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Rang De Basanti and the power of cinema by Shanku Sharma

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti (RDB), released in 2006, was well ahead of its time. The film has gained a cult following since then and is regarded as one of the finest contemporary Hindi films of all time. The film redefined patriotism without sermonising. It was well ahead of its time in its depiction of patriotism, and social and political injustice.

RDB tells the story of a spoilt brat ‘DJ’ (played by Aamir Khan) who does not take his life seriously. He hangs out in and around his university (from which he passed) with his other mates, including Karan (Siddharth), Sukhi (Sharman Joshi), Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), and Sonia (Soha Ali Khan). He is liked only by his friends. His mother (played by Kirron Kher) remains worried about his future.

The entry of Sue Mckinley (Alice Patten), a British girl who leaves her job abroad and comes to India to make a documentary on Bhagat Singh and his fellow patriots and martyrs, brings a drastic change in the lives of DJ and his friends. All she possesses is her grandfather James’s diary, which contains the capture and execution of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev at the Lahore Jail.

A flirtatious DJ agrees to work in her documentary, thus paving the way for a drastic change in his life. With him and Sonia, all their friends also agree to act in the documentary. Karan, son of a corrupt politician (played by Anupam Kher), is too angry to be friends with his father. Aslam hates being stopped from keeping friendships with Hindu friends, and Sukhi hates being single.

Through their experiences during the making of the documentary, the film deals with various problems and issues, which are faced by the youngsters of the world’s largest democracy. The shift in the film’s tone from flamboyant to reserved makes all the difference. These aimless youngsters realise the helplessness of the nation and decide to change it. They evolve, and with them, RDB begins to grow on us. It begins to hit us hard when a MiG-21 jet crash kills their flight lieutenant friend Ajay (played by R. Madhavan). The government questions Ajay’s skills and blames him for the crash. Seeing no end, though a large number of people protest and light candles, DJ and his friends begin to realise that only lighting candles and staging protest demonstrations would not serve the purpose.

The parallel narration of the film was unique and brilliant. DJ and his friends start doing what Bhagat Singh and other freedom fighters had done to fight injustice. Instead of ballets, they rely on bullets. Karan shoots his father while hugging after they kill defence minister V.K. Shastri (Mohan Agashe). The ending of RDB made people realise the folly of being a passive listener/silent observer.

So, in addition to its themes, RDB also questions the social structures that create division among people/friends. Laxman Pandey (Atul Kulkarni), a hardcore right-wing party activist, dislikes DJ and his friends. He vehemently opposes the Western way of living. Most strikingly, Rang De Basanti is a neatly edited film that does not try our patience. Our beliefs and assumptions are challenged. Life gets chaotic for DJ and co. when they shoot Shastri. But instead of trying to save themselves, they sacrifice their lives in order to make people understand that silence is not always golden. RDB upholds the power of cinema, which can create a huge impact. At its core, RDB is a film about one’s self-identity, one’s duties and responsibilities towards the nation.

Shanku Sharma is a Silchar based journalist & film buff.

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