Life's Like That

Monday, January 30, 2006

Rang De Basanti

Loved the movie. After a very long time, a Hindi movie has compelled me to think, and left me disturbed. No I did not weep buckets (weeeellll okkkk...maybe just a little bit), and get carried away by the patrotic fervour that seemed to have gripped most people in the theatre. I was... disturbed.
Much has been said about how Generation Y, is remarkably blase about India. Its quite acceptable to say " system hi aisi hai" with no attempt to change that system. Much has been said about how Rang De Basanti speaks to GenY in its own lingo, about taking responsibility for the country, making the effort to change things.Maybe the steps that the protagonists take is very drastic...but the funda behind those steps is crystal clear.
This post is not about all those much repeated points. This post is about the confusing, conflicting emotions I felt at the end. I must add here that most of this post stems from the drastic methodology adopted by the protagonists in the movie. I am not counting smaller gestures of making a difference...just the reactionary drastic ones.
I grew up in Kolkata. My father was a student of BE College Shivpur during the late 60's and early70's. He and other friends of his were an integral part of the infamous NaxalBari movement that swept across the youth of Bengal and other parts of the country. I have grown up hearing horror tales of torture, "encounter deaths", lock ups and raids. I have heard stories about how a man has casually stepped over a dead body lying on the road dismissing it as " another of these Naxalite fellows", only to come home and realize that his own son is missing...only to discover moments later that the "Naxalite fellow"lying dead on the road was his missing son. I have read books like Honnoman by Jaya Mitra and Haajar Churashir Ma by Mahashweta Debi( those of you who can read Bengali please please read both these books)..tales of inhuman torture..of countless lives lost for a cause.
From what little I have understood of the Naxalite movement, it stemmed from the perversion of the Marxist ideals by the CPI/CPI(M). What started as a peasant movement against opression by the bourgeouise and the revisionist attitude of the so called Marxist parties, rapidly turned into a revolutionary political movement spearheaded by the youth of the country. (Since I don't know too much about the movement in other parts of India, I shall restrict myself to Bengal). Colleges like BE College, Presidency College were the hotbeds of Naxalite activities. 1000s of brilliant lives were lost. Young men and women, fired with the zeal for changing the system fearlessly went to their deaths...or worse. A lost generation is how my father refers to it. He should know. He was there.
Why did all those young people lose their lives? Why did true idealists like Jaya Mitra spend the good part of her life either on the run or being tortured in various jails across Bengal? For what? Did the system change? Did anything change? The only thing that changed was the equation in the families across Bengal. What changed was that suddenly mothers were left without their sons and daughters, women lost their husbands, children lost their fathers and mothers. Those that survived prison, were, for the most parts, too broken to adjust to the pace of everyday life.
The youth of India needs to get up and do something to change the prevailing conditions in the country, only then will India be the country that the freedom fighters had envisaged. Absolutely!! I totally agreed with Aamir Khan! Till suddenly, out of the blue, a memory crept into my mind...a memory of my father's voice telling me about the Naxal movement, telling me about cops raiding our house just because there was a young man living in that house, of spending nights in lock up...of hearing his heavy with emotion voice telling us about the friends he lost to the movement, the terror of those days, the uncertainity. I looked at Rahul next to me...the youth of today. I thought of my friends, my sister. Aamir Khan made less sense then.Selfishly, I realized, I dont want to lose any of them to a "cause". At the end of the day I want Rahul to come back home to me. Suddenly, the micro..the small little bits that make up the bigger picture became all important. I dont want a hero...I want a father, a husband, a son, a friend, a sister.
My father tells me that the Naxal movement was a failure because of several reasons. The flawed ideal that they were out to change was also flawed in itself. To me (a rather 'ill informed on the finer points of the Naxal ideal' me) it seems like the major problem with the movement was that it was too caught up in the ideals. Ideals can inspire you, but one needs to translate those lofty ideals into implementable practicality for a movement to succeed. Ideals need to be adapted to local and immediate requirements to be implementable. According to my limited understanding, that was the major flaw of the Naxal Bari movement. That was the reason why 1000s of idealistic young men and women were condemned to be the "lost generation".
A youth movement today will probably be a lot more practical, a lot less swept away by ideals. Probably. I believe for any kind of a youth movement to sustain itself and prove effective in the long run, it has to be kept free from political interference. Youth leaders of political parties need to be kept away. If there is to be such a movement, how far will it be possible to keep it politics free? I dont know. I do know that like the movement of the 70's, like the protagonists of the movie, a lot of innocent lives will be lost. And I dont want anyone close to me to be among those lost lives. Then again...if women in pre Independance India thought this way, we would still probably be a British colony. Then again, I am not entirely selfish shallow and self centred. I am after all the daughter of a man lives by his ideals. Books like Honnoman have horrified me and at the same time left with a deep sense of admiration for the woman who lived and would have willingly died for her ideals, for the cause. What would I do in a situation that required me to sacrifice the personal for the greater common good? I don't know. I can just hope that I never ever have to make that choice. I left the theatre yesterday, deeply disturbed that I was not able to wholeheartedly share the patriotic sentiments I heard around me. The black and white statement of Rang De Basanti seemed to me to be filled with shades of grey.
I don't remember the last time a Hindi movie left me this confused and thoughtful. in filmi review terms...a must watch!!


