Rang De Basanti (2006)

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.

*On webindia123.com
**Dubya, are you listening?

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15 Comments to “Rang De Basanti (2006)”

  1. Yes! This is definitely one of my problems with the movie. “Emotional eruption” is a wonderful description of it. It’s extreme in a fairly pointless way. If you’re not watching carefully, it seems to glamorize vigilante violence.

    I also really like your point about people needing to understand the past and their own links to it.

    My favorite of the political messages of RDB is at the very end, when the tvs are showing interviews with people about what has happened, and someone says “we get the government we deserve.” That’s an important point in a democracy, and it highlights one of the important differences in the contexts of the movie’s historical and contemporary protagonists.

  2. Exactly right — you have to be watching carefully in order to get any other message than that. I think it’s a pretty huge flaw in either the script or the editing (or maybe both).

    The voices against violence are simply too few and too faint.

    Love your last point too :-)

  3. If available, check out a 1986 movie called Ankush, with Nana Patekar.

    As for RDB, I find that Indians tend to relate to this movie a lot better than non-Indians do. I wish I could explain why, but the emotional impact of the movie overall is simply overwhelming. Yes, their action in taking the law in their hands was wrong, but they also realized that at the end. Plus I don’t always look for messages in a movie, so that makes it a bit easier to enjoy them. ;)

  4. Though I could not and do not want do contradict your analysis of the film, I actually liked it for that exactly – meaning this was the message of the film for me.

    1. the british girl: It is significant that the ex-colonizer (and this is the message sent in the choice of this very white, blond beauty!) tries to do right what her forefathers had done wrong – but at the same time admitting only the crime not the responsibility for it – i.e. the journals of her grandfather (I think it was the gradnfather?) depict him as a thoughtful man, deeply impressed with the ‘victims’ which implys that though he does his duty he is impressed by them, thus HE himself cannot possibly be really bad – it is like being caught in a bad situation, the classical situation of any war criminal (cf. for example the Austrian nation’s self-perception from 1945-1986 or even to today)

    2. I loved the way how up to her screening of her movie the film gives you the illusion, that we could learn from history, find it meaningful, grasp its significance – achieve, if only on the small scale, what they had fought for, freedom and peace among the many groups in India, most significantly bridging the religious divide.
    And right afterwards, as the good feeling just starts to comfortably settle in your gut, reality hits home: corruption, helplessness against it and most important our natural response to crisis: emotional eruption – usually paired with irresponsible and illogical action – human action is not carefully planned and thought through (Bhaghat Singh’s wasn’t either, I should like to claim! – these men too brought harm and sadness to beloved ones and went for the greatest effect – in this respect, RDB should rather be compared to “THe Legend of Bhaghat Singh” not “LRMB” – more about this later). The ultimate strenght and beauty of RDB lies in the fact that it never really tries to teach us – it shows us a mirror and this mirror is not a fairy tale one giving you the most beautiful reflection, but a realistic one, throwing an unmodified and unbeautified self back at us: the selfish desire to change the world according to your personal idea of right and wrong. We do not all resort to killing but we all do this constantly.
    In addition you have the emphasis on the short lived and sensation craving media interest.
    And although the final scene is maybe a bit over the top, it still manages very well to transmit, how in essential, these young men without perspectives and goals (as depicted at the very beginning of the movie) remained just that – see the concern about dying as a virgin, but also their joking to the very end, not taking real responsibility for anything ever. The only thing that was resolved is the religious divide – which is maybe the didactic aspect of the movie that this divide is really absurd in todays age.

    LRMD is – though a comedy – a didactic movie calling for peaceful interaction, but never – being a comedy – going really deep in personality and human intraction (Munna Bhai and Circuit are depicted as just not being that type of person), but it has a clear message to teach people. Thus it is the most hurtful thing to RDB to be compared to this movie, because it never meant to do that. It rather shows us the absurdity of our noble ideas about ourselves, how we hold ourselves in too high esteem and thus justify our actions, disregarding their effect on others. A point that The Legend of B. S. gives you more explicitly, even in dialogue form.

