Sunday, April 23, 2006

Ramblings inspired by RDB

So some thoughts on the message that the movie Rang De Basanti held, rather than the movie itself.

Any young revolutionary looking for inspiration would do well to look elsewhere. The movie, while it certainly raises some pertinent issues, makes the one big mistake every one seems to make nowadays. This whole idea of instant gratification has caught the populace's fancy, but is hardly representative of most success stories.

In general, we always talk about ideas like a lightbulb switching on instantaneously. However, a truer picture would be a really, really slow flourescent lamp, that takes years of coaxing and cajoling before it emits the slightest hint of light. Most scientific flashes of brilliance, including Archimedes's famed jumping out of the bath naked, screaming Eureka, were preceded by years of thought, experimentation, and debate. Similarly, in the context of the movie, Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh had spent months, if not years, drumming up support for their cause and their movement, before they took the plunge. It wasnt a matter of waking up one fine morning and deciding that sacrificing their lives would change the world. There was a significant amount of groundwork that led to these flashpoint events. I am not really going to blame the movie for this, because its hard to make a comprehensive movie that sells, but still the message is slightly off. I still do think however, its deeply offensive to those freedom fighters, who sacrificed so much, to a ragtag bunch of kids, whose leader dint have the balls to leave college because of his insecurities. But thats besides the point.

My question is, would a revolution, of the sort described in the movie, really work? Assuming that all the necessary groundwork is performed? Its not really a question I have too many answers for, since there is hardly any historical perspective. Most comparisons from more than 10 years ago, are rendered irrelevant due to the proliferation of media, and the internet. So I can only speculate. My belief is no. Not unless there is a significant rural support for this. And the revolution described in Rang De Basanti (with the NDTV appearances and all), seem like they would only ring a note with the urban youth. This is a powerful group, mind you, but it is held back by 3 things. 1) It is not the majority of people. That would be people living in villages and small towns. 2) The members of this group do not grow up facing physical hardships. They dont have the mettle, (not because of any inherent traits, but because of having lived relatively sheltered lives) to fight an armed rebellion. 3) They have too much at stake. The country would have to undergo a significant shift downwards, for it to make sense for this group to revolt. However, I think the hope of the country lies in galvanizing the illiterate, uneducated and poor of the country. The first thing is that they have the numbers. Second, they dont have much to lose, while having the chance to gain a lot, at least for their kids. And kids can be a pretty motivating factor. Also, since this group would provide numbers, the few that do choose to revolt, from the educated group, would be sufficient to lead for a few battles. After a few successes, as the odds get better, then more would join in. So the numbers would come predominantly from the 'lower' groups, and the brains predominantly from the 'upper'. And contrary to my earlier statement, such a revolt does have precedent. In fact, we dont have to look much further than our own freedom struggle, to find some historical support. The leaders were mainly British-Educated lawyers, and doctors and the like. The masses were the generally the poor, unemployed, and uneducated. The Lower classes, rather than the middle class.

I think, in the new India, there is a tendency for the middle classes to dismiss the lower classes as irrelevant. However, and I think the politicians realize this, real power rests with them,( primarily because of numbers, but also because of lower stakes, and the fact that they tend to be people of action, rather than words)which is why, things havent really changed much in the country. We have not been appealing to the right groups.

Another thought that crossed my mind, is the effect that such a movie has on real people, in their real lives? The only way to empirically, measure such a thing, would be to see if there were any significant increase in the number of anti-government protests in the months following the movie's release. Based on anecdotal evidence after the release of Yuva, it seems to me that while a movie such as this would lead to more discussion, it would not lead to more action. People would bitch more about the Government and the 'System', but that did not ever, in my experience lead to action. Whatever the truth may be, my concern is that, such a movie provides a secondary, worthless channel for people's frustrations. Its like the valve on the pressure cooker. Someone sees the movie, discusses the MOVIE wildly, and that releases a lot of their frustrations. Kind of like the matrix situation. Zion (is that the right name) and its war with the matrix, exists as a way for those people's frustrations to be channeled away from the damage that they might create from being part of the system. I might be way off here, but its an interesting thought. (However, even if it turns out that such movies are the reason that the country is struggling, please dont ask for them to be banned or shit like that. We need more freedom of speech and expression, and not less, and bans are fundamentally opposed to all that is freedom).

A third point is the prevalence of generalities. Words that only have vague, abstract meanings, can really hurt public discourse, because they prevent real worldly images from forming in our mind. Such images could actually lead to action, but when I say system, it really does not mean anything. This is very amply demonstrated in the USA. The, at the risk of being the guy in the glass house, 'Conservatives', bandy about the phrases liberal, left-wing agenda, and democrats as if every 100 times they use their words, they would live a year longer. So basically, anyone who disagrees with them, becomes part of the left wing agenda, although that individual could be as right wing as you can get. What happens then, is that right wing people's faults and follies are associated with people who are perceived to be left-wing, Democrats in this case. So the democrats end up bearing the brunt of every bad statement, Chicken wing regardless.
So its about time we stop using generalities like the System, and the Politicians, and start being more specific. If you think Policemen suck, say Policemen Suck. Dont say the system is fucked up. The system is a bogey man. A straw man. An entity with no well defined existence, which takes the blows that our 'democratically elected leaders' go out of their ways to earn.

