Saturday, May 13, 2006

wrong day basanti: scattered thoughts on Rang De Basanti

[april 02, 2006] (Spoilers exist -- in case there's some lucky soul out there who hasn't seen this film yet)

I refuse to evaluate Rang De Basanti by comparing it with other Bollywood releases, recent and not so recent. Such a comparison feels like a device employed to make every Bollywood release look good. Imagine subjecting someone to Sparsh: The Touch, Raat ke Saudagar, No Entry!, Garam Masala and Kisna and then screening this movie. It's a Pavlovian success. This also explains why producers continue to pelt us with trash hoping that we might find a particular relic of rubbish attractive enough.

I have no idea what thesis Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra puuraa naam had for this film. Mehra and Pandey had a wonderfully promising idea of presenting parallels between the militant spirit of revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and a similar outburst among a handful of young Indians of today. The results are disappointing. Mehra is over-zealous with his advertising toolbox. The use of film blur and montages of wipes is irritating. Advertising instructs you in the art of brevity. It's all about saying the most in the least of time. Yet, Mehra seems to be revolting against his background. How else does one explain a film this long that could have clearly benefited from a loss of 60 minutes of audio-visual lard? The prevalence of exposition also underscores this film's aspirations to stay in the mainstream for rewards of ringing cash registers without venturing to make a statement of any interest. Did anyone count the number of times you saw "Coca Cola" in the frames?

The biggest crib from a lot of people, who weren't blinded by the "message" of doing something to fix your country, was the killing of the defence minister. I have to cast my vote here too. If ROM hadn't shown the actual killing, he might've snagged a shard of grace. Alternatively, he could've even devoted some more time to this crucial act. Instead he chooses to inundate the film's first half with a soggy assortment of mainstream cinema familiars: nothing really happens as far as the narrative goes, and ROM even tops it with full-length songs. It's a wonder people returned after the intermission. There could be several reasons for this: they didn't want to waste the large sum of money they just dropped at the box office; they were having a good time talking back to the screen and clearly had to go all the way (way to go!); they were watching it at home and skipped through the songs and the silly bits. So much time is devoted to shots and sequences featuring characters that are just slightly better etched than the dramatis personae of Abbas-Mustan flicks.

This can't be about "doing something about all that you see wrong around you"; this can't be a clarion call to the youth of today to bring about radical change. If it is, the film has failed miserably. The confusion in its vision is all over its running time to see: it tries hard to be a commercial mainstream Bollywood entertainer while also trying to juggle issues of corruption, a lost generation lacking purpose and concern for their land, love, friendship, and trying to pepper the mix by drawing a parallel between the present and the turbulent times that fuelled the militant responses of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru.

The movie echoes Ratnam's Yuva and A R Rahman's soundtrack only amplifies the similarities -- Mehra uses most of the songs in the background (either on the soundtrack or as diegetic music) just as Ratnam did in Yuva. Some songs play longer than others, and only one, ruubaruu (in its first insert) manages to augment the tone of the goings-on on screen without making you fidget and wait till its done. That song is the sole creative saving grace of the film. If only Mehra had wound the film up shortly after Prasoon Joshi's apt lyrics in ruubaruu underscore the fulfillment that brings a smile on the faces of DJ, sukhii, siddhaarth and aslam. Instead, just like Shah Rukh Khan took his own damn time to die in Devdas, Mehra unwinds and meanders with a coda that offers nothing to match this priceless moment. On the contrary, he damages his case by piling on even more incredulities after having shocked the core of logic by presenting his version of Bumping off ministers for dummies.

The other merits of Rahman's contribution can only be evaluated outside the confines of this sorry waste of footage. The background score counterpoints events of the past with contemporary rock riffs; there are a lot of interesting melodies and fragments, and on he even scores a coup of sort with the songs. Prasoon Joshi's lyrics manage to make their way through further than most of the other Hindi excursions that Rahman has attempted. The choice of Chitra for the exuberant title song is a big mistake and the duet with Lata smacks more of a need to achieve a personal milestone ("I sang with Lata"). The song that I liked most on the soundtrack (ruubaruu) also became my favourite in the film thanks to the wonderful insert. If only the film had matched the complex highs of Rahman's work.

What I liked in the film were a handful of moments, too short to draw any attention:

* That short moment when DJ's grandfather (a wasted Lekh Tandon) returns home and shares a few words with him

* the sequence at the Golden Temple backed by a wondrously calming rendition of ek Omkaar. That sequence betrayed a confidence that the rest of this enterprise spent an eternity seeking in vain.

* lakshman paa.nDe (Atul Kulkarni) apologising to aslam (Kunal Kapoor)

In his first film Aks (the review: Sucks), Mehra took a competent thriller like Fallen, heaped a can of Hindu mythology onto it, seasoned it with some of the finest ham seen in the late twentieth century pantheon of Bollywood acting, and then assaulted our senses with his gourmet gunk. In this film, Mehra had more to be proud of: he had a script, a premise, an idea that had the potential of burgeoning into an interesting film that drew parallels between "similar" events in the past and the present and presented us with an ambiguity of intent, political climate and retrospective evaluation. What Mehra did with this almost qualifies him for a fate reserved for two corrupt individuals in Rang De Basanti. He ends up being as much to blame in the creative sense as they were in the administrative and moral sense.

A much more effective film was N Chandra's Ankush. That film was not a polished piece of Coca Cola advertising that Mehra's overlong flick tends to be –- it boasted strong heartfelt performances, dialogue that was effective without being clever or specious, and a simple narrative that focussed on the essentials without trying to pack an elephant into its suitcase.

RGV and ROM should've swapped titles. RGV could've called his remake of Ramesh Sippy's classic Rang De Basanti and ROM could've called his flick Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra ke Sholay. It seems to make more sense this way.

"Lose control!" (subtitled almost throughout as "loose") they screamed. ROM did. Sadly. But he's being rewarded in cash and kind. How unfair life is. Make a mediocre movie about people who bump off mediocre politicians and you get acclaim and profit.

Coda: I can see Mithun doing the ei saalaa! bit on ruubaruu, but that would've been too much fun ...

No comments:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.