    I agree that the tag-line is unsuitable – it is one of these sensationalizing media things – but I still thing that RDB is one of the most remarkable movies (with beautiful pictures and songs too) in that it does not try to give simplyfied solutions but by showing the complexity of outrage and by creating critical awareness rather than make you identify with a hero and thus make you feel good about them an yourself in the end. Thus, i think, it is significant that the only characters one does not object to throughout the film are two female side-characters: DJ’s mother and Sonia (both also played by great actresses, I think).

    So I don’t think it is about awakening, and to go even further, I even think that the connection with the historical young ‘freedom fighters’ become maybe even more poignant in the second half of the movie, because it also creates an awareness about our perception of history, our apparent need to create hero figures and reduce the complexity of history in our reading / interpretation of a few events over others. Thus, implicitly, RDB in the second part gives as an alternative reading of the events, challenging us to be more critical in our selective choice of past events to justify current actions and deal with contemporary affairs. Just as all terrorism and violence usually looks for historical events for their justification and relies on a past wrong that “need to be righted”. This is the root of all fundamentalism and thus dangerous (and self destructive). If the social mirror of RDB has a message, that might be it – though in a couched and less didactically open way than LRMB

    — sorry for the longish post —

  5. Ed: I am very happy to read others’ opinions about this film. I do know that I need to watch it again, I knew that when I was done watching it the first time…it did invite a lot of introspection upon watching, which is never a bad thing!


    Amit: I agree that “messages” can be overrated :-) (witness my love for Shammi and Vijay Anand!) And I will look for Ankush, am a Nana Patekar fan too…

  6. A very good posting by Ed – i really found it interesting to read and agree with his views.

  7. Hi Greta,

    Skimming through your blog, I read your comment of RDB; well, if you’ve seen my recent post on it, you know what I think, and I’m quite pleased at realising that I agree with you.

  8. the movie Omkara has been mentioned in your blog several times but its surprising that no one has mentioned “Maqbool” a movie well made more so becoz of the superb acting.

  9. You are the 1st person I know of, who didn’t like the movie. It is not that hard to understand how sane Indians feel towards the daft politicians and anyone who has brains will want to eradicate them from our society…
    Gandhi’s non-violence doesn’t work or else anna won’t be sidelined like this right now. In today’s world if someone offers the other cheek he/she will keep getting slapped n ridiculed lol

  10. I found your review very interesting. It is always good to hear 360 opinion. I did like this move. I also liked all Munna bhai moves. I know violence is not right way to answer injustice but then Bhagat Singh and Shukdev were also wrong. Movie shows that even in democracy like in India there is very little space for common man to change the system which is paralyzed by corruption. More over the except the last 15 minutes most of the Movie was very enjoyable. I showed this move to my father who is 68 yrs old when he was visiting me, he also did not like the movie’s message. He worked for government in India all his life, I guess he did not like people turning against own government.

    • The alternative is really anarchy (or a dictatorship)…which hasn’t worked that well either. I know India’s political system is very corrupt (so is ours!) but…I just don’t think violence is ever the answer. I guess I am more of a Gandhi/Martin Luther King kind of person!

  11. Hello Memsaab,
    RDB is a movie I loved the first time I saw and began to hate subsequently, for the message it is sending the new generation: there is no recourse to corruption except violence. When wars are awful and non-achievers how can violence achieve anything? Yes the film gave a message and yes there was an impact in the Indian society ‘for a few days’ BUT the ‘solution’ is no solution at all. Probably a better message wud have been the lingering college leech to become a responsible citizen, taking on corruption big time by trying to raise social conscience or at least proving his two bits to the society instead of being afraid to grow up… I wud be afraid to grow up if growing up led me to murder. The ‘rich friend’ could provide the capital to support the cause. … if ur father is corrupt kill him wud cause a slew of orphans and widows in the world.. not only India. the patriotic friend already had a taste of politics and the rest could be able supporters … and provide some alternates to the extant situation …. now that’s a message the world needs ….. such talent of all ppl and such a waste and I shudder to think of a mother who wud wake up from coma to find that she went into one after losing one son and now has lost 5 more. ‘Emotional eruption’ make the movie great a the first viewing……’rational thinking’ later makes it hated especially since it was ‘supposed’ to carry a message.

    It was great to see that u did not review it like other movies but treated it the way it was meant to be treated…. more power to u and may the world be polulated with more ppl who think like u…..

  12. Incredible movie! No words explaining it. Simply awesome it is.

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