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Director : Music : Starring :
Aamir Khan, Siddharth, Atul Kulkarni, Sharman Joshi, Kunal Kapoor, Soha Ali Khan Pataudi, Alice Patten, R. Madhavan, Waheeda Rehman, Kirron Kher and Om Puri
By Subhash K Jha, Indo-Asian News Service
So early during the year, when you're least expecting it, this film comes along to grab you by your soul. It happened last year at this time when Sanjay leela Bhansali's BLACK gatecrashed into our purview.
It's happened again this year. RANG DE BASANTI is undoubtedly THE FILM OF THE YEAR. It’s theme is so excitingly original, the tonal textures are so untried and yet so visually emotionally and aesthetically energized, you wonder how such a near-flawless merger of history and fiction could be achieved with such editing and directorial cogency.
In every sense of the word RANG DE BASANTI is a winner. Its aesthetic values and characterizations fill you with amazement and elation. It's a gloriously triumphant look at today's lives. And yet it audaciously takes a sweeping arching look at history for answers to the Big Question.
Where has today's generation gone wrong? Why is the nation so inured in corruption? And why are we so enamoured of the stagnant status quo?
Are we scared to sweep the garbage? Lofty thoughts, often swept by popular art under a carpet of cynicism. Not this time! Rakeysh Mehra achieves a stirring and stunning synthesis of social relevance and mesmeric storytelling. His first film AKS was about the supernatural. RANG DE BASANTI too has a supernatural quality to it. Though on this occasion that quality comes from within a contemporary 'natural' setting rather than any desire to seek answers to our present-day imbroglio in other-worldly explanations.
From the word go, we are led into a world where youthful aspirations are aligned to the socio-political reality of a country on the brink. RANG DE BASANTI is a film on the edge. It jumps and careens across lives prancing on the precipice of the contemporary and the historical.
"Is desh ka kuch nahin hoga!" How many times have we said this to ourselves and to others?
Mehra's protagonists, an assorted bunch of collegians and post-college friends, are played with amazingly casual grace by Aamir Khan (DJ), Siddharth (Karan), Sharman Joshi (Sukhi), Kunal Kapoor (Aslam) and Soha Ali Khan (Sonia).
Into their world of endless fun and aimless aspirations comes a pretty and brainy British girl named Sue (the lovely and graceful debutant Alice Patten). Prompted by her colonist-grandfather's diary, Sue wants to make a film on the life of the legendary Indian freedom fighters - you know, Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, the works.
And guess what? Sue wants to cast DJ and gang as the revolutionaries!
The guffaws and the giggles that follow Sue's dreams fade away, as this youthful brigade of adrift dreamers gets down to the ritual of acquainting itself with Indian history.
RANG DE BASANTI dares to point fingers, and tells us where we've gone wrong. It isn't only a film about the education of a moor less generation; it's also an outstandingly accomplished piece of cinema. Mehra proves himself an outstanding raconteur and technician. With the deft and diligent editor (P S Bharathi) tailoring the past to merge fluently into the present, and Binod Pradhan's camera capturing Delhi and its surroundings as a character rather than cities, Mehra's job of bringing the past into the same line of vision as contemporary India, is rendered inevitable and unforgettable.
RANG DE BASANTI is an extremely ambitions film. It tries to educate the generations in Independent India who have brought the country to its current crisis of moral and political corruption. But it never gets hysterical or polemical, thanks to Prasoon Joshi and Rensil D Silva's conversational yet penetrating dialogues.
Mani Rathnam attempted the same theme in a different less dramatic light in YUVA. Rakeysh Mehra goes many steps ahead. He blends historical events from the past (e.g the massacre by Britishers at Jallianwala Bagh) with today's newspaper headlines (the MIG war-planes scam). The film-within-a-film format (earlier attempted in films as diverse in language and intent as Karel Reisez's THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN and Mrinal Sen's AKALER SANDHANE) gives the narrative the texture of a life lived in layered luminosity.
Not for a second does Rakeysh Mehra falter in his vision. The story of today's youth, their lack of connectivity with their past, and the prevalent moral degeneration of the nation, could quite easily have lapsed into a holier-than-thou jingoistic exposition.
RANG DE BASANTI works wonderfully and exceptionally as both a political parable and a spanking story on the scars of the times. In the fusion of fact and fiction, style and content the film is both teasing and tempting. While you applaud the filmmaker's immense stronghold over his storytelling the characters never seem dwarfed by their ambience.
You come away, haunted and bewildered by the issues that Mehra raises without letting his story suffer in the process of linking the modern tale with history. You come away from RANG DE BASANTI enchanted by the natural verve of its songs and dances, its director's flair creating fissures and feeling from within the characters rather than imposing creative authority from outside.
This is the most aesthetic 'Indian' film since Sanjay Bhansali's DEVDAS, though miles removed in colour and mood. The 'actors' (if what the cast does can be described as acting!) mesh so well with each other that the volatile thematic strands (for instance the friendship that grows between the rabid Hindu played by Atul Kulkarni and the liberal Muslim Kunal Kapoor) never bind down the narration.
The free-flowing enchantment induced by this film about the simmering discontent of a nation and a generation hurling into damnation is so real and yet so surreal, you wonder if there can ever be a film so filled with indignant ideas and yet so calm and spacious in its storytelling.
In hundreds of ways Mehra could've milked every frame for emotions. Where he could've opted for melodrama he pulls back… and lets the tears flow only when the MIG pilot (Madhavan, in an endearing cameo) perishes. The song during the funeral sung by Lata Mangeshkar, picturized on the mother (Waheeda Rehman) rips your hearts open.
There're interludes and visuals in RANG DE BASANTI, which shall remain alive forever. There may be better films. But there will never be another one quite like this one.