It would be a rare film indeed to be inspirational, to transport the audience into its world, to be carried away by its idealistic fervour and winds of patriotism AND be a great film. So Rang De Basanti didn’t turn out to be this awe-inspiring film I expected. Boohoo. Serves me right for having high expectations and buying into the hype. Unfortunately RDB just didn’t have the complete package. Plus I forgot to take into account that I am a cynical old bat.
This is not to take away from the merits of this film though. RDB is a refreshing change from the usual family melodrama (Kabhie Kushie Kabhie Gham) and the comedy (Munnabhai MBBS), or the one-long-mtv segment (Dhoom series). Frankly I’m relieved by its runaway success – people will watch thoughtful entertainment! Oh my god. It has also has great production values, a stirring score by A.R Rahman and extremely likeable performances from the ensemble cast. Kirron Kher in her small role brings much warmth and Alice Patten earns kudos for learning and speaking Hindi in her role. Aamir Khan (Lagaan) is the notable name in cast and is excellent as usual playing someone 15 years his age but the actual younger actors hold their own too, engaging the audience with their transformation from layabout losers to young guns with a life purpose. Another positive – for a movie with a message to deliver, it reigns in the preachiness. So many good points but alas…
While the idea of RDB sounds great on paper, the overall execution, especially the writing, would be hard to pull off well. Initially intrigued by this film-maker who decided to pick a gang of uni students on permanent hookey for her film, my patience started to fray when the film’s pre-occupation with showing the gang’s silly hijinks along with well-meaning song numbers threatened to grind the story to a near stop only after 30 min into the film. To make it worse, the contemporary characters of DJ (Aamir Khan), Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), Karan (Siddharth), Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) paled in comparison to the historical characters they were playing. I mean Chandrashekar Azad is a much more mesmerising character than DJ, a guy who stays an extra 5 years at university because he can’t face the real world. My empathy engine just couldn’t kick into action, you know what I mean?
Certainly the believability factor also plummets around here. These guys seem to be having too much fun to be actually shooting a film – where’s the crew? Who’s holding the boom mic and are they off drinking again?! I would have also liked to have seen the back-story for these characters but the filmmaker seems intent on showing their differences rather than show what made such different characters come to be such firm friends for life. In short, the first half of the film fails to thoroughly convince me who these characters are. Thankfully, the second half picks up considerably after a somewhat predictable but much needed trigger event that completes the transition of the characters. I suspect how much you enjoy this film is down to how convinced you are about the characters. Being somewhat unconvinced, I found the film only somewhat satisfying.
Despite my cynical pickings, this is still a very worthy effort and a welcome one judging by the success that followed. The parallel stories are enacted and weaved together quite well, showing the sequence of events that would form the fascinating history of the Indian independence. I also quietly applaud the final act, which I found to be gripping and well planned. It’s not perfect but it answered many questions, whilst justifying the characters actions but at same time refusing to condone their decisions. Revolutionaries or terrorists, aggressors or martyrs? Things are never that black and white and the lines are truly blurred. If it inspires the youth of India and others to question their government and their own roles in society then Rang De Basanti has achieved that but god forbid should we be only taking educational notes from a film. Let’s hope for wider sources of inspiration as well!