Rang De Basanti seems to have captured the attention of the desi blogosphere and the Indian media like nothing else before it. Oh wait, a small correction. Before RDB, there was IIPM. But as Jerry would quip, not that there is anything wrong with it. At last notice, a simple search on Blogger Search for "Rang De Basanti" turns up 2,234 posts while a similar search on Technorati returns 1,257 results. In fact, Rang De Basanti has been in the top 15 list of searches on Technorati for the last couple of days and is in the top 10 currently.
What is in this movie that has captured our attention? From what I saw on Saturday, it is certainly not difficult to understand why. First reason - the whole movie has a young tone to it, even the parts that are in sepia. Second reason - the wonderful soundtrack, which some people say is out of place, but the majority has taken to. Personally I found the music refreshing with the director making, what has to be the most novel use, of the ubiquitous songs, in recent times. Having mentioned these reasons, I do have to add that there is one more, something that I find hard to justify and that is the whole business of patriotism.
Most people see Rang De Basanti as the Swadesh of 2006. While the latter deals with the pangs of remorse that first generation NRIs seem to harbor at the bottom of their heart - an almost guilty sense of helplessness at not being able to do their bit for the progress of their homeland, Rang De Basanti looks at a similar, but more cynical mindset through the eyes of the college educated 20 somethings.
It can be safely said that the kind of characters represented in RDB do exist in real life. The first half of the movie is as realistic as it gets in India's universities. Each one of us has known a DJ, Sukhi, Karan, Aslam and Sonia at one point in some form or the other. But as the second half progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to envision a scenario where individuals would react the same way as these five (and Laxman) do. And that is where RDB moves from a potential Swadesh emulator to being just another celluloid fantasy. However any half baked student of cinema would tell you that celluloid fantasy is good too, for fantasies were the building blocks of cinema as we know it. So, Rakeysh Mehra should not be offended if one labels RDB thus. But one senses that there is an intention to convey a message here. What is this message? And so the confusion begins.
As mentioned earlier, the first half of the movie hints at a clean entertainer in the Dil Chatha Hai mold, a growing up movie of sorts. Make no mistake, RDB is a growing up movie. But what those youngsters grow up to be leaves a lot to be desired. One wonders if the ends aimed at by these young 20 somethings is a direct contradiction of the means adopted. The message sounds like one that a hardened pick pocket uses to justify his acts - as a deterrent for others seeking the same path. I don't want to say anything more lest it be viewed as a plot spoiler and one wouldn't want that. Sadly this "message" is viewed as a USP for this movie and that is a shame. For there are a lot of positives in this movie and the "message" is certainly not one of them.
But why should a movie proselytize at all? Why can't a movie be just for entertainment, as one half of this movie seems to be. Maybe it is the resident cynic in me talking, but I think that the longevity of any movie's message is going to be slightly longer than the time spent on the journey back home from the theatre. And one can safely bet that while crimes seem to be inspired by movie plots, there has never been an incident where a movie's plotline has inspired something positive. Wait, that is just what my mom told me 5 years ago when she found I had played hookey from class to watch Anaconda.
So next time I read some review of RDB (you'd think I'd stay away, but at the rate at which people seem to be churning reviews, I don't think I can escape without reading another one) that tells me how the movie brought a lump to the author's throat, I'd say "Ok. me too" (ya it did raise goosebumps too, but that was for the nod to Georgie boy's jaunt in a fighter plane). But if someone writes that this movie will make people raise up and do something, I'd ask the authors for a blood sample to check what they are high on. All those who you see on TV carping on patriotism are not going to give a crap about the same if and when you ask them an hour later. Ofcourse there are exceptions, as usual. But the exceptions are certainly in the miniscule minority.
As for me, I got home last evening and as I got thinking, I decided that I liked the other Basanti movie much better. It had a two leading men, one a brooding man who was "straight face" funny, and another who was a lovable goof. A motor mouth of a heroine and a charismatic villian contributed as well. And it was way funnier and it was not certainly not preachy. Personally, the whole "susaad", angrez ke zamaane" and "Kitne aadmi the" thing was funnier than the Westerner feigning ignorance of the local language and the chemistry of the lead characters certainly seemed to be much better and ergo much more entertaining.
And before you lynch me, you have to understand that I watch movies for entertainment. Don't get me wrong, RDB is certainly miles ahead of the borderline porno flicks churned out by the Bhatt camp and what not. And unlike others, I am not stupid enough to let the story within a story confuse me. Which is why I will gladly watch RDB again.