debut. It’s little known though that years before MEENAXI, Kunal Kapoor had been assistant director to Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra during his debut film AKS. Being a model before hand, Kapoor received critical acclaim for his role in MEENAXI, and the accolades for RANG DE BASANTI weren’t in any way less. Portraying the role of a Muslim Indian among Hindus and Sikhs, Kapoor’s Aslam provides an alternative perspective into the mindset of the youth these days. Aslam is constantly condemned by his predominantly Muslim family for having friendships with non-Muslim people. The character of Aslam gives the audience a look at the youth culture of India from the view point of an Islamic character, and shows the trials and tribulations they have to face, not just from non-Muslim Indians, but also within their own families. Kapoor’s portrayal of a frustrated and sensitive young man being forced to live in a hostile environment and being forced to always acknowledge the religious differences is almost heart breaking to watch. The way in which the Muslim-Hindu dynamics are juxtaposed within the theme of the film is another credit to the screenplay which continues to leave one speechless with its brilliance. Kapoor’s versatility is incredible to watch unfold on screen as he goes from the sensitive poet that practices non-violence, to becoming someone that takes a stand for what he believes in despite consequences to his own well being. In a way, the Muslim Aslam provides a sort of Gandhi-an character amongst the group of college students that eventually go the way of their Krantikaari (freedom fighting) ancestors. Kunal Kapoor’s incredible growth in terms of talent in just two films is a great indication of a rising star.
Along with newcomer Kunal Kapoor, the daughter of a yester-year classic and sister of yet another reigning Khan also happens to give a performance worthy of her industry lineage in RANG DE BASANTI. Soha Ali Khan Pataudi gives us a role which has been her best to date, even though she’s only a few films old within the industry. Being one of two female leads in a film filled with male protagonists, Soha Ali is able to hold her own as Sonia, the sensible and well mannered girl in love… that is until circumstances cause her to awaken with a rage comparable to that of Durga Maata. (revered Hindu Goddess) Soha Ali’s portrayal of a modern day young woman is incredibly mature, as are the fleeting glimpses of the historical Durga Vohra. Not achieving much success with her first three commercial films, Soha Ali received international critical acclaim for Rituparno Gosh’s ANTAR MAHAL. Although that was a period film, RANG DE BASANTI allows her to play a more contemporary role, in which Soha Ali is fully able to display her inherent ability to dish out the histrionics. Among some light hearted moments, the young Pataudi is able to intensify her image with a subtle role that is stands like a bright image within an extravagant graffiti tagged mural. RANG DE BASANTI has allowed Soha Ali Khan to achieve her first commercial success, not to mention, a film with which to start honing her talents as an actress and rise up to meet the expectations that come with her family name.
Another actor that has yet to make his mark on the Indian Film Industry is a pretty recognizable face from the South, R. Madhavan. Despite a few failed films in the Indian Film Industry, Madhavan is quite an accomplished actor from the South Indian Industry, with quite a few critically acclaimed films under his belt, such as Mani Ratnam’s AYITHA EZHUTHU and KANNATHIL MUTHAMITTAL, Madhavan is also able to reach his first commercial success in the Indian Film Industry with RANG DE BASANTI. A guest appearance, and acting as more of a catalyst within the story, Madhavan’s Ajay Rathod is an air force pilot in love with Sonia. The dutiful and idealistic Ajay is friends with this group of college students that are so frustrated with the politics and corruption of the world, that they’re content living out their meager lives as best as they can, complete with mauj and masti (fun and good times). Over the past year, Madhavan has improved a lot as an actor; especially it seems after the comedy RAMJI LONDONWALE. The usually over the top and dopey Madhavan is natural and smooth in RANG DE BASANTI.
Continuing on the incredible ensemble cast of RANG DE BASANTI, there is yet another south sensation that is a part of this historic film. Although a lot more of a ‘sensation’ than our Madhavan, Siddharth is an actor that has quite a fan following, and has created a formidable niche for himself in the South Indian Film Industry. It seems that the cast and crew of RANG DE BASANTI have incredible ties, in terms of previous connections. Similar to Kunal Kapoor being assistant director to Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra, before his acting debut, Siddharth also played assistant director to one of the strongest director/screenwriters in the Indian Film Industry, Mani Ratnam. One of his first credited Assistant Director roles also happened to be in a film that helped Madhavan reach fame in the South, KANNATHIL MUTHAMITTAL. And even more coincidently, Siddharth has even worked with Madhavan in yet another film by Ratnam, mentioned above, in which his talent was, almost overlooked in comparison with RANG DE BASANTI.