  • Ron,
    This is by far the best review of RDB I have read. I have not seen it yet but surely will.

    By Blogger Kele Panchu, at 7:29 AM  

  • Ron,

    Haven't watched RDB yet, so will get back on that some other time. But a similar thought would possibly come from Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi, if you have seen it.

    Ideals that you spend your life following. Ideals that give you a purpose. But ideals, that, as you so beautifully put, can inspire you, but one needs to translate those lofty ideals into implementable practicality for a movement to succeed . And unless that happens, these remain mere words, misleading at times.

    But this can lead to a vicious circle. I have seen very active politics in my college. Some parties were affiliated to their big brothers - they followed ends that were spelt out by them. But some parties that strived to be apolitical lived an aimless existence.

    The way out? Not one solution really. But I, personally believe instead of waiting for movements, attending to individual responsibilities could work. Add to the country's economic might, teach your kids not to bribe, and the rest.

    May be it works, may be it doesn't. May be it's worth a try.

    By Blogger Deep, at 8:19 AM  

  • having spent most of my formative years out of bengal, i cannot read bengali novels, though cinema posters and short sentences are a possibilty. hence reading the books are quite out of the questions...looking for a translated version of honnoman. herd so many good things about it. i saw the film a couple of days ago and didn't agree with the shock treatment the writer gives the film. yes the film does inspire you to act instead of sitting on the fence all the time. i quite agree with atul kulkarni's dialogue in Page 3, where he tells Konkona Sen, "to change the system, you have to be part of it". currently a huge favor the country's youth can do the country is to be passionate about Her. read more about this fascinating place, go out and vote atleast, be aware about the political system and discharge the duties the constitution asks. that would be a revolution in itself.

    By Blogger Abhishek Chatterjee, at 6:59 PM  

  • @panchuda: please do watch it. very nice film.

    @deep: havent seen hazaro khwahishe aisi, so cant comment. my reaction to RDB, as i said earlier, is based on the revolutionary idealism potrayed in the film. i agree that there are a hundred small yet significant ways in which i can make a difference.was actually thinking of you and your experience with college politics when i was writing this. try as i may i just cant get over my revulsion of politics and politicians. i still feel a youth movement of any kind, to be successful, needs to be kept completely politics free. apolitical needs not necessarily be aimless.

    @abhishek: definitely get a translated version of honnoman, and if you cant read hajar churashir ma, then please watch the movie. like i told deep, im not saying that youth movement has to be violent. in fact i think the first step to being a responsible citizen of india is to(as you said) take pride in the country. get out there and vote if nothing else. i dont vote. i dont know who to vote for. detest all politicians. and suddenly after RDB this stance of mine seems like a pathetic excuse. change needs to come about from each indiviual before it can become a mass movement.

    By Blogger Ron, at 8:53 PM  

  • Agree. In our ancestral place in Howrah, my great aunt had to cook food for 50 people everyday just because she refused to let her son join the Naxalites. Sort of bribed her way out.
    About RDB - loved the music. Esp Masti ki Pathshala. Amazingly identifiable with.
    I have to watch this movie at least 2 more times.

    By Blogger Soham Pablo, at 11:52 PM  

  • I agree with Deep. Hazaar is soemthing that makes u sit up and notice.. maybe urself.

    And of RDB... Ron I had told u the day I saw it... I was in Delhi last weekend and saw it again. Amidst Delhiites it was much more fun... the 'sophisticated' Blore crowd doesnt really appreciate the Punju hindi.

