It is a pleasure and privilege to have my friend Katherine G. write this post. Katherine (RN, MSN, and MBA) is a Forensic Nurse Consultant and lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her daughter. She is also an avid Aamir Khan fan and a regular contributor to discussions at Aamir's blog. Please join me in thanking her for sharing her wonderful insight on a remarkable film, the soul of which is embedded in its music. Thank you Katherine!
I was honored when my friend theBollywoodFan asked if I would write a guest post about any Aamir Khan film of my choosing. Shukriyaa, bahut dhanyavaad mera dost! This is such a creative site and I wish him much continued success.
The 2006 film Rang De Basanti (RDB) speaks to me on so many levels as a non-Indian. It’s a wonderful film about friendship, courage and spirit. Although it was made in India and targeted a younger audience, I feel overwhelmingly that this film could be about many countries in the world.
I grew up in the late turbulent 1960s and early '70s. America was changing, whether it wanted to or not. In 1963, the world witnessed as our young idealistic President Kennedy was assassinated. Several years later in 1968, we lost two more dynamic young men, civil rights leader Dr. M. L. King and presidential hopeful, Bobby Kennedy. We were in the midst of a very unpopular war in Southeast Asia and college campuses across the country became a launch pad for new ideas and political awareness. A real mistrust developed after four students were killed on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio while protesting the war. The younger generation began to see the importance of scrutinizing our leaders and questioning corruption. So RDB really reinforces for me that no one should be afraid to speak out for truth.
In Rang De Basanti, British documentary filmmaker Sue McKinley (Alice Patten) arrives on a New Delhi college campus with very little money, her grandfather’s (Steven Mackintosh) diary from his days as a British jailer and a take no prisoners’ attitude. Sue is determined to tell the story of five men and one woman from the diary that fought for the Indian Independence Movement. After holding a series of failed auditions on campus, Sue’s friend Sonia (Soha Ali Khan) introduces her to a group of her closest friends, DJ/Chandrasekhar (Aamir Khan), Karan/Bhagat (Siddharth Narayan), Aslam/Ashfaqulla (Kunal Kapoor) and Sukhi/Shivaram (Sharman Joshi). These four give a new meaning to the term fun loving and adventurous. All four friends, led by DJ, reluctantly agree to join Sonia and act in Sue’s film. The last member to join the cast is Laxman/Ram (Atul Kulkarni), a hardnosed local political activist that dislikes Aslam because he is a Muslim. Things are very tense at first between the guys and Laxman...
...but they soon relax as filming starts. As filming continues, we start seeing changes in perspective and values as our young actors' lives start merging with their characters as they are shooting film scenes. They soon realize that they do have some things in common with their revolutionary counterparts from the past. History does have a strange way of repeating itself.
We rejoice as Sonia get’s engaged to the handsome fighter pilot Lt. Ajay Rathod (R. Madhavan). Ajay’s proposal was a very beautiful scene indeed. He takes Sonia and her friends to one of his favorite places near the air base to ask the big question. A. R. Rahman’s beautiful "Tu Bin Bataye" is playing appropriately in the background for the two lovers.
Aside from the wonderful music, like the colorful title song "Rang De Basanti", I found one of the best parts of the film was the carefree moments that the group shared with each other, just being themselves,...
...as they did while we hear "Paathshaala" and "Khalbali". In my opinion, the latter is the most powerful song in the film as we see freedom fighters demanding basic human rights from their jailers. (Here's Rahman performing it live in concert.)
Sadly, we learn that Ajay is tragically killed while flying a mission, after which we see the humbling "Lukka Chuppi". After Ajay’s death, crash investigators release information that his crash may have been due to faulty MIG-21 parts obtained in a corrupt deal involving the Defense Minister (Mohan Agashe) and power broker Raj Singhania (Anupam Kher), Karan’s father. Events are set into motion for a peaceful candlelight march and protest at the India Gate Memorial. Things turn ugly as police units are called in to remove protesters and Ajay’s mother (Waheeda Rehman) is critically injured in the altercation, which is captured in "Khoon Chala".
*Spoiler Alert* Our young friends decide to take action against the corrupt Defense Minister just as the freedom fighters they play in their film had many years ago. Karan assumes the all important task of putting a stop to his father’s corrupt business practices. Newspapers and television show fellow politicians labeling the Defense Minister as a hero. Later, following "Roobaroo", the five admit their crime after taking over a late night show at All India Radio when it is speculated that the Defense Minister was killed by terrorists.
It’s interesting in the beginning of this film to see how apathetic the main characters are while asking why Ajay is so willing to sacrifice his life for their nation. By the end of the film, although tragic, we see that they have come full circle in their thought process and acts. (See Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's note at the bottom of this post.)
Rang De Basanti does send out a very powerful message. The system is broken, not just in India but in nations all over the world, and we’ve become conditioned to believe that there’s nothing that we can do to change corruption when we see it.
It is geared toward a youthful group indeed, but older viewers can certainly empathize with the films message. I highly recommend this film to those who believe life has to be lived status quo and especially to those who are in the midst of voting for new government leaders. Remember, as DJ says, you either live your life tolerating things the way they are or take responsibility to change them. I for one feel the latter is best. Thank you to the cast and crew of Rang de Basanti for a most memorable film.
The following note by Director Rakeysh Mehra was published in the 18 February 2009 edition of Filmfare magazine. (Click image to enlarge)
Rang De Basanti (2006) at the Aazaadi Sawaari series.