A totally unknown face to the mainstream Indian Film Industry, Siddharth has been able to take all critics and cinema-goers by surprise whit his incredibly strong performance in RANG DE BASANTI. In a film with all known faces, Siddharth was the only unknown, but ultimately, this actor with the small frame is able to walk off with most of the accolades. Debuting in the South Indian BOYS, Siddharth has quickly risen to fame, and the climb doesn’t seem to be over, especially after RANG DE BASANTI. Out of all the youth characters in the film, Siddharth’s is the one who seems to care the least about the world around him, waiting on the first chance to be able to leave the country. Unlike the rest of his friends, Siddharth’s Karan comes from a well to do family, although that does little to help the relationship he has with his father. A motherless son, pressured by a father that barely knows him, Siddharth’s portrayal of Karan leaves one at a loss for words. An obviously tortured soul, Karan is played poignantly by the young actor and he is able to give the role something that only select few have ever been able to do in any industry; Siddharth is able to give Karan a soul, which heightens the theme of the film, not to mention the ultimate climax. The angst and inner turmoil shown within Karan, and done to a ‘T’ by Siddharth draws great parallels to the frustration that the kids today feel, unable to find their meaning in the world, struggling to find a purpose while having their families pressure them into finding a career. There are also incredible parallels in the film drawn to how youth of a certain time, felt the same frustration and were able to stand up against an empire and give lives for the greater good of their people, while the youth of today are unable to even raise their voices to their family in order to seek what they want out of their own lives. If there had to be a lead in RANG DE BASANTI, it would undoubtedly be Siddharth’s Karan, as it is Karan’s frustration and struggle to come to terms with the world he is living in that acts as another catalyst to set in motion what these youth end up doing to change their world. Siddharth’s performance in RANG DE BASANTI has caused a lot of people to stand up and take notice, and for good reason; here’s hoping that one gets to experience a lot more of him in the mainstream Indian Film Industry.
In a film about the youth of today, one part of the ensemble plays anything but a youth. Being a part of incredibly strong character orientated roles from the start of his career, Atul Kulkarni gives yet another memorable performance with RANG DE BASANTI. Playing an Indian fundamentalist, part of a political party, Kulkarni’s Laxman Pandey portrays that aspect of politics that corrupts and pollutes the minds of people that initially want to do good. Debuting with the critical Kamal Hassan film HEY RAM, Kulkarni has always been associated with strong films in which he fully asserts his talents and strengths, however briefly he may appear on screen. Coming off his more recent success in 2005 with PAGE 3, Kulkarni is able to provide another commercial success with RANG DE BASANTI. Not really being a friend of the group of college students, and not a college student himself, Pandey’s entry into the group of friends only occurred when a hurdle presented itself to a young British Filmmaker who has come to India to make a film on Indian history, more specifically, Bhagat Singh and his revolutionary Freedom Fighters. When unable to find someone to fill the role of the historic Bismil, the young British girl enlists the help of Pandey; since Bismil is one of Pandey’s heroes, he would know the role well. Quite uncomfortable in spending time with the group of rowdy youths, Pandey’s quiet and mild mannered stature is done impressively by Kulkarni who fits the part perfectly. Among the youth, Pandey is the only grown up who allows the audience another outsider’s perspective into the group of students who slowly become aware of the world they’re living in and awaken with a rage that enables them to do the drastic with dire consequences.
As hard as it may be to believe, RANG DE BASANTI is equally every actor’s film, rather than one specific person or role. Despite a cast of many fresh faces and incredibly diverse characters, the screenwriters are able to provide significance to each character in their own way within the screen time allotted to them. It’s a credit that is shared with the director, as no character becomes part of the backdrop, but rather has an important part to play in the story. Even the young man who has so far been associated with horrible films, but has made his way in the industry more due to the commercial success of his first film STYLE, rather than his acting abilities, Sharman Joshi, leaves a mark with RANG DE BASANTI .