    The thing that hurts me personally, all my 'mamas' and my Ma was a part of Naxal movement, trying to change the world, we lost one of them in a shoot out, brilliant students, idealistic and cheated by their leaders... Look at me, how do I respond?? Just writing a one but me to blame myself for making myself tied like a chhagol, to be butchered by the butcher... I am waiting :)

    By Blogger cyberoam, at 6:31 AM  

  • Brilliant post Ron.....absolutely brilliant. Haven't watched the movie yet. Probably will be one of the last ones to see it. You see I can't keep up with these popular demand movies because I have to drive a great way to rent the DVD and then drive back the next day to return it! I just watched parineeta last week :)) Tai ujhtei parchho aamar obostha!
    But on another note this was a really awesome review and i've read books and heard horror stories about Naxal movement. Well who hasn't given the times we lived in. Thanks for such a wonderful write.

    By Blogger M (tread softly upon), at 7:41 AM  

  • hey... you know... what i liked about the film best was the way he compares today's police to the police of the british era... he says that the political leadership uses the police as their tool.

    you have very long posts. you dont post from work, do you?

    By Blogger 4wD, at 12:12 PM  

  • @soham: yeah the music was really good. typical rahman music, you dont particularly like it the first time you hear it, then ity kind of grows on you.

    @sayan: you dont need to feel like a chagol(of all things). revolutionary things like the naxal movement and RDb are kind of futile. make the smaller efforts..thats what counts.
    PS: i dont know about sophistication, but i found the punjabified hindi a little difficult to understand.

    @M(tread softly upon): thank you :) did you like parineeta? i loved it. do try to get RDB dvd as soon as possible...maybe when you go to return the parineeta dvd? its really worth it.

    @4WD: yeah, that point is so true no. i feel sorry for the cops..they just get used by the powers that be and abused by the public during any kind of anti establishment drive. and well...sorry about the length of my posts...i do post from work, but only late in the evening after everybody has left and all work is done :P

    By Blogger Ron, at 8:54 PM  

  • Saw it on an awfully grainy pirated DVD. But still loved it, the end is a bit of harsh I should say (but very powerful nonetheless). Conveys the message way better than Mangal Pandey.

    P.S: Loved Soha Ali Khan, reminded me of her mom.

    By Blogger Anil, at 5:36 AM  

  • First things first: you wrote ALL that in one sitting? Wow. There was no warning label either! :-P

    That aside, a splendid post indeed. Take a bow, Ron.
    Especially liked the parts where you talked about practicality of ideals, and movements needing to be rooted to reality, of wanting a dear one to be there, and yet wondering if we'd be free from the Brits if it happened.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:03 AM  

  • I don't know what to say. Ron, I have heard my Ma lament that the best minds of her generation were exterminated in the Naxalite movement. I have heard my Dad recount his days in Durgapur RE College, how they barred the doors to their rooms at night with furniture for fear of the police, who could come and take them away and the bodies would be found next day with nails torn out and bullets in their backs. I know Jaya Mitra was tortured in Purulia jail. And now with renewed threats of Maoist attacks in Purulia, I am worried all day about Ma and the people I know...silly fears, but there nonetheless. We, the current generation, suffer from what someone beautifully phrased as , "The disenchantment of the world." I don't know what gave the earlier generation the hope and power to dream of changing the world, but I do know it took incredible courage and selflessness of a special sort. I find this incomprehensible. I am happy with thw small things in family safe, my books, a safe job. If films like RDB can connect us to that special nerve which links us to something greater than our own limited existence, all the better.

    I love this post.

    By Blogger i dwell in possibility, at 9:27 AM  

  • u call urself a cinema junkie?! and u LIKEDC RDB??!!! and u didnt like 15 park Avenue??! and you havent watched Hazaron Khwaisein Aise?!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:20 PM  

  • wow...

    By Blogger shub, at 5:41 PM  

  • I think people missed on what the director was trying to say, do something, but not as foolish as what the protogonists do, for then the end will be just as crazy and useless.

    Loved the movie.

    By Blogger Deepa, at 11:41 AM  

  • Loved the movie. Although, I have never cried watching a movie, tears wouldn't stop during the screening no matter how hard I tried. As you aptly wrote, the emotions are mixed really with that of anger, sadness, rage, patriotism, honor, whatever. It really is a heart wrenching film and a heart breaking one, esp. the last scene...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:13 PM  

  • @anil: after RDB i am ready to forgive aamir khan for that horrendous torture of mangal pandey :) agree about soha..looks exactly like her mom..although her nose is really very big.

    @bangalore guy: heh! thank you. but umm..i thought about it a lot before i wrote the post.

    @gmm: yeah somehow i knew you would get the whole naxal thing better than most othe rpeople because of the purulia connection. through a melodramatic kind fo a story line RDB managed to jolt us out of our limited existence, which i think was a damn good job.

