There are many in India who question the decision of the Film Federation of India to nominate Rang De Basanti for the Academy Awards, citing their preference for Omkara or Lage Raho Munnabhai, (even KANK) as the best of this year's Bolly-fare.
While most of the choices are truly meritorious (who can remember another year where so many films were so well-made and received such enthusiastic responses from cine-goers and critics, alike?), according to this writer Rang De Basanti has that little extra edge over all others.
Let's talk technical.
Rang De Basanti scores in most technical aspects. An instance in point would be the scene where Aamir Khan's two avtaars - DJ and Chandrashekhar Azad - are juxtaposed on the screen, one in glorious colour, the other in stark sepia. That single visual (one of many) is emblematic of the dualities in the film, whether of the past versus the present, or of people who try to right wrongs and end up becoming the wrong-doers themselves. And let’s not forget what great editing and special effects have gone into making these kinds of juxtapositions and flashbacks possible. If the editing of the film is at par with Fanaa’s, the computer-aided special effects rank with Krrish and Dhoom 2, whose action sequences were – there’s no other word for it – superbly slick, if reminiscent of the Matrix and the Mission Impossible series, respectively.
Now, let’s talk plot.
Omkara, brilliant film that it was, is not original in its story-line, however universal it may be. Vishal Bhardwaj acknowledges the same in the opening credits of the film by sub-titling the film as “An Adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello”. Bhardwaj’s greatness lies in the completely clever way he imported medieval Italy and made it rural Uttar Pradesh. The same greatness is enhanced by the kind of performances he has culled from his actors, whether it is Billo Chaman Bahar (Bipasha Basu) or the inimitable Langda Tyagi (Saif Ali Khan).
Lage Raho Munnabhai has a truly interesting story, particularly in terms of cause-and-effect. Picture this: a thug has fallen for a radio-jockey just by listening to her programme and through unfair means, he manages to win a date with her. In trying to impress her, he bites off more than he can chew and is forced to learn Gandhian philosophy so he can get another date with her. The rest is, as they say, history (pardon the pun!). Director Rajkumar Hirani is a brilliant film-maker because of the seamless way he has told a story. One simple comedy attains so many nuances that are bound to touch several chords in several groups of people – the lonely and aged, the youth, the Gandhians, those that have been targeted by unscrupulous builders (and we know there are many), the youth, and that is just naming a few.
Rang De Basanti, on the other hand, has not one story brimming with multiple issues, but multiple stories brimming with few, yet identifiable issues. A need to change a corrupt status quo is just one them. Other stories include the latch-key kid who resents his father but does not mind living off him; the twenty-something university student who does not want to grow up; a rediscovery of the past; a reckoning with the present; and finally, a realisation that the future has to be shaped, and shaped by the present’s generations.
There are no cyber-centric futuristic portrayals (as were seen in the Matrix or Terminator), nor are there any horrific depictions of the past (Holocaust, anyone?). The film addresses each and every one of us, irrespective of our age. How vividly real is its depiction of most people’s attitude – that the state of their country, their society is not their responsibility! The fact that DJ (Aamir Khan) refuses to leave his university five years after he should have is indicative of Gen X and Y's very real fear of a world gone to rot, of a world which has nothing to offer to them. The film not just portrays this malaise, but also addresses the problem and offers a solution. Remember Ajay Rathod’s (R. Madhavan) exhortation to DJ and his friends – that it’s easy to complain about the state of the nation, but they (we?), as citizens, do nothing about it.
Here’s a question for the sceptics: Plot and technical aspects aside, which film has wielded such clout on the social consciousness of a jaded and cynical Indian citizenry that the same citizenry actually raised its single voice and brought about justice for murdered model Jessica Lall? Which other film has acted so powerfully on the minds and consciences of people that it has prompted them to go beyond themselves and their concerns, and act as a Nation for sake of an individual? Yes, it is exactly this that has taken Rang De Basanti from being a mere modern classic to a powerful cult film.
Why Rang De Basanti deserves to win
Simple. Any film which becomes a cult film, which traverses the silver screen into real life and guides an entire nation, which is packed fully with brilliance in all its aspects, which addresses a problem universal, and which tries to offer grounds for discussing solutions, deserves top honours and recognition.
Why Rang De Basanti may not win
Let’s face it, something exotic, something bygone, and something which is just plain wrong and horrifying is far more exciting/appealing to the human mind. (The history of the Academy Awards is testament to this rhetoric, judging by the number of honours heaped on Holocaust films.) This year, Deepa Mehta’s Water fits all three categories.
The story of a child, married off and widowed before she enters a double digit age, and the horrifying life that she is forced to endure in a widow-ashram is one which would capture anyone’s fancy. Particularly since it’s based on true accounts. Moreover, who abroad has really heard of Chandrashekhar Azad and his cohorts, barring the odd history buff?
Rang De Basanti was a tough choice to make, I would hazard, but it is probably the best reality check we have been privileged to see in recent times. That, and its sheer originality puts it a touch above all others. Here’s hoping for India’s first Academy Award, in the film category.