Playing the kid in the group, Joshi’s child like innocence and inexperience within the industry actually helps in the role of young Sukhi. As a more impressionable youth among the rest, Sukhi seems to follow around the crowd of friends, and in a way almost look up to some of them. The dynamics shared between the veteran Amir Khan’s DJ and the Joshi’s Sukhi is done with incredible panache. The way in which DJ acts as a surrogate brother to Sukhi is another way the different relationships among the youth are portrayed. Sukhi seems to be like a younger brother to almost everyone else in the group as well, as he is always among them in thought and act, until the end at least, when even Sukhi matures into his own and raises his voice. Joshi’s performance near the end is quite remarkable in comparison to his previous films. This would be a credit to the director who could extract such an emotional performance from an actor who had previously proved to be quite wooden and one dimensional.
Another unique part about RANG DE BASANTI is that among the two female leads, the narrator of the entire story happens to be a British girl. After a lot of Television dramas and mini series, RANG DE BASANTI is Alice Patten’s first feature length theatrical film, which just happens to be a release from the Indian Film Industry. Displaying a lot of versatility as well her incredibly great handle on spoken Hindi, Patten takes on the role of the narrator in this film, as her character embarks on a journey to India, to film the stories of five young kids that contributed to India’s independence from the British. The role of Sue took a lot for Patten, obviously as the foreigner in the group and also portraying the outsider within a group of friends. The entire story is narrated through Patten’s Sue, whose grandfather was involved during the British Raj, and whose handwritten journal inspires Sue to make a film about the revolutionary freedom fighters during Pre-Independent India. Upon arriving in India, Sue has trouble casting the roles for her film, but after she comes across this group of friends who are charismatic, strong and reflect the youth of today, she decides to cast them as the historic freedom fighters in her film. However, throughout the few months they work on the film, all their lives change as they go through events and incidents that cause them to take a hard look at their world and realize that they must do something about it. Patten’s incredible performance while speaking a foreign language is amazing to watch, especially during the emotionally charged sequences. One hopes that unlike the trend of using foreign performers for only a film at a time, Alice Patten gets to display her histrionics a lot more, if not within the Indian Film Industry, then at least on other platforms.
Now, despite such a huge cast, and incredible performances among this diverse ensemble, there are great supporting performances in this film as well. In a brief role we see Anupam Kher, fresh off his critically appreciated performance in his home production of MAINE GANDHI KO NAHIN MARA. As the father of the young Karan, we see Kher in a somewhat negative role as a pressuring and negligent father, who also plays a crucial part around the end of the film. In another brief appearance there is Mohan Agashe as the corrupt Defence Minister. There is also Waheeda Rehman as the mother of Madhavan’s Ajay Rathod. Not getting much scope within the film, the legendary actress is still able to invoke a lot of emotions through her performance of a grieving mother, especially during the Luka Chuppi song sequence. Om Puri is also utilized in a brief appearance as Aslam’s predominant Muslim father. Frustrated with his son’s socializing with non-Muslims, Puri delivers a hysteric performance in his small role within the film. The best among these supporting performances has to be the inimitable Kiron Kher. As DJ’s mother, she delivers a performance dripping with the nurturing love of a mother that ultimately has to support her delinquent son, even when his beliefs take him to a place from which he can’t return.
It’s rare that a film comes along that is able to change a generation and write itself into cinematic history. RANG DE BASANTI is such a film. It’s not often that a film is able to open the audiences’ eyes to the world around them, inspire them, motivate them and make them aware of their society. RANG DE BASANTI is such a film.
Evil must exist for good to be recognized. Corrupt men will reign where men of integrity exist. Deception must occur for honesty to prevail. It’s an undeniable truth that where there is light, there is darkness. Therefore… bad will always happen as long as good exists in the world; terror, horror, cruelty, death and lies are the harsh realities of the world that shatter the innocence of every living being during their time on earth. What matters most, is how the waters of good keep colliding against the rocks of evil as the tide keeps rising each day in the hopes of vanquishing said evil… forever. What matters is fighting a fight, without truly ever knowing if victory will— can be achieved; fighting not knowing if there is even an end. That’s what separates honest men, from the good; men willing to stand up for their beliefs rather than broadcast them to everyone who will listen. Men willing to rise up against the injustices of society today, so that generations after are able to live better.
They did stand and rise up in arms. They did so in 1947 and again in 1971. And countless times, many men rose up through history. They did so for the world we live in today.
This… is what they fought for.
Was it worth it?
“…Aur Bharkega Joh Shola Sa Humarein Dil Mein Hai,
Sarfaroshi Ki Tamannah Ab Humarein Dil Mein Hai!”
“We must all fear evil men, but there is another kind of evil which we must fear most.
And that is the indifference of good men!”