Friday, January 27, 2006
Mohe rang de basanti
From N. Chandra’s “Ankush” to Rahul Rawail’s “Arjun” to Mani Ratnam’s “Yuva’” the theme of a disillusioned youth taking on the system is not entirely new to Indian cinema. So, does Rakeysh Mehra’s “Rang de Basanti” deliver? Yes it does. Does it falter? Yes it does. Does it fall prey to the now all too-familiar trap of “High-on-style-low-on-substance”? Partially. Does it pack a punch? Well, not a knockout, but it hits close to home.
Weaving the heroic deeds of Bhagat Singh, Azad, Bismil, Rajguru and Ashfaq Khan in the same fabric as today’s beer-guzzling, self-indulgent youth is a challenge for any director. Rakeysh Mehra does it with a fair amount of flair. He’s strongly supported by Binod Pradhan’s brilliant cinematography and AR Rahman’s zingy music. In particular, Mr. Pradhan, a Vidhu Vinod favourite (from “Jaane bhi do yaaron” to “Khamosh” to “Parinda”, “1942” and of course “Munnabhai”), does a fantastic job. Delhi has rarely looked as inspiring as it does here and any self-respecting Delhi-ite should see the movie for this reason alone. Throw in another adman, Prasoon Joshi, for lyrics (“thodisi dhool meri dharti ki mere watan ki”) and dialogues (“Ek taang pe past hai, aur ek taang pe future, is liye to present pe mutte hain” – crude but bang on) and you’ve got a winning combination.
The ensemble and largely unknown, star cast does ample justice to their roles. Aamir is expectedly meticulous in his character of DJ (Daljit – who confesses to hanging around the campus five years after he has graduated, only because he likes the power he wields in the university). The ever-reliable and hopelessly underrated Atul Kulkarni delivers yet another power-packed performance as the hardliner Laxman Pandey. Just for that one gut-wrenching scene when he sees his own political party (a well-aimed shot at the BJP’s Hindutva) let him down, Mr. Kulkarni totally overshadows the big Khan. Newcomer Siddharth lives up to his cynical and spoilt-brat character of Karan, as does Kunal Kapoor to Aslam, the indifferent artist. A Hindi-speaking Alice Patten is a pleasant surprise in her role as Sue Mckinley.
It’s not tough to figure out where the movie falters. Critics would gun for length, especially the seemingly interminable outings of the protagonists. Viewers might not visually adjust to the interlacing of sepia-toned scenes of our freedom-fighters with the loud spray paints of DJ and his gang. Eventually both merge in the climax, which itself might be a bit much for today’s multiplexing audience. In fact, the rushed-up climax probably doesn’t do justice to the overall theme of the youth fighting the system.
And what of the theme? Are today’s youth concerned about the country? I don’t have much to go by. Most 23-year olds I saw in the theatre reached for their cell-phones once the movie was over. Probably they didn’t read Mr. Mehra’s end-text, reminding the audience of how many young pilots have died flying MiGs. For their country. Because an apathetic Government refused to accept that these flying coffins were unsafe. Or, as the movie suggests, maybe even because a corrupt politician did them in.
I guess today’s youth would rather head for the nearest mall or pub. Some would even be leaving for greener pastures abroad (as Aslam in the movie muses, “ghar ko saaf karne ke liye, haath kaun gande karega?”). After all the job of sacrificing your life the way that Bhagat Singh and all the other young freedom fighters did in the past, can be left to the likes of Satyendra Dubey and Manjunath.