Rang De Basanti (2006) or RDB as it is fondly called is just not a film, it refined Indian society in more ways than one. For the ignorants, RDB is a story about a British documentary filmmaker who is determined to make a film on the Indian freedom fighters based on the diary entries of her grandfather, who incidentally was a jail officer during the British rule of India. On coming to India, she meets a bunch of young college students headed by Aamir Khan (DJ) who are less 'Indian' than she ever imagined. When their dearest pilot friend dies in a MIG crash and accused by the defence minister of negligence, all hell breaks loose. They murder him in broad day light, triggering a series of events which ultimately lead to their death by the end of the movie.
RDB is a film that seems to shake people out of their somnolent apathy into taking a stand and doing something for the country. It questions the indifference with which we have accustomed ourselves to the armchair political agendas and social stigmas. Obviously, things have changed since it's release in early 2006 with the advent of social networking websites and mushrooming of numerous TV channels who keep shoving the 'right-vs-wrong' debate down our throats. But still a cleverly disguised history lesson is turned into a modern tale of patriotism which touches the right chords because it hits bang-on for that elusive, almost sick dichotomy of India - we won't do anything for the society till something bad happens to us.
RDB speaks for the middle aged middle class in the guise of speaking through the young. The youngsters here are not the protagonists but the instruments through which the concerns of an earlier generation are represented. The source of outrage is not really the minister's corruption, but his insensitive blaming of the pilot for the crash. The patriotism felt by DJ &Co. is as much petulance as righteousness. The mode of resolution is also keeping with the gratification seeking times we live in. Justice must be instantly bought. The killing of the minister and the subsequent elimination of the protagonists fulfills our need for a cinematic spectacle that stimulates out angst glands without causing any serious long term dysfunction. It is sad, startling and scintillating all at the same time.
RDB eventually denies the possibility of the very change it goads us to the up we cudgel for. It speaks for the patriotism that is defined as dying for your country in a blaze of media glory than toiling for it under the shroud of anonymity. It allows us to consume a sense of outrage in a packaged form. It is a great film because it pushes us as far as we can be pushed. It works because it makes us comfortably uncomfortable, which is all we can handle. In doing so, it holds up a mirror and what we see in it is not very pretty. By starting with apathy and moving on to activism, it allows us to locate ourselves in the narrative. Whether we are able to find ourselves in this mess is a question waiting to be answered, extremely urgently and quite impatiently.