Guest post: The soul of Rang De Basanti (2006)

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)


Also see:

Rang De Basanti (2006) at the Aazaadi Sawaari series.

30 comments:

Aline said...

I am thrilled to read this review, Katie and BollywoodFan! Apart from giving a nice insight into the way Rang de Basanti speaks to audiences throughout the world, it is also wonderful proof of the interesting bonding that goes on between Aamir's fans and bloggers! :-)

Brilliant idea to include R. Omkrakash Mehra's director's note just after the post. Very informative...

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Aline, and thank you for your visit and comment! Rang De Basanti is truly exceptional in what it stands for and how it's managed to communicate its ideas to the masses. I think Rakeysh Mehra will forever have a tough act to follow, a film like this is seldom made.

Absolutely agree on the blogs providing a fantastic channel to fans to come together. It's been great to have AK's since the Lagaan DVD days! :)

Cheers.

JJC said...

Welcome Katherine! i would like to comment on your post but will have to raincheck on that. Ive watched rdb once but dont remember anything. I missed watching it in the theatre becuase of horrible freinds so when i saw it by myself at home i huffed and puffed so much i missed what was going on ;\

Filmi Girl said...

Welcome! What a lovely guest post - it really made me want to re-watch RDB with a set of fresh eyes. :)

Bhargav Saikia said...

Well written Katherine :) Thanks for sharing the director's note!

Nicki said...

Thanks TBF for the guest post.

Katherine - since you live in Atlanta, we have to get together!! I love Aamir and I know you do too. :)

Interesting enough, I started off watching part of RDB the other day. I will have to finish it again because it's an awesome movie!

Darshit said...

Love this post. As I also luuuv this movie, I loved everything written abt.

I also would like to share is - When I was studying Commutication Skills at evening classes, we had new classmate. Her name included 'Su' as she was a Korean. and was in Ahmedabad for studies. Instantly everyone started calling her Sue. As RDB was just released then. Once when we got at music shop, she bought DVD of RDB too. I was surprised, she didn't even know English perfectly, how hindi? She told me she saw this movie in plane journey and absolutely loved it. We discussed it over like hours. This was my first experience of meeting someone who is non-Indian and loved Bolly Movies. I didn't know Bolly is such famous !!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Filmi Girl,

Thanks for the welcome...

~KatieG

Anonymous said...

Hello Bhargav,

Glad you liked the post. Thanks...

~KatieG

Anonymous said...

Hi Nicki,

Yes, thanks to BWF for the guest post idea. It was fun to do. Do finish watching the movie....

~KatieG

Anonymous said...

Hello Darshit,

I love Indian films. This one just happens to be one of my favorites. All of my friends that watched this film loved it.

Thanks...

KatieG

gina said...

hey Katie!

That was wonderful and gave a whole new perspective to the movie...now I have to watch again with this new perspective in mind. :-) good idea that including the director's note at the end. Agree with "who believe life has to be lived status quo and especially to those who are in the midst of voting for new government ". very true..puts it in a whole new light..I have seen it from a historical perspective of how carefree, irreverant youth with no moorings or interest in history, turn around and change and become so resposible and sensitive and proactive after acting in the movie and also due to jolt Madhavan's deathand its after effects..

Thanks again for a lovely review.

Gina

theBollywoodFan said...

Thank you all for your comments.

JJC: The raincheck expires this coming weekend! :D

And Darshit, I can certainly relate to your experience -- the first time I met who is now one of my very best friends (she's Cuban American), I was surprised at her knowledge of Hindi cinema. She doesn't speak Hindi either, but she sure knows her films. She was also on our college bhangra team, which won the North American college bhangra contest one year! Today, she is a dentist. And yes, of course she's also an Aamirian =)

theBollywoodFan said...

Katie, that's an interesting note on your friends liking this. You present an excellent case, through your post, of the universality and vast applicability of the message behind it. It's true!

Gina: Thank you for stopping by, and do come again! I'll wait for Katie to respond to your comment as well, but I just wanted to add that I agree completely about the change in perspective of the students in the film being a result of the lack of respect (or knowledge too?) of the historical icons to begin with.

Somewhere, there was a disconnect between the vision of the founders and the actions of those a couple generations following. I don't think it'd be far-fetched to say the essence is similar to that of Barack Obama's speech on race during the presidential campaign, in which he rebuked Reverend Wright. It's certainly a powerful message.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts on Rang de Basanti (excepts from my Review as posted on aamirkhan.org)

As Aamir Khan said in the BAFTA-Interview: The decision to make yet another film on Bhagat Singh was not easy... but it was definitly a very good one.

The story/characters
The idea to mix the story of Bhagat Singh, his group and their fight with the British with historic takes and with modern India and the lack of the youth to take part in politics or social issues was very good and well executed. I did find a piece of myself in every character. The funny DJ who is scared to leave the university because he does not want to become "nobody". The creative Aslam who is trying to live his life despite of all the fanatism in his family and his surrounding. The contemplative Karan who wants to escape his not very lovingly home and his corrupt father by going to America. The anxious Sukhi who feels strong with his friends. All characters - even small parts - are well written and fit beautifully into the story. And - let's face it - not knowing what to do with your life, the lack of interest in politics, not to take a stand in social issues, to take rather than to give - that is not only a problem amongst indians but as well where I live. So with the right "antic" material this story would work in almost every country....

