Since I finally watched it a few months ago, I have been trying to figure out why I didn’t really like Rang De Basanti. The other day I came across this interview with one of Gandhi’s great-grandsons, Tushar Gandhi* and it set my brain off again on the subject:
Q: What did you think of “Rang De Basanti”?
A: Though I liked the film the conclusion was inapplicable and problematic. It just offered an emotional eruption. The parallels between the freedom fighters and today’s youth were interesting but inaccurate. I appreciated the parallels between history and contemporary times. I thought it was a technically brilliant film.
Q: So, are you saying it trivialised history?
A: I’d say so.
I had discussed RDB also with my sister; she felt the same about it, which is that she liked many things about the film, but ultimately found it very unsatisfying. I loved the concept of a person revisiting a difficult time in history and drawing a new generation’s attention to it, inspiring them to challenge the status quo and to try and better the circumstances they live in. Maybe because I grew up in a colonial setting, I also liked that the person revisiting history was an English girl descended from a British soldier of that time—I felt I could relate to her need to explore what her forefathers had done (or not done), and how her family’s actions had influenced history for better or for worse. The parallels between history and contemporary times are very interesting.
In this same interview, Tushar Gandhi also pointed out that the Mahatma was not always opposed to violence. He supported, for instance, the military response to aggression in Kashmir right after partition, and also the need for socialist action during the Quit India movement.
BUT—and here, I think, is my problem with RDB—even if you need to finally resort to violence to solve a problem, it needs to be well thought out, and the potential consequences must be planned for**. The characters in RDB just react at the end; they indulge in an “emotional eruption”…which ultimately changes nothing except their own lives—and the lives of those who love them—and not for the better.
RDB and Lage Raho Munna Bhai have been compared a lot, and there are definite parallels between them. But part of LRMB’s brilliance was in how the characters approached their problems (with Bapu’s help) thoughtfully (even if not always peacefully-–remember Munna holding the old man’s son over a balcony to coerce him into attending his dad’s birthday party?). They did not self-destruct as they did in RDB. They learned, they grew as human beings, and you were left with a sense of hope for us all.
It’s not even that I need an ending to be hopeful and happy either (although I prefer it). I loved Omkara and it did not end on either a hopeful or a happy note. But I need to have some sympathy for and understanding of why and how characters behave the way they do. And I just didn’t have that sympathy or understanding for the characters in RDB. The tagline for the film is “A Generation Awakens,” but if they awakened to anything, I missed it. I only saw them taking revenge, the way extremists on all sides around us do. There is no thoughtfulness—certainly no awakening—in that.
**Dubya, are you listening?