Rang De Basanti┬┤s original, refreshing concept marks a progressive leap for the Hindi film industry. Taut, witty writing and heartfelt performances embellish Rakeysh Mehra┬┤s immensely entertaining and engrossing expression of anger. Though he could have developed his characters more convincingly to compliment their exaggerated transformation, Mehra coaxes his audience to root for his heroes and simply go with the flow.
Sue (Alice Patten), a British Indo-phile, auditions actors to film a documentary based on her grandfather┬┤s memoirs as a general during the colonial era. Her hunt for actors to play Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Ashfaqulla Khan, Ram Prasad Bismil, Durga Bhabhi and Chandrashekhar Azad yields a barrage of clowns from Delhi University. She strikes an instant rapport with a special group of carefree students, enlisting them to act in her film. Karan (Siddharth), Sukhi (Sharman Joshi), Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), Laxman Pandey (Atul Kulkarni), Sonia (Soha Ali Khan) and DJ (Aamir Khan) become Sue┬┤s freedom fighters. Sue┬┤s project sparks a sharp debate among her actors, some of whom dismiss nationalistic passion, arguing that in today┬┤s day and age, India is simply not worth that kind of dedication. As Sue┬┤s friends delve deeper into her project, a chaotic and tragic turn of events lead them to realize that their present life has started mirroring the lives of the characters they play.
Mehra and co-writer Renzil De┬┤Silva create this mirror through a wonderfully crafted parallel narrative, juxtaposing history with the present. Subtlety is chucked out the window, and rightfully so, for the anger in the film┬┤s tone needs none of it. Mehra directs boldly, uncharacteristically but cleverly blending Aamir Khan with the ensemble cast instead of making him the star attraction. Much of the narrative focuses on the remainder of the character pool, allowing DJ to stand back and observe. Once Mehra makes his point, articulately conveying the reflection of revolutionary history re-living itself, he allows DJ to take charge, in turn unleashing Aamir Khan┬┤s prowess on the screen. Not since Lagaan has anyone been successful in directing an ensemble cast to such sensational performances. Soha Ali Khan, Kunal Kapoor, Siddharth, Sharman Joshi and R. Madhavan are brilliantly cast in their respective roles.
Binod Pradhan┬┤s vigorous camerawork keeps the adrenaline pumping through the ups and downs of this roller coaster of a story. A.R. Rahman adds a sense of youthful vibrancy and optimism through what is perhaps, his most underrated score. Editor P.S. Bharthi accentuates the masti, lethargy and charm of Delhi undercutting it with the tyranny and nationalism of the past, creating a haunting sense of tension through the second and third acts.
That sense of tension follows a dramatic turn of events that drive DJ and his friends to view their world through a different eye: to stand up tall and make a difference. Their choices are questionable, rash, perhaps ludicrous and irresponsible. Directorial intent at this point is evident, for the characters supposedly experience the passion and dedication of the freedom fighters they were pretending to be. However the execution through this part of the narrative borders on the verge of being insane, but "Who are you to judge?" screams Mehra. Perhaps, that is the insanity we need in order to create change. One would be foolish to absorb the proceedings in Rang De Basanti at face value. An underlying message compliments every action, and the audience has to read between the lines to digest the meat of the film┬┤s message. This is truly a crazy piece of mainstream art.