Thursday, February 23, 2006

Rang De Basanti

There is an unwritten line that every good director of patriotic movies tries hard not to cross, a line that divides cheap, jingoistic patriotism and the real thing. Rakesh Omprakash Mehra is aware of this line, but nevertheless crosses it a few times over. The success of the movie is in hiding this cleverly from the viewer, opening him up for the message: Get up, get out and save the Nation. It’s my job to point out the obvious: while you are out improving your country, Rakesh and his team are raking in the money.
Had the message been subtle and the implications of the story left to the viewer, Rang De Basanti would have been much better. But that subtlety is lost upon Mehra. He has actually worked in the message into the script so much, that it becomes a part of it. He relies on two extraordinary men to carry the movie with him, Aamir Khan and A R Rehman. Apart from the brilliance of the editing, the production and sound design and the cinematography, these are two artists who hold the movie together.
Aamir is confident enough to let the other actors steal the best lines and scenes from him and then, with all the mastery of a great showman, pushes the envelope to go one up. The other actors, particularly Atul Kulkarni and Siddharth, seem to have good roles written for them, while Aamir seems to pull his performance from pure ether. His mastery over the Punjabi accent; the scene in which he cries to Sue (Alice Payton) as struggles to eat the first bite of his roti; his snarled, angry, almost evil looking face as he performs an assassination, Aamir, in a just few key scenes that he has, infuses the movie with depth.
Rehman is inspired and inspiring. The jingle that begins Sue’s journey in India, is repeated in so many hues that by the end of the movie, it has moved from being a soundtrack to its emotional core. Most of the songs are packed in the first half, but with every song the movie seemed to have progressed a little further. But the cuts in between the songs to dialogue are meaningless and lay bare the director’s insecurity in filming the songs as, well, just songs. Karan’s (Siddharth’s) first meeting with his industrialist Dad played by Anupam Kher is scored in such a way that it darkly foretells the fatal end the characters are going to meet with eventually.
Mehra cuts back and forth between the two main threads of the story: Sue’s attempts at making a film on five Indian revolutionaries, including Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekar Azad, and the second, the film that she creates. The technique of having a film within a film is difficult and Mehra seems to struggle to get it right. The drama of the revolution against Britain is so great that Mehra needlessly shows us too much detail of this. The cursory manner in which the Jallianwallah Bagh Massacre and the ``Simon Go Back'' protest is dealt with is bad enough, but even worse are the silly parallels to contemporary politics.
The ensemble is so large, that actors like Om Puri seem to be wasted. Kiron Kher is typecast again. Alice Payton, who turns in an impressive performance as Sue, and Soha Ali Khan are entrusted with bringing a feminine touch to what is otherwise a movie on male bonding. The sound design is too rich and the editing too slick.
The different strands have to come together at some point and they do so predictably in an emotion charged climax, beautifully written and enacted. But a little willful suspension of disbelief is needed to digest most of the second half.
The scene, among the last few, in which Waheeda Rehman comes back from coma, is perhaps a metaphor for the slumber of corruption and murky politics that the Great Indian State is awakening from.
Siddharth plays the archetypal Hindi film hero leaving the more refreshing role to Aamir, who seems to be again in a movie that doesn’t on the whole deserve him.

I leave a link to Ekalavya's rant.