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Courtesy: Taran Adarsh, IndiaFM
In the 1960s and 1970s, patriotism in Hindi films often turned jingoistic. It looked forced, at times unreal, the attempt to arouse patriotic feelings was hardly subtle. The genre is treated differently today. Patriotism in Hindi films looks real, it isn't loud anymore, it's juxtaposed smoothly in the narrative.
Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra merges two plots in Rang De Basanti. The first is about a group of friends, their bonding, the carefree lifestyle they lead. The second plot pertains to the past, when freedom fighters sacrificed their lives during the pre-independence era. Without doubt, Mehra's intentions are noble, since portions in the film do succeed in pricking your conscience.
Mehra draws parallels between Indians ruled by the British and Indians ruled by corrupt politicians today. The message is subtle at first, but echoes piercingly before it reaches its finale. The transition of the five friends from meaningless to meaningful existence is done brilliantly.
But the impact Rang De Basanti ought to make gets diluted to an extent...
If the awakening, after one of their friends dies in an air crash, is a master stroke from the writing point of view, the sequence of events that lead to the climax take an idealistic route. The friends enter a radio station, force the staffers to leave the premises, go Live, confess to the world that they've gunned down the Defence Minister for certain reasons. By then, the commandos get into action and the radio station turns into a battleground. A better finale was the need of the hour!
Also, Rang De Basanti unfolds at a leisurely pace all through. After establishing the characters in the first 30 minutes, the story doesn't really race forward. The sepia-tone parallels are engaging at times, not always. Besides, the message that the film carries with it tends to get diluted towards the climax.
Most importantly, a common man buying a ticket to watch Rang De Basanti may definitely be aware that it's all about youth and patriotism [thanks to the well-crafted promos], but the treatment of the subject isn't the type that'll meet with universal acceptance. The handling of the subject would restrict it to the elite, the thinking viewer or those who frequent the multiplexes. If this faction of movie-going audience might give it a thumbs up, the aam junta or those looking for a solid entertainer might look the other way.
Let's face it, Rang De Basanti offers entertainment, but it's not your run-of-the-mill kind of a movie.
Sue [Alice Patten], a young, London-based film-maker chances upon the diaries of her grandfather, who served in the British Police Force in India during the freedom struggle. Excited about these memoirs, she makes plans to shoot a film on the Indian revolutionaries mentioned in the diaries.
She flies to Delhi and casts a group of five friends to play the pivotal roles of these revolutionaries. The youngsters are DJ [Aamir Khan], Karan [Siddharth], Aslam [Kunal Kapoor], Sukhi [Sharman Joshi] and Sonia [Soha Ali Khan]. One of their foes, Laxman [Atul Kulkarni], also joins them subsequently.
However, products of modern India, the five youngsters initially refuse to be part of the project as they don't identify with these characters from the past. Not surprising, considering that they are a part of a generation of Indians that believes in consumerism. To them issues like patriotism and giving one's life for one's beliefs is the stuff text-books are made of. They would rather party than be patriots.
In the film, both the 1930s British India and the India today run parallel and intersect with each other at crucial points.
Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra opens the cards at the very outset. Alice's sequences at the start, right till her arrival in Delhi and conducting a screen-test, are intriguing. But the film actually gets a push the moment the focus shifts to the five friends. From being hesitant to eventually agreeing to enact the roles of the revolutionaries in Alice's film, these sequences take the film to an all-time high. In between, the sequences featuring Atul Kulkarni and Kiron Kher only cement the goings-on.
The glitch is that the narrative goes into the past and returns to the present with alarming regularity, which tends to confuse the viewer at times. Besides, after the first 30 minutes or so, there's not much movement in the story.
If the first half abounds in light moments, the post-interval portions get into a serious mode. The story takes a turn when one of their friends [Madhavan] expires in an air crash. The film holds your attention right till the elimination of the Defence Minister [Mohan Agashe], but the remainder, which leads to the climax, is a downer. The climax should've been the highpoint of the film, taking the film to a crescendo, but it doesn't. In fact, the climax ruins the impact considerably.
Another drawback is that the film goes into a major flashback in the second half. Agreed, it has been deftly executed, but the film could've done without those portions. The writers should've come to the point straightaway: The air crash, the awakening and the revenge. Even the songs -- in the second half specifically -- don't really contribute in taking the story forward.
Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra has an eye for detail and it is more than evident in his second endeavor. But it's the writing [screenplay: Rensil D Silva and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra; story-script: Kamlesh Pandey] that's not foolproof. Yet, there's no denying that Mehra proves his prowess in a number of sequences. Two shining examples: Aamir breaks down while having supper with Alice and the group getting upset after hearing the Defence Minister's speech. Technically, it's a first-rate effort. Dialogues [Prasoon Joshi, Rensil D Silva] are excellent. The usage of Punjabi words gives the film that certain freshness.
A.R. Rahman's music is ordinary. Barring 'Paathshala' and the title track, Rahman's score doesn't stay with you after the screening has ended. Cinematography [Binod Pradhan] is outstanding. The lensman captures the essence of Delhi beautifully. Stunts [Allan Amin] are okay. Visual effects [Pankaj Khandpur] are topnotch.
You expect Aamir Khan to deliver yet another astounding performance in Rang De Basanti and he does, but it's not Aamir alone that you applaud in the film. Of course, Aamir gets into the skin of the character and delivers a knockout performance from start to end, but the film has more gems when it comes to performances: Siddharth [excellent], Atul Kulkarni [fantastic], Soha Ali Khan [a complete revelation; efficient], Kunal Kapoor [natural] and Sharman Joshi [powerful].
Alice Patten is brilliant and besides delivering a flawless performance, her style of speaking Hindi is sure to win a lot of hearts. Madhavan is likeable. Waheeda Rehman is graceful as ever. Both Om Puri and Anupam Kher don't get much scope. Kiron Kher is exceptional yet again. Mohan Agashe, Steven Mckintosh, K.K. Raina and Lekh Tandon are adequate.
On the whole, Rang De Basanti will have its share of advocates and adversaries. A well-made film, it caters more to the elite and the thinking viewer than the aam junta or the masses. At the box-office, the business will be clearly divided: The film will do exceptional business at multiplexes, but won't be as impressive at single screens of certain circuits.
From the business point of view, the strategy of releasing the film extensively [enormous print count], with 14-16 shows a day at multiplexes and also inflated ticket rates will result in the film setting new records in the first week. The icing is the 4-day weekend, which will only compliment its business.
For the distributors, who have bought the film for heavy prices, the extra-ordinary opening, the first week billing and the business from multiplexes in days to come will help them reach the safety mark.