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Spare us, Basanti!

Maar daal inko, barks our Movie Editor

January 28, 2006

Weak script, high drama, poor visualisation and confused patriotism have destroyed Rang De Basanti, Aamir Khan's latest box-office blockbuster.

In fact, is it an Aamir Khan movie? I am as confused about it, as the scriptwriter is about patriotism. Eleven years after Rangeela, Aamir does not seem to have learnt anything more about carefree bachelor behaviour than the ubiquitous tapori - except a Punjabi twang, this time. The fatal attraction of all things patriotic has dragged down Aamir from the excitement of Lagaan, to the mediocrity of Mangal Pandey and now, to the abysmal Basanti.

Even before release, Basanti earned its fair share of publicity thanks to the Central Board of Film Certification, which referred it to the defence ministry for clearance. We do not know if the brass tacks chopped off three scences as DNA reported, but now we know is that there were several scenes which could have been.

The movie revolves around the tragic death of a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force, who dies in a MiG crash. A corrupt defence minister, a rich industrialist and the insensitive State trash it as a pilot error, since they want to cover up shady defence deals. But the victim's loser friends rise in imagined patriotism, as they imbibe the roles they enact in a movie on the Freedom Struggle, and raise the banner of revolt. What was a tolerable movie till intermission takes a violent turn - misguided kids shoot the defence minister, son kills father, they take over All India Radio, and announce their heroism to the rest of the world on prime time. All the hyperkids are understandably shot down in the following gunbattle, and soon reappear as smiling angels hovering over a Punjabi farm. Aaargh!

I think the movie has done a disservice to the cause of patriotism and nationalism by advocating murder and mayhem as a means to a better end. I wonder if a man called MK Gandhi would agree. I wonder if anyone would agree.

The movie's pathetic storyline is redeemed to some extent by great performance from Atul Kulkarni and Kunal Kapoor. Aamir Khan stays just below the average mark. Soha Ali Khan's character has about as much believability as the movie itself. A good actor, Madhavan's role as the MiG pilot is poorly developed and his acting skills not put to use. And do MiG pilots walk around with their Rayban Aviator shades in countrysides? I did not know that.

As a colleague remarked, the movie's male bonding went overboard. If the idea was to let their undying friendship sink into viewers' minds, a good script should have done the job. Since Basanti did not have it, Rakeysh Mehra took the easy way out with some jumping jacks hugging, dancing, leaping at planes and boozing together.

Basanti's recurring juxtaposition of the losers' lives with that of the freedom fighters starts irritating after the first few times. It becomes laughable when the urban yuppies start parroting the lingo they picked up during their Freedom Struggle movie. (Maar daal usko, parrots Soha Ali Khan from her movie script) It becomes intolerable when the Defence Minister appears as General Dyer at Jalianwallah Bagh and Aamir Khan grows a Bhagat Singh within.

The movie underlined my belief that good acting can salvage a bad script to a great extent, though not fully. The real star of Rang De Basanti is not Aamir or Soha, but Atul Kulkarni. Beginner Kunal Kapoor too puts in a smart performance. Madhavan enacts his role believably, despite the shades. All of them are heavily let down by the weak script and unbelievable story line.

In fact, the story is fine till the MiG crash, since MiG crashes are not the stuff of Mehra's imagination - they actually happened. After the MiG crash, the fim-maker's imagination runs riot and we find ourselves in the middle of blood, gore and misunderstood patriotism.

Maar daal inko, I say!


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