Rang de Basanti: Not Today

Quick Comments

Watch if: you don’t mind a slow start and middle
Don’t watch if: you’re not in the mood for a social-issues film
Favourite song: Title song (link to the video with English subtitles is at the bottom of this post)
Soundtrack overall: OK, with one or two stand-out numbers

Watched on: Einthusan

If you want to watch a gripping, inspiring movie with an understated romantic note, you should start Rang de Basanti halfway through. In fact, the two halves are so different it’s as though there are two films squashed together; or maybe even three.

I first tried to watch the film several years ago and gave up about half an hour in. In those days, that was a pretty rare thing for me to do, especially with an Aamir Khan film. I just couldn’t find anything to latch on to; we start with the British granddaughter of a colonial officer who after reading her grandfather’s oddly profound diaries, wishes to make a film about Indian revolutionaries. (I have a feeling that filmmakers making films about filmmakers is like writers writng about writers, i.e. probably best not done.) Her bloodless bosses, perhaps unshockingly, don’t see the market for a film essentially about heroes fighting the British made in a country which itself has the world’s biggest film industry by a Brit, and deny her funding. So far, so struggle-story. She does the most upper-middle-class thing ever and runs away to India to make the film herself. Endearingly, she has spent what must have been a considerable portion of the two years she has been preparing to make the film learning Hindi and her accent isn’t nearly as horrendous as mine, which is a nice bit of hope that us English-speakers don’t always have to end up sounding Lagaan-bad.

It was after my Hindi teacher started telling me about a really good film called Rang de Basanti about pilots (?!) that I decided I hadn’t done it justice and began again. The first hour does little in the way of storytelling but does provide some interesting experimentation in the shape of sepia-toned segments on Bhagat Singh and his compatriots, as well as the odd spectacle of a white girl trying to convince Indians to be patriotic about India, a scene impossible to imagine 15 years later. She doesn’t succeed, but personal tragedy triggered by political corruption does, and WHAM we’ve got a bunch of revolutionaries and the film suddenly becomes fantastic. Happily, our main character’s rather insipid-looking film is forgotten and they start assassinating people instead. Yay!

When it finally gets going, Rang de Basanti showcases a beautiful brand of patriotism which is very much of its time; think a more innocent, optimistic Gabbar is Back. Saffron-clad Hindu nationalists, disaffected students, children of politicians and even a foreigner come together to fight for a better India. It’s a hopeful film that feels strange to watch in these relatively dark days. Save it for when we’re allowed to go out and change the world again. 🙂

Rang de Basanti title song

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