For about three quarters of Rakeysh Mehra’s Rang De Basanti you are elated – here at last is a good, good film well mounted with great performances, lovely camerawork, rocking music and a storyline that makes you laugh, cry, get involved and feel for its characters and yes even make you think. And then comes the denouement which is quite unsatisfactory and illogical as compared to rest of the film. And you lament that here again is a film that was almost there but… Not only that, the final stand the film takes is simply not acceptable and you come out of the film shaking your head in dismay.
There is no doubt that Mehra has arrived as a filmmaker whose second film is leagues ahead of his debut vehicle – Aks. There is much that works extremely well in the film. The heartwarming charm of the group is infectious and their scenes take one back to glorious memories of one’s own college days. Their interaction is full of wonderful moments – the reaching for the skies, showering of leaves on the engaged couple, DJ’s disbelief when he realizes Sue knows Hindi among others. Other sequences that leave a lingering impact – the visit to Amritsar and the Golden Temple, the discussion in jest with Ajay that he is the only one who would be covered with the Indian flag and given the 21 gun salute when he dies as against the others, Pandey’s recitation of Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna and especially the scene when Ajay’s mother receives the National flag, a sequence that brings goose bumps to the viewer.
Rang De Basanti follows Sue (Alice Patten) who chucks up her job in UK and come to India to make a film on Indian Freedom Fighters – Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Bismil, Sukhdev etc on reading her grandfather’s diaries written during his stint in India as a jailor. She is helped in India by Sonia (Soha Ali Khan) who introduces her to her group of motley friends – DJ (Aamir Khan), Karan (Siddharth), Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) and Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), a group that enjoys lukkhagiri and has no particular love for the nation. She convinces them to act as the freedom fighters in her film. They are joined by a hardcore rightwing outsider to the group, Laxman Pandey (Atul Kulkarni) to act as one of the freedom fighters. Sonia is engaged to a pilot in the Indian Air Force, Ajay (R Madhavan). As the group begins work on the film and they try to understand the mindset of our freedom fighters, they start undergoing a transformation. And then Ajay is killed in a Mig Crash in Ambala…
The casting of the film is perfect and the performances by all the actors are uniformly solid, enjoying a tremendous chemistry among themselves as well. Aamir Khan is the life of the film. Part of an ensemble cast yet standing out, he never hits a false note – be it in the lighter moments of enjoying life where his sense of timing is spot on or the more serious moments as his conscience wakens or his breakdown sequence taken in extended long takes so as not to interrupt his performance. Perfect support comes from the rest of the group – Siddharth (extremely effective), Soha Ali Khan (a breath of fresh air), Alice Patten, Atul Kulkarni (but of course, as always), Sharman Joshi and Kunal Kapoor. R Madhavan, Kirron Kher and Waheeda Rehman make the most of their cameos. Waheeda Rehman, in particular, is stunning. As the mother of the air force pilot killed, just see her as she fights between maintaining her composure and giving vent to her grief at his funeral or when she accepts the Indian flag or goes through the belongings of her dead son. She brings such grace, poignancy and dignity to her role. Om Puri and Anupam Kher, though, are wasted.
The major flip side really is the last quarter of the film following Ajay’s death when the generation actually awakens. The action taken by the protagonists is really unrealistic and simply not the right solution to the problem. The director tries drawing a parallel to the actions of the freedom fighters the group plays to the state of the Nation today. This doesn’t work as the times are two different eras with different sets of problems and the solution shown of taking the law into one’s owns hands to shake up the Nation and start a revolution is not a practical answer to tackle the problems of the nation. It is here that the film suddenly descends into standard Hindi Film Territory and not just with story but in its execution and treatment as well. What was a film that till now did not need to underline what it was saying suddenly becomes a film that turns loud and obvious – replacing General Dyer with the Defence Minister in the Jalianwalla Bagh sequence and then him killing Ajay, for example. Perhaps the film really should have been the journey of the awakening of the protagonists and ended with that. Further, the rounding off is most unsatisfactory. The film starts as Sue’s story shifting to the group so what happens now to her film now? The end interviews of the youth countrywide supporting the stand of the protagonists is dangerous as again taking law into one’s hands and killing off undesirable elements of society isn’t really the answer.
There are other problems – in a film where you have gone in for authenticity in terms of look, behaviour of characters how does the Air Force pilot have such long Hindi film hero hair?! Perhaps the director could also have stayed more with their characters during their transformation. At times the flashbacks into history appear excessive and extra long but maybe one has to give the director the benefit of doubt here that the facts were presented in greater detail for today’s youth who are quite clueless about the freedom struggle. The breaking of the sequence of Siddharth killing his father doesn’t work at all. And yes, the film could have been edited tighter and shortened by a good half an hour or so. The lukkhagiri sequences are repetitive and the auditioning of actors too could easily have been trimmed. Also, wasn’t their friend’s radio show at night called Raat Baaki? So how come the climax at the Radio Station is in the daytime?
Technically one has to mention the splendid camerawork of Binod Pradhan (Some extremely well-done on-location shooting in Delhi – India Gate has never looked better!), the Production Design of Samir Chanda, the costumes by Loveleen Bains and Arjun Bhasin and above all the brilliant Musical Score by AR Rahman. The film sees Rahman give his best and prove why he is yards ahead of any other Music Director in the country. The Music too is extremely well used in the film according to the mood of the film and without lip synch rather than as a typical song.
All in all, a great effort made by a lot of heart, Rang De Basanti is definitely worth a dekho but one cannot accept the solution the film comes up with!
Hindi, Drama, Black & White and Color