Wednesday, January 3, 2007

My pitch for Rang de Basanti

I was trying to while away some time this morning looking for motivation to try and sort out some details for a new project I am starting this week, associated with pattern formation in myxobacteria colonies (a topic for a subsequent post) when DesiPundit pointed me to this post that picks out the best movies of the year 2006. I wanted to add my two cents worth to this author's take. Hence this post. Broadly speaking, I agree with the choices made there. Jaan e Mann is the first attempt I have seen at a Broadway style musical that works. And Omkara is the best movie I have seen in a long time, not just this year, and I was n't expecting to like the movie for Othello is a play that is close to my heart (I played Othello when we staged it at the Shakespeare Club in my school). But, I want to say that Rang De Basanti deserves a place on any list of best movies for this year.

First of all, I have to admit that it is not a great movie. Lots of things are not quite right with the movie. Unless you suspend logic, you cannot really buy the story. The screenplay is not tight enough. Way too much time is spent to convince us that these are a bunch of happy-go-lucky kids. I guess you need a Mani Ratnam to do that right. The cutting back and forth to the stories of Azad and company and to DJ and company did not work for me. But then, why do I say that it belongs in the top five? Again, there are a bunch of reasons. First, I have never seen a Hindi ensemble movie made this way, with screen space for everybody together, not through tangent threads that let you find out about each character separately. And to do this with such beautifully constructed scenes and so few continuity goofs is an achievement in itself. Second, I am trying to remember when was the last time I saw characters in a Hindi movie wear the same clothes a second time in the movie and I am not successful in this effort. All characters in all Hindi movies (even when they are living out of a suitcase) have endless wardrobes. The costuming and styling of the characters in this movie made them really real. I liked the attention to detail in such things as the fact that the clothes Karan wears in the Rang de song are hanging in the background when he comes into his room after talking to his dad. Such things make it a labour of love, not just another movie.

There are exactly three scenes for Aamir Khan that don't need to be there, but are there so we know he is the hero of the movie, the one where DJ explains to Sue why he is still on campus even though he graduated a while back, the one where he is weeping in Sue's arms and the one in the end where a dying DJ is juxtaposed with a dying Azad. Wonderful. Thanks to Rakesh Mehra for writing the movie that way and thanks to Aamir for allowing it to be so. And then there is the music. I could go on and on about how amazing it is. Instead let me just say two things. All the songs are seamlessly embedded in the screenplay, a rarity in a Hindi movie (happens way more often in Tamil). The next is A R Rahman's genius of contradiction that works so wonderfully. Pairing a voice like Daler Mehndi with Chithra, the use of such positive strings as in Lukka Chuppi in the background of Ajay Rathod's funeral, the really surprising choice of instruments for the BGM in the chase scenes with Azad and the englishmen. It is just plain amazing how well it all works. And finally (largely because I am getting too carried away and need to get back to work), the cast. Everybody does what they need to do to a perfect T (I shudder to think what would have happened if Karan had been played by Hrithik instead of Siddharth!). So, a wonderful movie as Hindi movies go. But I will never understand how anybody picked this one over Omkara as our entry to the Oscars.

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