Rang De Basanti
Movies with a patriotic theme have to walk a tightrope. To really work, they must appeal to our heart and ignite, so to speak, a patriotic fervor in us. But they must do this without overdoing the jingoism factor. Rang De Basanti walks the tightrope perfectly in the first half. It loses its balance a little and stumbles a little in the second half but not enough to fall off the rope.
Sue(Alice Patten), a documentary filmmaker in London, is the granddaughter of one of the commanders in the British army during India’s freedom struggle. From one of his diaries, she learns of the bravery of freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad and wants to make a film about them. Travelling to India, she meets her friend Sonia(Soha Ali Khan), studying in Delhi University, and through her, gets introduced to some more of her friends(Aamir Khan, Sidharth, Kunal Kapoor, Sharman Joshi). Soon Sue realizes that finding actors to play the parts in her film is not an easy task.
The film is a patriotic film crossed with a coming-of-age film. So instead of love, friendship, romance and all those other emotions that the protagonists in any film from the coming-of-age genre usually discover, the youth here ‘grow up’ by discovering a love for their country. The film gets everything right when the group is growing up but once they have grown up, there is a tendency to oversimplify and dumb down things.
RDB has one of the freshest stories I have seen. The plot device it uses - the British filmmaker trying to film a documentary - to provide the connection between the past and the present is very innovative. The way the screenplay has been developed to draws parallels between the different time periods is brilliant and leads to some exhilarating moments as we see the present mirroring the past. It conveys, in a rather different way, the same message conveyed by Indian - though the enemy might have changed, the fight must go on…
Everything works in the first half. There are genuine laughs; there is sweet romance; and there are goose bumps as we realize where the story is going. With likeable characters, bright colors, trendy music and fast cuts, the film radiates a sense of fun even as the patriotism factor is slowly brought in. But there is subtlety in subtlety in the way it is presented and nothing is pushed down our throats. We believe in the gradual changes the group undergoes and we understand the factors causing the change.
It is almost as if the director realized during the intermission that the film might be too high-concept and appeal only to the urban, college-going crowd. So he ends up dumbing it down it so that it could have a wider reach. So we get a simplistic scandal that we can relate to, a straightforward way for the protagonists to get drawn into it, Hindu-Muslim bonding, a single bad guy representative of the ills of the country and unbelievable happenings. Even the past-present, parallels, which I loved initially, end up being overdone until I felt like screaming “Yes, I get it!” There are certainly some powerful moments and effective sequences but these don't have the same effect as before because of the over-emphasis.
Aamir has a remarkable ability to generate myriad expressions with just a small twitch of his face. I first noticed that in Dil Chahta Hai and he does the same here. He is delightful in the first half as he goofs around. His expressions when he realizes Alice speaks Hindi or in a hilarious one-sided wrestling match are superb. And when he breaks down in a key scene in the second half, it is completely natural. An underplayed, great performance. Sidharth has as much screen time as Aamir and makes a mark. The most cynical in the group, he is able to convey intensity and sadness remarkably well without a need for words. Alice Patten speaks in Hindi effortlessly and makes us believe in her passion. There is not a false step from any of the others in the cast either and they fit their roles perfectly.
Songs are woven into the screenplay wonderfully and a couple of them are placed perfectly to increase the effectiveness of the happenings on screen. Rahman’s background score is also soaring in many of the sequences. The cinematography is gorgeous and the scenes in Punjab give us the feeling of being right there.