The music and its picturisation
I think it is one of AR Rahman's best. The lyrics (Prasoon Joshi) are so wonderful and the picturisation is just brilliant. In the most frightful scenes like the ones at India Gate you expect something hard and noisy to support the brutal beating of the police but instead you get the very soft and almost sounding like a lovesong "Khoon chala" - and it hits you right into your stomach. And have you ever heard a better song about dying then "Lukka chuppi".... It sounds like if kids are playing with a kite, but the lyrics are just breathtaking....

What about...
the message of the film.

Unlike most people I have never felt that the message of the film is that it is right to shoot a politician when things do not work out the way you want them to be. It is one peak they are driven up.... And imagine.... What if the boys had decided to sue the minister for corruption.... Would a movie like that have any influence on people like it did with Mehras end? I don't think so. And why was there a discussion whether it is right or not to shoot the Minister but not about the fact that the boys were slaughtered - and that is what happend at the end when the commando "I don't want any survivors" was given despite the fact that the boys threw away their guns and gave up with their hands up....

For me the message of the film is to get in touch with your culture, your history, your fellow men and your country by doing something - whether it is to join politics, police force, military, etc. or "just" to take a stand in social issues and support wherever you can. And that is something not only the characters in the movie realise at the end but that is something everybody has to realise. If the attitude of a lot of the young people today does not change from "I don't care" to "I do care", history will indeed repeat itself.

Kristine

Anonymous said...

@ Kathrine

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on my favourite movie. I enjoyed especially the beginning with your comments on the time when you grew up.

Kristine

Joss said...

Thanks for reminding me about all that great music. I followed up the link to see Rahman live in concert. Kalbali is a better song than I remember because I found Aamir's dancing rather distracting! I don't find him to be such a great dancer, but obviously he is an actor first and foremost. Watching the clip I was amazed - that was the first time I had seen a conductor leading a rock band! No body seemed to be watching him, but then that is the lot of conductors, even the ones who stand in front of orchestras!

Anonymous said...

Hi Gina,

Thanks. Glad you liked the post. It does make us want to watch our politician's a little bit closer....


~KatieG

Anonymous said...

Hi Kristine,

Thanks for taking time to read the post.

~KatieG

Anonymous said...

Hello Joss,

I agree with you, Khalbali is a great song.

~KatieG

theBollywoodFan said...

Kristine: Thank you for sharing! I mostly agree with your thoughts, although you do have me wondering about perceptions of the climax. Some of it was discussed in the second half of this post. Most seem to have perceived the murder of the politician as naive and impulsive, and this is only confirmed at the very end at the radio station. You're spot on with the message, of course. The film is certainly worthy of being an all time favorite. And yes, I agree that that climax was needed to make it most effective.

Joss: It's interesting you mention Aamir's dancing skills. I think Dil (1990) opposite Madhuri Dixit did them some real good as far as commercial cinema is concerned, we could almost sense a major progression from QSQT and the other works preceding, to the level an actor needs to be at, in that one film. And that's true about the conductors! As for Khalbali, I like that DJ's dance steps are in sync with the steps from Paathshaala! =)

theBollywoodFan said...

All: I found these fantastic videos with user renditions of Lukka Chuppi:

1) Mahesh on the keyboard; and

2) Harita with vocals and Anubhav on the guitar. It's a particularly difficult one to sing, and she's done it really well.

Both videos are simply excellent, don't you think?

Darshit said...

Well..singing the song is really tough. Harita sings it flawlessly. Loved the video. Even I have noted all the sargam in my post. And can sing it [except Rahman's trademark few lines] but singing full song at a stretch with sargam, is awesome !! Do you know her?

theBollywoodFan said...

I think they've all done an amazing job. And I think it's great that you managed to capture the sargam, great going, and thank you! And Mahesh (from vid #1) has some excellent videos as well.

Sujoy said...

Su...kar mere mann ko ..kiya tu ne kya issaara...!! ;D

theBollywoodFan said...

That bit was hilarious!

Ark_03 said...

@Bollywoodfan

A great effort on your part to bring out this website. Its a pleasure reading your views here.

@Katie
Wonderful analysis of all aspects of the movie,. I would like to add here that the song Lukka Chuppi is one of a very rare combination of a mother - son song. Normally you have brother and sister and lovers singing in a duet. In my opinion this song will always be the top of the chart kinda song.

But I would say hats off to you for such a lovely analysis of the movie

theBollywoodFan said...

Hey there Ark_03, and thanks so much for stopping by! I hope you enjoy some of the other Aamir movie reviews as well, the A-Z listing identifies them :)

celeste said...

Katie!!!!!! I'm so happy reading your brilliant post!!!!! Well done, girl!
Ciao!
Celeste

Anonymous said...

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