    @anonymous: umm..nowhere in my blog have i said im a film junkie...i watch movies, i like some i dont like some. thats about it, much like any other person. yes i liked rang de basanti, maybe because of whatever ive heard from my father i found it easy to relate to violent youth reaction potrayed, and used my blog to talk about a personal reaction to the movie. also, i have not said i did not like 15 park avenue at any point in my blog..havent even talked about it. it was a good film...with wonderful performances, although it did not match the brilliance of mr and mrs iyer, and the english dialogues sounded a little contrived in parts. no i havent watched hazaro khwahishe...dont remember the exact reason but something must have come up. while i dont consider it a great loss, i hope i will manage to see it sometime in the future. and most importantly if i like a movie i like a movie regardless of whether its been made by a so called "offbeat award winning director" or a regular commercial film director with all the trappings of a commercial hindi film...and vice versa.

    @shub: thanks, and welcome to my blog.

    @dreamweaver: agree with you. he has done a good job of it. was trying to convey the same thought, but somehow got very emotionally caught up in the whole naxalite thing.

    @rishabh: hi and welcome to my blog. somehow i found the scene where soha hears that her fiance has been killed the most heart wrenching..the tears happened at that stage for me...i donno why..maybe i could relate to the horror her charecter would have been feeling.

    By Blogger Ron, at 11:51 PM  

  • brilliant!

    By Blogger Sagnik Nandy, at 11:31 AM  

  • Great post! Saw the movie over the weekend. Very different, something that the Indian youth of today can relate to (except for the last bit ofcourse!).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:51 PM  

  • @sagnik: thankooo:)


    By Blogger Ron, at 10:39 PM  

  • I remember a few years back, in my first year of college, I had an argument with my dad and he said this young generation was selfish, preoccupied with it's materialistic ends and completely apolitical and unconcerned about the country in the way their generation had been. And I told him it's because we grew up hearing your horror stories. Which made him go mum.
    And it's kinda true, everytime there is any sort of incident in my college I see nine out of ten people back away with the fear of anything political writ large in their eyes. And of those who come forward a good 90% are looking for what they can gain from being in politics. Where has the idealism gone?
    I haven't seen the movie actually, your post just touched a chord, brought out a meandering comment. Will go watch it sometime soon :)

    By Blogger babelfish, at 11:00 PM  

  • @babelfish: ah! that reminds me of the many arguments on the same topic ive had with my father :D.

    do watch RDB, i really liked it. also, something i couldnt touch upon in this post...aamir khan is soooooooo cutee....he looks old but soooo cute!! love of my life!!

    By Blogger Ron, at 3:54 AM  

  • Hi,
    This is an amazing review.

    I've mentioned it on my blog if you don't mind. This is the page:

    I really liked the movie too..I've been looping the soundtrack for days now! The last time a hindi movie really touched me was BLACK.

    By Blogger KillerQueen, at 11:53 AM  

  • @killerqueen: hi and welcome. the movie was really something else wasnt it? i cant access your blog from work, some silly firewall, but will definitely do so from home :)

    By Blogger Ron, at 9:03 PM  

  • Ron,
    You have made some very very thoughtfull comments on the movie ... and the situation - thoughts that resonated. Great posts - I took the liberty of mentioning you on my post - - I hope you don't mind!
    Keep up the writing and I would definitely try to read the English versions of the books you mentioned.

    By Blogger Venky, at 10:48 PM  

  • Hi,
    Anyone who knows anything about the Naxal movement...find little bit disturbed after watching movies like RDB or Hazaroon Khaw.... But then after vomitting all feelings in a diary or Blog start felling relaxed..... Some of my friends are still holding that dream and trying to change the system..... And this time they are more practical .... If they find it necessary they can kill someone but not for the charm of becoming a matyr but because the person deserves it.....And yes ...they don't broadcast it on FM .... :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:33 AM  

  • @anonymous: thats...disturbing. and a little scary!!!!!!

    By Blogger Ron, at 2:30 AM  

  • Absolutely Awesome. I can clearly understand the conflict of ideas.

    By Blogger Ananth, at 1:00 PM  

  • hi all..pls cn u hlp me..i hve to prepare for a debate..n d topic is somewhat related to the topic of this blog only..the topic is "rang de basanti-an awakening or a hype?" pls u can mail me any valuable comments of yours to my e-mail address dat mail me ur views..i wud apprcte if u write about it mre being an awakening..thanks n wid regards..

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    people like me that look out for info on rhinoplasty

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