And everyone is so inspired by a film that pays homage to Gladi-bloody-ator. (I think my pulse is growing stronger, I'm beginning to find it funny.) Fingers through the mustard fields! Elysium arriveth! We go to heaven for killing the naughty emperor!
If anybody believes for a minute that murdering an oppressor will wake the rest of the world to life and freedom, then perhaps they also consider it a social experiment worth trying out? As far as I recall, incidents like that haven't usually ended in massive social change. Just in death.
earlier this morning:
That swank new film I watched last evening turned out to be a disaster, so. It almost made me cry tears of rage and definitely ruined my taste for dinner afterwards. I fear it’ll be a long time before I ever look at dal makhani without being reminded of the spectacle out of which I stumbled. Spectacle is just not a good enough translation for tamasha, though, is it? ‘Farce’ is a closer approximation. Or ‘mockery’, but both those words imply making a jest in some measure of consciousness.
I tried not to take Rang De Basanti seriously. I did. Unfortunately I seem to lack the wit to take the joke far enough. I can’t even bring myself to think about the things about the film that were good – and there were a fair number of those. Or its equally real filmic, technical failures. Even my capacity for Gladiator jokes is sapped. I’m a sucker for patriotic, nationalistic films, on the whole, because they make me laugh so. Here, on the other hand, was a film that seemed to execute the basic idea of awakening the sleeping conscience of a young nation in a way that got me interested, and then systematically, deliberately, massacred my hopes, and then spit on them.
One applauds the idea of a young Briton deciding to telling the lesser-known stories of the fight against Empire. Britain could do with it, as Emily always says. I don’t think India does, though, since the film would have us believe that awakening our passive youth to the lives and deaths of some of India’s best-known revolutionaries (who they’d have been familiar with long ago, if they’d paid less attention to their hair and more to history class) will mean utter carnage. For those reading this without having seen the film: the college students the young Englishwoman casts in their roles for her documentary suffer the death of their pilot friend who crashes a substandard plane, no thanks to the corruption rampant in the echelons of government responsible for these things. They decide to untie the Gordian knot of the due course of law and peaceful protest and so on by murdering the Defence Minister. The documentary unfolds, and though we know what fate awaits the boys running into the cruel might of the Empire, we can never guess what happens to the revolutionary hopefuls of today.
The answer? They die. Cruelly. You know, the way mighty and vengeful nations put the assassins of their leaders to death. In the full glare of the media. We are left, then, with the idea that this ignoble consequence of an ignoble cause will bestir us to get off our arses and do something about our rotten government. Never mind the brilliant idea of Gandhian non-violence that changed the way the world thinks and became the hallmark of India’s independence.
I can think of several ways to oppose the accepted principles of Gandhian thought. An ideology so powerful requires its opponents. Factions of violent revolutionaries have always existed alongside practices of non-co-operation and civil disobedience. Gandhi’s mistakes bear very close examination. As, perhaps, the frightening idea that we are taught to value these principles because it suits status quo to have us believe them. One wants to know the absolute values of peaceful protest; to quantify, to be reassured. History does not afford us easy answers. But on a pinch, we’d say that matching violence for violence and committing crimes to defy law aren’t going to earn us any points in the evolutionary cycle.
But it’s a waste of time to ponder these questions in the context of something so horrifying and hollow. To this film, the poetry and pity of war never happened. In fact, neither did the odd century of socio-political, philosophical change that lies between Bhagat Singh and today. It makes the same philosophical and moral mistake that big, sword-and-sandal Hollywood epics do; to its own ends, it misreads the motives of the warriors, the source text. Troy reduced the Iliad to a greedy squabble, Alexander elevated an ambitious king to a great visionary of world equality. And Rang De Basanti takes the deeds of a few young men with their backs to the wall, with no possibility of their voices being heard, much less of escape, and presents their story as a blueprint for freedom.
And I’m thinking, those lads long ago that gave themselves up to prison and torture? Definitely did not go to the gallows or commit suicide with smiles on their faces and a song on their lips, unless they were psychotic. Don’t kid yourself. They probably cried and pissed their pants. They were human. They did what they had to do. History will be kind to them because they were desperate men in desperate times. I can think of other men in similar positions in the world today. Young, well-off Delhiites with fathers in positions of power? Not so much. I’m afraid our aging hero’s Frodo Baggins hairdo didn’t do much to convince me of the righteousness of his cause. India’s corrupt bureaucracy isn’t the Empire. It isn’t Sauron. And neither of those were brought down with bullets, last time I looked.
How many times was I to cringe at the subtle attempts to bring religion on the sides of the righteous? It’s okay, it isn’t like the Crusades never happened, you know. But those riots in 1984 did, too. Way to champion murder and lawlessness, to have Frodo’s Sikh family make some crazy dedication of his death to God! Way to incur divine sanction for our fearless crusaders, jaunting around the Golden Temple and sundry places of worship in the best tradition of national integration. Simply fantastic to see the famous one God of many faces bring all of them together to give us a giant thumbs-up at taking the easy way out. “We’re not terrorists, we’re just students angry with a corrupt government,” they say. They have a word for people like you in Afghanistan, you knob. It’s “Taliban.”
My disgust for the film’s grand ideal, in the end, made me think about whether I believed there was anything for which it was worth dying. One’s country? World peace? The people one loves? Anything or anyone, perhaps, for which we are responsible. The onus is on us to protect what we love.
Is there anything, then, that is worth killing for? Theoretically, the answer would have to be yes, bound to those very things for which we are responsible, after all. In the real world, the answer is no. In the long run, if we want to rewrite history – if we want to ensure a future, simply, the answer is no.
If there were a hundred people reading this, I know at least sixty, somewhat alarmed, would want to respond with a request to cool it. It’s just a movie. And were it any other movie, I’d have taken that advice. I’d never have gotten to ranting like this, in the first place. But this film wants you to take it seriously. It wants you to awake and sup on its milk of freedom. Don’t be taken in. If you wake up and decide to go about being inspired by the thought of killing people who make life hard for you, the door’s hitting your arse on the way out.