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Believe it or not...

Rang de Basanti is a film cleverly poised between contemporaneity and antiquity. On the one hand, there are the sweeping nationalistic gestures of Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ashfaqullah and Ramprasad Bismil.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2006 04:40 IST

Rang de Basanti is a film cleverly poised between contemporaneity and antiquity. On the one hand, there are the sweeping nationalistic gestures of Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ashfaqullah and Ramprasad Bismil. On the other hand, there’s a subversion of these very heroics by a gang of slangy, reckless good-for-nothing university drop-outs. The former are characters of a film within a film; while the latter are messy versions of the real world. Through this juxtaposition, Rang de Basanti can be visualised as a representation of the dichotomy between contemporary cynicism and past idealism.

In her article Rang de Bizarre (Feb. 21) on the film, Sagarika Ghose believes that the film fails miserably in representing reality. She must remember that she is analysing cinema as an art form. Nowhere does the film force us “to believe that criminal spoilt brats are actually freedom fighters”. Cinema may not concern itself with the prosaic notion of a journalist who wants ‘reality’ to be rooted in the “real believable people in a real believable situation”.

I see in the film a realism which resorts to a mode of perception grounded in the historical and the political. Ghose loses sight of the contemporary social and political matrix. The script of the film tackles the problem of meaning and representation that besets contemporary India through the very conceivable treatment of wayward youth who are roused into making a choice between their existing indifference and a full-scale involvement in countering political brutality.

The Defence Minister that DJ (Aamir Khan) and his pals shoot is a symbolic killing, the death of a system. It is a simplistic effort, no doubt, but that is precisely what it is meant to be. Its crudity should not be mistaken for a contemporary nationalism, although it provokes us to re-examine the Forties nationalist sentiment and interrogate its uncontested legitimacy. Rang de Basanti is an excellent example of the politicisation of youth revolutionised through art depicting an older generation, perhaps similarly misguided.

The realism of the film thus emerges from the contingent as well as from the structures of a material world we inhabit. The technique, though emphasising violence and anarchy, is deeply provocative and interrogative too in its design, endeavouring to shake an environment that is deeply complacent and uncritical. The established categories of realism are, therefore, skilfully displaced through a story that brings out the imaginative construction of an imaginative scenario that is deeply conceivable and ‘believable’.

First Published: Mar 08, 2006 04:40 IST