(Re-written again for the paper but at the end I realised it was too long for the paper to publish)
Long live the revolution
Cast: Aamir Khan, Alice Patten, Siddharth, Kunal Kapoor, Sharman Joshi, Atul Kulkarni, Soha Ali Khan, Madhavan
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Storyline: A British filmmaker who comes to India to make a film on young revolutionaries of yore finds a carefree, indifferent generation of rebels, who are destined to change during the making of the film.
Bottomline: It just cannot get better than this.
After a pleasant dream, you wake up smiling.
After a nightmare, you wake up sober — brooding, thinking, hoping it never comes true. And then, you probably smile.
When Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s alarm bell ‘Rang De Basanti,’ goes off, you will wake up to a bit of everything: the bitter and the sweet, the smile on your lips and the butterflies in your stomach, the food for thought and the cola to chill out.
Unlike anything we’ve seen in Hindi cinema before this, comes this light-hearted yet serious-minded, instant cult classic that could drill home a sense of nation and responsibility, into the collective conscious of the urban Indian youth.
A movie likely to get under that skin beneath the well worn-out denims and the matching carefree attitude of those who adorn it.
A film about modern day rebels without that elusive cause finding it and themselves in the process.
RDB would have been an incredibly difficult film to make or even conceive, salutes to Kamlesh Pandey for the script.
But to make a script like that come alive needs super-human sensitivity. Brave old Rakeysh Mehra is a super-talented filmmaker to achieve what he has.
Imagine his confidence if he uses an actor of Aamir’s calibre as just one of the guys in the movie. In fact, sometimes you wonder if Siddharth is its leading man.
But the truth is that everyone in this ensemble cast has something significant to do to the narrative.
They all shine.
If Aamir sweeps you with his charm throughout and has you under arrest in the scene where he breaks down, Alice bowls you over with her Hindi and presence.
Siddharth-reinvented is a revelation, the surprise package of the film. Kunal Kapoor scores with his understated performance and intensity. Sharman Joshi is instantly likeable and emotes like a veteran. Atul Kulkarni lends his soul to the role. And Madhavan and Soha make you fall in love with them and their pairing. So right from the casting, RDB seems to have got it all right.
The first half of the movie is where Rakeysh scores in his experiment: delivering the tricolour to those lost in denim. Armed with plenty of stylish techniques, the director nourishes his under-fed young audience with spoonfuls of concentrated genuine nationalism spiked with cola, just for the flavour and the after-taste.
Imagine well-orchestrated sequences of freedom struggle beautifully captured in sepia tone and set to funky rock music! Truly inventive. Binod Pradhan is likely to sweep the best Cinematographer awards for the year and this movie might just be this year’s India’s entry to the Oscars.
The reason: RDB alternates between genres, moods, sensibilities and yet manages to keep its twin narratives cohesive and seamless.
So, MTV-meets-BBC as Rakeysh tells us two parallel stories: one about the rebels-without-a-cause of today and the other about the revolutionaries who died for one.
Towards the later half of the movie, the plot-points in both these narratives merge as the aimless youth find their purpose. It is exactly at this point that RDB begins to fumble.
But to give Rakeysh due credit, it is difficult to marry a realistically subtle ‘Dil Chahta Hai’-sensibility to a surrealistic ‘Dil Se’ sensibility or a docu-dramatic ‘Hey Ram’ or a ‘Gandhi’ sensibility, all within one movie.
So it does seems like a laboured effort when you force the laidback narrative with every day simplicities into a catacylsmic, dramatic plot-point, just to make the subsequent transformation of the heroes of the film, seem poetic.
You begin relating to the movie at a realistic level. Halfway through, it turns surreal when the characters plunge to their lows and later even “unreal,” as a character keeps repeating towards the end. But, despite the inherent inconsistency in the intended feel, the directors works hard to keep the plausibility intact.
Rahman’s songs turn out to be a neat alienation device but the pace slackens. But when the music is what anthems are made of and lines so deep and visuals that enslave your soul, why would you complain?
The movie demands three hours of devoted attention because there is so much to savour, absorb and relish. It’s a feast: visually, intellectually and emotionally rich. There is passion written over every single frame of the movie, little details to make you admire its maker and moments that stay with you long after you’ve left the hall.
The interplay between the characters throughout is so well-crafted that despite its slow pace, the screenplay remains tight. Every shot makes a statement, every pause speaks and every bit little strain of music punctuates the proceedings.
The pace is intentionally slow because a theme like needs to be served carefully, and little by little, as subtly as possible. Like Anupam Kher says in the movie: “SMS generation. Char line kya bol diya, lecture samajne lagtey hai.” (“Speak four lines and the SMS generation thinks you’re giving them a lecture”).
The only big flaw: Though it seems like a fascinating idea to replace imperialistic villains of yesterday with the fascist politicians of today, the context is not quite the same or that simplistic. It is that political context that makes RDB a little weak.
The solutions available today are many and the incident on which the movie borrows from, is testimony to that fact. Modern-day democracy, increasing literacy rates and an active competitive media ensuring political transparency, provides rebels of today far more solutions than the ones available to the revolutionaries of yore.
As a result, ‘Rang De Basanti’ is great cinema but not effective as mass communication or politically-correct cinema.
Unlike ‘Yuva’ that ended tamely with just a promise, waking you up before you can live the fantasy, RDB goes all the way. But here, instead of making you fantasise about what heroes of today can do, it turns all that activism into a really bad dream just so that the parallel lines between the two narratives remain intact.
But again, consider: a dream makes you go back to sleep with a smile. A nightmare … wakes you up!