Rang De Basanti is a bohemian movie, one that deals with an unexceptional story in an avant-garde way. As you watch, the monochrome of hackneyed patriotic fervor is split through an unforgiving prism into dazzling shades. It’s like attacking your enemy from behind. All the cliché and the mythology stays, yet the sensibilities are dealt with so well, you are in tearful admiration. The battle is won.
Sue (Alice Patten) is a British moviemaker, who comes to India to make a movie about the Chandrasekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Bismil, Ashfaq coterie. Her grandfather is the English jailer who walked them to their hanging, and it is his diary she wants to reproduce on the screen. She zeroes in on the gang of DJ or Diljeet (Aamir Khan), Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), Karan (Siddharth) and Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) to play the parts.
The youngsters, though, are far removed from the hot-blooded patriots she expected. High on beer most of the time, they are dancing and whiling their lives away, to the tune of A R Rehman’s electric number Paathshaala. They practice the dialogues in the midst of slaphappy mockery and mischief, while Sue is watching their antics half-amused and half-distraught.
Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), looking fresh and tender, plays the link between Sue and the group. Her boyfriend is Ajay (Madhavan), a MIG21 fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force.
The story-telling technique is impressionist, with images and music creating the mood, rather than the dialogues. Racy, quick images of students tearing at top speed on their bikes are followed by a red car, to create the boisterous mood. And a lighthearted fluttering song plays out the love of the newly engaged Ajay and Sonia. The flashing images, sudden-stills technique is fun - it amuses the audience for one thing. And the heavy Punjabi dialogues that punch like a danda swiping a gilli right across a narrow village gully, are part of the intoxication of Rang De Basanti.
What happens next is the sudden death of Ajay in a plane crash. He is an ace pilot, and the cause of the accident is substandard Russian parts that have found their way to India through corrupt deals with the Defence Ministry. Instantly the tides turn, as the government attacks the skills of the pilot to defend its own shady deals. DJ’s group is shattered.
This is where Rang De Basanti takes on a revolutionary look, an unconventional turn. DJ’s gang suddenly takes matters into their own hands, and a juxtaposition of the group’s behavior, analogy for painfully precise analogy with the freedom fight events, is shown. This is the movie’s highlight.
While the build-up after the interval is suddenly as slow and leisurely as a glob of oil-paint dispelling in water, it picks up when the plot breaks through again. This time it makes you brain cells jog, watching the surreal déjà vu of events. And yes, young blood fighting for an altruistic cause, with their lives does break your heart effectively.
Finally, needless to say, Rang De Basanti is one movie where the script completely subsumes the characters. Every element plays equally, like it would in an epic like the Lord Of The Rings. The cast, the music, the visuals, the dialogue, the whole movie in fact, is a vast mosaic of all these, a whole that is not propped up by one or two of its parts alone.
Aamir shines, but so do Siddharth and Kunal and Soha and the rest. Like we said, the script plays around with all the characters rather than revolve around a single one. And yes, watch out for the music by Rehman. It is the spirit of the movie - the engine that synchronously propels it, keeps it afloat, or sinks with it gracefully. When you leave the theater you will at least be intellectually satisfied, even if not emotionally stirred. A movie that can do both, and perhaps stand scrutiny both ways, is definitely going to be one to reckon with.