Monday, January 29, 2007

26.Rang De Basanti

Motivation - Half way through such serious movies, the plot arrives at important crossroads - the part where the transformation of the character(s) is explained. All that has happened till then and all that is about to unfold hinges on this important peg. What would the character do? How would the character do it? And the important one of all, why should the character do it? Consider Swades, another movie that deals with social responsibility. Shah Rukh's character is asked by Kaveriamma to visit some distant place and collect the payment from the farmer tilling their lands, which were long overdue (parallels drawn to Gandhiji's visit to Champaran to witness the plight of the indigo farmers first-hand). The build-up of Shah Rukh's character till that point is one such that, he likes to observe the proceedings from the sidelines and comment on them without really venturing into the field and getting his hands dirty. And once he witnesses the real state of the downtrodden from close quarters, the transformation starts to take shape. The build-up reaches a crescendo when he watches a kid running up and down his train, trying to make a measly rupee selling a glass of water. A poor old kid, who has no proper footwear, lugging a water-container, running up and down the platform, trying to make a rupee, trying to make a life, trying to just survive. The character of Mohan Bhargav undergoes a radical transformation at that point and all his efforts from there on seem to have a strong ground on those two powerful images that remain etched in his mind. How could a nation that once boasted of a glorious past finds itself stuck with a generation whose sole aim is to just survive till the end of the day? The poverty, the destituteness, the apathy, the general feeling that "this is life in India", the adjustment mentality - Mohan Bhargav's motivations are based on these ideas and his driving force is rooted in his determination to do something about it.

Justification - Motivation carries the part of justifying the actions of the characters only so far. For a valid justification of the actions, not only should the triggering point be strong one, but also the foundation that has been laid for the character so far, or the environment that has been created for character to interact with, should equally be strong enough. Justification cannot rely on transformation alone. The sudden change of a frivolous character into a serious one, in just a matter of a couple of scenes would seem very artificial and pretentious, if none of the actions that he was involved with adds up to this change or there is no indication in the environment created around him that would push him towards this change. Consider Maachis, another movie that deals with the transformation of a character where he feels extremism as his only option. The forcible takeover of the Golden Temple by the Indian army in Operation Blue Star, the subsequent assassination of Mrs. Gandhi by her two Sikh body guards followed by organized massacre of thousands of Sikhs creates the volatile environment of distrust, ill-will and disenchantment of a section of people against society itself. In such an environment, when Chandrachur's character is placed in a situation, where his family is regularly harassed by the army for the want of names and locations of terrorists or terrorist-sympathizers, ending up with a brutal killing of one of his family members, Chandrachur finally breaks down and wanders into the other side, to pick the arms and join the extremists' revolution. Observe how it is not just the singular incident that was instrumental in his transformation. The social milieu was ripe enough where his extremist stance finds a valid reason (within the context of the script) and his angst against the injustice justifies his reasons to pick up the weapon.

'Rang De...' wants to have it all. It wants a generation that is disenchanted with the current social context. It wants a motivation to raise a voice against the society. It seeks a justification for its final actions and expects that somehow the ends account for the means. Sadly, like the characters depicted in the movie, the script does not work hard enough at any of these and instead tries to play it by numbers - Detached generation - 10 scenes, Motivation - 2-3 scenes, Justification - 4-5 scenes leading up to the climax, interspersed by a few songs and crosscut with a patriotic theme (or the social responsibility theme) that constanly jumps between 2 timelines. Some ideas look good on paper. If the story pitch goes along the lines of "a generation tries to wrest back control of its future from the inequities and the tyrannies that has held up its progress so far, much like how the revolutionary leaders assumed that responsibility in the freedom struggle era", the idea sounds lofty, ideal and very inspirational, to say the least. When the idea gets translated into a full-sized script, where apathetic generation is explained by boozing, flirting and licentious youth, their lack of concern is explained in the same generalities of pre-independence period (what difference does it make? how can one fight against many? why should one even bother risking everything), their motivation in an utterly contrived reason screaming of conveniences, and the final justification that does not add up anything, one can clearly see the lofty ideal, the inspirational idea frittered away in the laziness of the script, for not setting up the right environment to explain all the above. Add to that, the obligatory Muslim disenchantment scenes (woh hamaare mazhab ke naheen hai, yeh hamaara mulk kabhee nahee rahaa!), which, even a kid would know, would finally end up as a "Hindu-Muslim bhai bhai" mandatory climax scene.
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The trap that most of the stories involving social responsibility fall under is exaggerating the role of violence in shaking up the society. Take Siddhardh's character's for example. Right till the time when the important plot point occurs that would change his perspective to take matters into his own hands, his character is depicted as someone that is completely lost, uninterested and aloof. He is totally cutoff from the proceedings around him for one sole reason - he doesn't care. From such a position, to swing to the complete opposite because of that important plot point, and consider that violence is his only way out, is nothing but an act of cowardice on the part of the script for not giving him any other way out to vent his frustrations. And to justfiy the violence with rants about "the system" seem as ridiculous as they are out of place. Violence is an extreme measure that would find valid reasons in very rare occurrences. To package the commercialism of violence and peddling it as social responsibility is anything but, on the part of the film-maker. From among all the performing parts, Atul Kulkarni clearly stands out for the sincerety and belief he puts into his character, however trite the role is written. If only the script was as honest and dedicated as Kulkarni's performance, 'Rang De...' would have been a much better movie that addressed the current generation of the changing times.

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