Rang De Basanti........

**Edit: (Disclaimer!!) - So after arguing with Gaya about this, let me make the following things clear. I am not a movie expert, and speak as a complete layman. I am even more laymanish than your doodhwalla (although doodhwallas can be pretty good experts at movies). More importantly, I confuse Aamir khan the actor, with his movie character, and I blame the director for every technicians fault. Even if there was nothing the director could do about it. I am shamelessly generalizing, and like I mention in the last para, I offer no reasons and justifications whatsoever. We have heard all the glowing eulogies of the movie, poems describing in words beauties that I can barely imagine. Think of this as being in the same vein, except describing not beauties, but uglies, and not describing, as much as mentioning...

So finally, I watched Rang De Basanti today. So here is my review of it. Belated, absolutely...but what the heck, I needed something to fill these pages.

Well, I am honestly not trying to be the rebel in town, but I really did not like the movie. In all fairness though, I had extremely high expectations, and the movie was supposed to be the only bright spot in an otherwise terribly dull day. Thats a double whammy for the movie's chances at being enjoyed, but for the reasons explained ahead, I think they only entrenched what would have been a slightly less extreme, but similar reaction to the movie.

So when I talk about the movie, please do keep in mind, that by the movie, I mean the cinematographic and story-telling aspects of the movie. The movie is not the equivalent of its message, and my thoughts on the message are a different issue altogether.

The first thing I look at when I want to rate a movie, is how much fun I had watching it. Fun, as I define it, is not just the disproportionate amount of laughter fart jokes extract from me, but is a measure of how the movie was able to influence my emotions (not to be confused with motions, in which case 'Kya Dil Ne Kaha' would win the oscars hands down, every year. And Tushar Kapoor would be the next Mr. B.). This includes the ability of the movie to make me laugh, cry, get angry or introspect. And contrary to the tone set by me yet, in this regard, the movie was excellent. I loved the movie for all these feelings it set off inside me. This surprised me, since as I watched the movie, it just seemed to make ill-executed transitions from one bad scene to another even worse. And then it struck that the movie had used a couple of cheap tricks. Patriotism. and Optimism. Yes Ladies and Gentlemen, giving the audience hope does sell, and when you use the words 'Awesome Youth' and 'I love my country' in the same sentence, you have a drug with the potency of viagra.

So am I being a little too harsh on the movie? Probably. I just dont buy into the "Catchy soundtrack + Sure to sell Message = Great Movie" school of thought. I wont deny the "=Commercial Success" connection though.

First of all, the movie is ridiculously slow. Well, it covers a lot of time and territory in a pretty short period of time, but the way it achieves this is by skipping entire sections between scenes. It is like a collage of scenes placed in the order that they occur. There are no logical transitions from one scene to another. Speaking of collages, did anyone else notice how much of the movie is spent showing collages? A significant amount of screen time is spent showing random scenes mashed together, with a cool (sometimes) song playing in the background. I initially called this the Dil Chahta Hai Effect, but thats not entirely true. Dil Chahta Hai lacked a strong plot, message, or story. It was nothing but an attempt at making a movie look as good as possible. And what looks cooler than a bunch of cool images put together in a deliberately careless fashion? However, while it looks good, it does not communicate much information, and in a plot based movie like RDB, providing information is key to advancing the movie.

Before I totally piss of any one who has read this far, let me say that the idea of showing snippets of the past in a relevant manner, is a brilliant idea. Unfortunately, A good idea does not a good movie make. Besides the storyline execution, the technicals were also lacking. They did probably use the most expensive cameras available, but that did not hide from the terrible angles the camera had. I know, they had to be 'different', because thats what sells, but it was still camerawork at its worst. The camera positioning was rather random and neither enhanced, nor complemented the mood of the scene. But those close-ups of Aamir Khan, from that old school black and white camera sure did look glitzy! And the acting? Contrived, and amateurish. Come on Aamir, I am one of your biggest fans, but I get that you represent the quintessential Delhi youngster, hip in actions, but still with his old school heavily Punjabi Hindi. You dont need to rub it into my face every time you accidentally fall within the camera's purview. But Aamir Khan, although the director was trying his (her?) hardest to prevent, was still good. But the rest are seriously in need of acting school. I couldnt help but laugh when the director expects me to picture that wimp like fellow, Siddharth, as Bhagat Singh. Oh Sue, how faulty that visionary eye of yours was. Are you sure you hadnt popped your bhaang cherry when you saw those revolutionaries sitting on that table in front of you? At the very best, your brain was playing a pretty cruel practical joke with your eyes.

And the music...God damn it, I could not stand that cheesy little fruity loop that played every time Sue glanced on her GrandDad's god damn book. It was honestly, the most any music has ever annoyed me. Well, that is if you dont count hearing the Band of Boys blaring from my neighbor's speakers. Except, the Band of Boys stuff wasnt really music, was it? I always thought it was our plan C in case we were attacked by the Independence Day aliens.

Yeah, I agree, I havent really supported my points too well, but honestly, watch the movie without thinking about how you dont want to be considered anti-patriotic by bitch-slapping it, and there is no way you will miss any of these 'facts' within the first 30 minutes itself. There is so much more I could have included, but I dont really expect anyone to read this far anyways, so it would just be a waste of time...