TECH TALK: Gandhigiri: Rang De Basanti

Another big movie hit of 2006 is Rang De Basanti (RDB). Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, the movie is about five youths who discover themselves through the story of five revolutionaries of Indians struggle for Independence. Wikipedia outlines the story:

Struggling British filmmaker Sue (Alice Patten) comes to India after she reads the diary of her grandfather, who served in the British Force during India’s struggle for Independence to make a short film about some of the unsung revolutionary heroes of the Indian Independence Movement. Her friend Sonia (Soha Ali Khan) helps her find four young men to act in the film: Daljeet a.k.a. DJ (Aamir Khan), Karan Singhania (Siddharth), Aslam (Kunal Kapoor) and Sukhi (Sharman Joshi).

They aren’t enthusiastic at first, but Sue wins them over. Laxman Pandey (Atul Kulkarni), a political party activist, later joins the group — although he is initially unpopular on account of his Hindutva beliefs and contempt for Aslam, who is a Muslim.

As the young men learn more about the history of the Independence movement, they lose their cynicism and start to consider what they can contribute to society.

Then Ajay, Sonia’s fianc,(Madhavan) an Indian air-force pilot, is killed when his plane crashes. The government proclaims that the crash was caused by pilot error. Sonia and her friends know that Ajay was a ace pilot and don’t accept the official explanation. They learn that the crash was due to a corrupt defence minister (Mohan Agashe), who had signed a contract for cheap, spurious MiG aircraft spare parts in return for a large kickback.

Not content to accept this as “just the way things are done”, the group decide to protest peacefully. Police forcefully break up their protest. The young men then decide that they must emulate the early freedom fighters and resort to violence. Tragedy and a shocking ending follow.

Recently, Indian Express got together the directors of RDB and Lage Raho Munnabhai (LRM) for a discussion. Excerpts:

Rakeysh Mehra (RDB): Id like to confess that for a long time, Gandhi was more of an idea than a person to me. In fact, sometimes he even ceased to be an idea. Sirf naam ke vaaste hi reh gaye the. I had even forgotten that his picture is printed on the currency notes. But Rajus film has brought Gandhi back in my consciousness. He has made the idea of Mahatma Gandhi relevant for me again.

Raju Hirani (LRM): I didnt study Gandhi in school. Richard Attenboroughs Gandhi was the only influence. I also grew up hearing ki aaj ke zamane mein Gandhi nahin chalta. But I always felt that there were two sides to him; one the person who fought for freedom and the other that was the Gandhi way of life, which spoke about simplistic goodness. People say his methods wont work in todays world but those times were more turbulent, so if Gandhi could work then, he can surely work now also. Of course, he wouldnt use the tools of fasting or hadtal, he would have thought of something unique. Like in Lage Raho…, when Sanju gives flowers to Lucky Singh, he is protesting but in a non-violent way. Maybe Gandhiji wouldve done something like this.

Mehra: Exactly. We should applaud the idea. Its not one vs the other. There is no debate on which is a better philosophy. Films arent meant to preach violence or non-violence. I dont think there has been an increase in gun licenses after RDB. People who came on the streets to make their point in the Jessica Lall case or the reservation issue made peaceful demonstrations. Integrity and self-reliance are the common thoughts in both the films. In the end of RDB, its said that if you want things to change, change yourself first. Join the police, army or air force rather than just point fingers.

Hirani: Thats what Gandhiji meant when he said, “Be the change you want to see in others.”

Hirani: Ive interpreted my reality my way. There are no simplistic solutions for long-term problems. But when you see tears rolling down the faces of some of the most corrupt-looking men, you feel some goodness still exists. I dont know how much we can implement this goodness. As a filmmaker, I can just offer an idea and hope that people pick it up.

Mehra: A film of a particular era reflects the time its born in. These two films are born in 2006 and reflect todays time to the best of our knowledge and sincerity. If both are embraced with the same warmth, it is a reflection on todays time. We just tell a story. But maybe people can sense the belief behind both films and thats why are receptive.

Tomorrow: Towards a New India

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.