During the last Washington DC blogmeet, there was a question as to what my next post would be.
I said “A post on Rang De Basanti”.
When I briefly said (in one line) what I thought of the movie, I was told that, based on the experience of certain bloggers who had expressed similar sentiments, such opinion, publicly expressed, would lead to a deluge of vituperative remarks in the comments section.
Since I was, at the time, already in the middle of a heated exchange on some other topic, I was reticent to open up the Western front on opinion shrapnel. Hence I decided to delay the post—-at least till the “Be The Change—I just saw Rang De Basanti” hysteria died down.
However since quite a few months have passed since then, I think the time has now come to gingerly put my head on the chopping block.
“Rang De Basanti” is an over-hyped piece of tripe.
Yes I said it then. And I say it now.
And here is my explanation. [Spoilers ahead for people who have yet to see the movie]
Let’s accept it. All of us, at some point of time, have muttered under our breath : “The only solution to India’s problems is to line up all politicians and shoot them.” It’s a desire we all share, a desire shaped out of decades of watching the ruling babus shamelessly aggrandizing themselves at the cost of the country.
There is indeed nothing wrong with wanting this to happen.
Just like there is nothing wrong with dreaming of rolling in the sands of Mauritius with a bikini-clad Mallika Sherawat or dancing close with a bare-torsoed Salman Khan (depending on your gender and sexual orientation).
What connects “shooting politicians” with “rubbing against Mallika” is that they are both fantasies. While many a director have realized that the way to make a quick buck is to pander to the second fantasy, there have been comparitively few that have realized the potential of playing up to the first.
Which is what Rakesh Mehra, the director of “Rang De Basanti” has done. He has sold a fantasy. Except that unlike the seller of skin flicks, he has packaged his blatantly commercial exercise with a wrapper of pulp nobility— a kind of jingoistic activism that makes people feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Its something he has done with some success. And kudos to him for that. But puleeze, it’s only a movie (and that too a pretty ordinary one) and nothing transcending that. Certainly not a landmark movie in Indian history nor a life-altering one. (Or should I add, it should not be a life-altering one)
There are some supporters of RDB who shall retort: “Chill yaar. Don’t overanalyze the movie. It’s just timepass and let’s keep it at that.”
To which I say: Fine. No objections there.
However the problem arises when people take this movie way too seriously—deifying RDB as a roadmap for solving the problems of the county, an anthem for the youth, a clarion call to get off our asses and do “something”.
And what is the “doing something” this movie advocates? Shooting a minister.
Yes yes I know. At the climax of the movie, one of the protagonists says that what they did was wrong, not supportable but it was the only way out.
Point A. It was not the only way out. It was not even A way out. Period.
Bhagat Singh indeed had no other way out. Neither did my grandfather. When Binoy, Badal and Dinesh entered Writer’s Building and started firing, it was because there was no other way of getting their voice heard.
But not any more. We have a democratic process in place, which inspite of its worst flaws, is nothing like what Mushy Baby serves up for his country:” Do you want Musharraf to rule as Supreme Commander of Armed Forces or as the Head of the Faith or as President for Life?”
Many would still say: “There is no real democracy in India and shooting corrupt politicians is the only way out.” For those who say this, I can only point to a bunch of very intelligent but misguided people from the last generation who thought exactly on these lines. They were Naxals. And where did their assassination of “enemies of the class” lead to? Social change. No. Instead we had stabbings of traffic constables, a vice-chancellor of a university, a brother of a freedom fighter.
And before you say that this was a fault in implementation and not in the idea itself, I shall raise my hand and say “No. The fault lies in the idea itself—the idea that lasting change can be brought about by merely killing some people.”
Democratic, peaceful change is not dramatic. Nor easy. But that is the only way to cleanse the system, unless the democratic system itself is not in place. I know that slow change does not make gripping cinema or send pulses soaring. Which is why Rakesh Mehra has to show ministers getting shot. Yes it does make for good, clean fun but please do not take it to heart.
Point B. Yes. The protagonists do say at the end that what they did was wrong (even though it was “justified”). It’s quite another thing that the entire movie conveys the exact opposite message by glorifying the act and drawing parallels with Bhagat-Singh.
This is somewhat like mafia movies where the ostensible message is “Crime doesn’t pay” despite the fact that for 95% of the movie the don is shown having the time of his life with the flashy guns, the gals and the power to make people piss in their boots. Sure he gets shot up in the end but who cares? After all wasn’t he originally a nice guy who had “Mera baap chor hain” tatooed on his arm when he was a kid?
What I found particularly galling was Madhavan doing “Rang De Basanti” publicity by saying “Be the change” rather than saying “Go and watch my movie”. Again a very manipulative marketing tactic by which your rage (justified) at the political system is channelized into buying a Rs. 200 ticket to go and see “Rang De Basanti”. And then coming out as a RDB zombie, pouncing on anyone who did not like the movie and say: “How dare you not want to be the change?”
I remember reading a blog where a blogger, after a typical RDB rush, gushes about how it is the greatest thing he has ever seen, how totally it has changed his conception of life and how he will now become the change.
Three months later, I wish I could see how much change he has brought in himself.
Because change, dear friends, does not come from watching a movie. It comes from forming an opinion—which again is a painful process borne out of reading serious literature, listening to speeches of learned men, thinking, filtering and internalizing. And then acting on that opinion.
It does not come from walking out of a darkened hall with three friends, heart pumping after listening to “Masti Ki Patshala” on Digital Dolby and saying “yaar let’s change the country”. What you feel is simply a charge-up—-an emotion that will disappear before you know it and the only change you will have accomplished will have been to enrich the movie maker’s pockets. [Which reminds me of a friend who said that he always feels like James Bond after he has watched a Bond flick].
And in passing let me express my gripe about modern media, as exemplified by RDB, which is responsible for “dumbing down” serious issues like socio-political change by serving easy-to-digest, high-on-caffeine, bite-sized conscience snacks, garnished with commercial “feel-good” seasoning, that exists to give you a rush but no real nourishment.
I have been castigated before for being a cynic. I am sorry to say but this is not cynicism.
Selling idealism, packaged as an attractive product, however is.
You so-called optimists are of course free to believe otherwise.
Now comes my second objection. RDB would have been good had it worked as a movie. In my opinion, it did not.
I am sure a lot of people liked the first part because they felt it was a realistic depiction of college life, down to the lingo and mannerisms. As for me, I never roamed around on bikes or tottered drunk on the edge of wells—-so even there I could not exactly empathize. Just like I failed to with the dudes of “Dil Chahta Hain” who drove a Mercedes convertible.
But the fault there may be mine. Blame my upbringing for that.
The second part is a trainwreck—-especially for a movie with intellectual pretensions. There is a most inept assassination which the way it is shown is more an act of revenge than an act of revolution, a rather hard-to-digest police charge on peaceful protesters where the mother of a dead AirForce man is sent into coma, the rather fantastic order from a disembodied ‘voice’ to the commandoes to shoot down the gang of boys, and then of course that Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid-esque banter at the end complete with the freeze-frame.
It seems that Rakesh Mehra was so busy pumping up the adrenaline that he forgot to make a gripping movie. Not that he ever knew how to—–people like me who labored through his faux-intellectual exercise in vacuousness otherwise known as “Aks” can testify for that.
ThereÂ I have said it. It’s off my chest.
And now that has been done, I can go back to being “the change” –like remembering to keep the toilet seat down after I am done.
And hope that an impassioned RDB fan wont sneak upon me and pump bullets while saying “Die cynical blogger die”.