Vantage point

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Review of Rang De Basanti

So I watched Rang De Basanti. Big deal. Who hasn't? And I am going to review it. Well again, who hasn't? Everyone and their Uncle has reviewed it on their blog, and Ramanand has anti-reviewed it.

I did not LOVE the movie. And I did not HATE the movie. For me, it fell somewhere in between, with many negatives and many positives, and I am not sure what the result will be when the weighted average is calculated.

The fact that it was a Hindi movie I did not HATE, which means it is already one of the best Hindi movies of the year. The 'characterisation', if I can call it that, of James McKinley through his diary. very well written, and somehow reminiscent of The Green Mile. The portrayal of the Bhagat Singh story. This movie, through the sepia flashbacks, narrates the story of Bhagat Singh and his companions a lot better than the buy-1-take-2-free movies that came out a few years back. The editing in the second half is pretty decent. The story moves very rapidly after the plane crash, and does not waste too much time. Hindi movies, after a 'twist' tend to ramble and drag on, but this one moved pretty rapidly. The music is good, and has been placed beautifully. The songs do not seem like hurdles or "go for a smoke" breaks. The performances of Kunal Kapoor and Sharman Joshi are very real and fresh, and they get into the characters of Aslam and Sukhi with remarkable ease. And yes, the biggest positive is that the movie does a decentish job of narrating everything very realistically, so it gets a fraction of you quite involved in the movie.

The movie, however, suffers from confused positioning. Is this an 'aspirational' movie like Swades, or is it a semi-fantasy like Lagaan? As far as the basic story is concerned, each and every Indian must have thought about it a hundred times over. The usual 'all these bloody politicians must be shot like dogs' fantasy. In those terms, it is just slightly different than Sunny-Deol-Rajnikanth type movies, in that, the screenplay is a lot more polished. But look beyond the screenplay, and the movie doesn't have much to say. It is no different from what a couple of Kamal Hassans tried to tell us through Hindustaani(a movie remembered more for the sheer poetic brilliance of its lyrics - telephone dhun mein hasnewaali, melbourne macchli machalnewaali... but I digress).

As an aspirational movie, it falls well short of Swades, where the story was written after some thought. Even the sermons in Swades had some originality and depth, and in fact attempted to negate previous filmi sermons. While Gowarikar didn't give us a full fledged report about what to do, it was his honest attempt to give his inputs, and they were worth pondering over. Plus, the gradual transformation of Mohan Bhargav was portrayed well. In RDB, the transformation is too hurried. Bhagat Singh and co did not become revolutionaries overnight, driven by personal vendatta. They had read about several ideologies, and a lot of thinking over a long period of time, went into defining their beliefs and their actions. And since the "solutions" are too generic, the sort that any kid could have come up with, the movie doesn't really make you think(unless your intellectual capacity is like that of the couple sitting next to me during the movie, but they are topic for a separate post).

As a semi-fantasy movie, there are just too many bones of contention that stick out. In a semi-fantasy movie, if something unreal is being shown, it is the writer/director's job to portray it convincingly. I should not have to do the extra thinking of justifying the bones of contention. For instance in Lagaan, you don't agonise about how a British officer could possibly bet tax collection on a cricket match. Or why a British woman would help Indian villagers. But in this movie, three points stick out like Parthiv Patel in the Indian cricket team.

One, why does the Defence Minister criticise the pilot in such crass words and without any justification inspite of his great track record? Though MiG crashes have been blamed on pilots a couple of times, it has not been done in such a PR-disaster-ish manner.
Two, why does the police lathi charge a group of peaceful youngsters, women and children in full view of TV cameras? I am not saying the government is too nice-and-moral to do so. I am saying it would not be stupid enough to do so in front of TV cameras, with a Minister standing there. Clearly, it has been shown to draw a parallel with Jalianwala Baag. Quite a clumsy and unconvincing effort.
Three, when the guys are on radio, telling the world that they are just 5 youngsters and not terrorists, and they have not harmed anyone while taking over the radio station, why does the government eliminate them using commandoes, again in full view of the media.

It just seems too unconvincing, and the directors has not done a good job of writing these parallels.

As far as performances are concerned, Aamir just doesn't fit into the role properly. He seems very awkward and unconvincing. His carefreeness is not as natural as the carefreeness of Akash in Dil Chahata Hai and his transformation is not as convincing as Mohan in Swades(look at me, I am saying Shahrukh acted better than Aamir! :)). Atul Kulkarni too turns in a less-than-memorable performance, mainly because of a badly sketched role.

The biggest flaw of the movie for me is that in the end, I did not sympathize with anyone but Ajay Rathore and his mother. I think of the five friends as a bunch of idiots. They are not unrealistic. After all, reality throws up more 'unrealistic' killers, like the Joshi-Abhyankar case. If 5 well-to-do urban kids could commit cold blooded murders of innocent families for "thrill", then 5 rich urban kids killing a corrupt politician is not unrealistic. It is just not worthy of too much sympathy and respect. Which is what the movie tries to draw for them, and fails.