Freeze Frame #144: Rang De Basanti

As ensemble dramas go, Rang De Basanti ranks among the best that has come out of Bollywood in recent times. Apart from the fact that it is mostly well-written and acted, it deserves brownie points its effort to make the freedom struggle relevant to a generation born decades after independence. The most obvious way of looking at the efforts of Bhagat Singh, Gandhi et al is that they did all they could to make our nation independent and got there. But then, freedom was more than just an abstract ideal for them — it meant the power to determine our destiny as a nation. We got the power, rejoiced for a while and then for the most part, just turned away from the responsibility it entailed.

After spending the better part of its running time letting its characters learn their lessons from the historical characters they portray, the story takes a turn that demands that they show what they have learnt. While the idea of using Ajay’s (Madhavan) death in an aircraft accident as the catalyst is perfect, the way they react to it isn’t as well written as it ought to have been. But this post isn’t about where Rakeysh Mehra went wrong, but about a nice little scene where he got it absolutely right.

The scene I speak of is one where the gang is lounging around at a club/restaurant of some sort, and get into an argument about the state of the nation and whether or not it’s their responsibility to do something about it. Strictly speaking, this scene isn’t “necessary” to the plot, but it accomplishes a number of useful things.

Firstly, this argument is a reprise of the same discussion in an earlier scene. Ajay’s views on the issue are the same, but watch how the other characters react to it. The overall thrust of their argument is still the same — there’s nothing they can do — but you can see that their earlier cynicism is now tinged with a note of despair. And when Ajay pushes the point, you see that it affects them more than it used to. Mehra also adds a nice little spin to their usual humorous response. This time, they parody the way in which Ajay’s funeral might be conducted. It is done with their usual gusto, and despite his anger at their indifference a moment earlier, Ajay is amused as well by their antics. But without really pushing it too far, the scene manages to create a little tendril of unease. It feels like a joke taken too far. More importantly, it primes us for the scene a little later when we find out that Ajay has indeed been killed. It is not the last time that these people meet Ajay, it is clear that it is their last significant memory of him.

While his death is the catalyst for the rest of the proceedings, it is in this scene that Mehra assembles his pieces for the endgame.

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