Monday, May 14, 2007

Rang De Basanti (2006)

Rang De Basanti (Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, 2006)
English Title: Paint It Yellow

Sue (Alice Patten) is a British filmmaker who wants to make a film about the young revolutionaries that inspired India's independence movement. After being rejected by her producers (they said that Bhagat Singh will not make any money, as compared to films about Mohandas Gandhi), she packs her bags and flies off to India to start a film from scratch. With the help of Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), she completes her cast consisting of happy-go-lucky college students whose lives start to mirror the lives of the idealistic martyrs of Sue's film.

Rang de Basanti, translated into English as "Paint It Yellow," is an edgy Bollywood film. It is overtly political and has a message that can easily be mistaken by its viewers as consenting to vigilante justice. Its brand of patriotic martyrism would raise the eyebrows of those who acknowledge modernist grievance procedure, through the supposedly available and free windows that democracy provides. It seems that writer-director Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, in an attempt to convert anti-colonialist aspirations to the ires of India's disgruntled youth, has come up with a film whose raison d'etre can easily be misunderstood. In his attempt to put upon a pedestal neglected patriots like Bhagat Singh and his band of revolutionaries, he also gives a brash go-signal for unflinching and unlawful activism.

It's a message film, which is all wrapped-up with the refreshing and generally jovial film methodology of Bollywood. There's an attempt to lessen the unreality of the song-and-dance numbers as most of the numbers are filmed in MTV-fashion instead of the traditional Bollywood way wherein characters would suddenly start singing and dancing. There's a genuine effort to reach out to the film's targeted audience, the youth. The film's heroes are all representative of the carefree generation whose main preoccupation in life is to find means to get away from the growing economic troubles of India, while still enjoying the obvious elements of their youth --- their bachelor-hood, nights of endless alcohol-drinking, road trips, and so forth.

It's beautifully made. The historical portions of the film (supposedly made by Sue; although I'm quite surprised she was able to make what seems to be a well-made film with only one camera and a non-existent crew) are done with sepia tones while the contemporary portions are filmed with lush glossy colors.

The cast's rapport, I must admit, is quite magnetic. Aamir Khan, who plays someone who is half of his real age, carries off the role with enjoyable game-ness; his wisecracks and witticisms never feel forced and his abrupt change from the group's joker to its unofficial leader is made comfortably palatable by the actor's range and undeniable charm. It is that effective camaraderie that embraces the film's emotional core; their individual interactions pulsate up to the point wherein what Mehra seeks to establish is tested (early in the second half of the film wherein the bonds of friendship are tested by governmental intrusion) --- the effect is wonderful; through what seems to be contrived and corny, a heartfelt depth becomes apparent.

Rang De Basanti is a problematic film. It is undoubtedly made with sincere rousing spirit, but the result can be construed to mean anything from espousing terrorism to comforting the Indian youth. It is best when treated as merely a piece of entertainment, with a rousing message that is intertwined with its emotional core. As for me, I'll take it for what it is --- a mainstream Bollywood film that seeks to push the envelopes of the healthy yet rather conservative national cinema, and quite successfully at that.

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