Far too much yellow!

February 7th, 2006

This is not a review of Rang de Basanti. For my own review you can read it at my other blog.

I am disappointed that many people have felt the movie is bad because of personal prejudice. The contentions raised by these individuals varies from ‘Advocating violence is wrong‘ to ‘the characters are daft‘ to ‘nobody in their right minds would do such a thing‘ to ‘Bhagat Singh & Co. were seriously stupid‘ and of course the grand-daddy of them all ‘non-violence is the only true solution!

*Please note that I am using Bhagat Singh & Co. as a mere shortcut. Each member of the group had his/her own very important part to play in their activities. No flaming please, in this regard at least!

I have nothing personally against any of the individuals linked to above, and while they have every right to their own opinions, I do feel the need to balance the perspectives somewhat.

Firstly, let’s look at the historical perspective.

1. Indian independence was not won by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. For those of you who think I’m being blasphemous, let me clarify: Mahatma Gandhi was a brilliant leader of the masses. But he did not act in isolation. It took every single person who participated in the freedom movement to make any impact on the Raj. Both the violent and non-violent protests were necessary. And more importantly, the British left India, only because their hold on the country had become tenuous following WWII. They no longer had the men and money to fight to keep ruling over the country. And the protests (both violent and non violent) were getting too difficult to handle.

2. If Bhagat Singh & Co. had not decided to act in the fashion they did nearly 80 years ago, how many people would have realised that the machinery of the Raj could actually be damaged? One must remember that for over a century people believed that the power of the Queen over the country was inviolate. We were a country of people who had been ruled by kings for as long as we could remember. Nobody attacked the kings except for family and other kings. Bhagat Singh & Co. stood up to the establishment and the rest of the country realised that it was possible to change the system themselves. Not everyone decided to take arms against the Raj. Many of them joined the Gandhian movement. But people were jolted out of their current existence by the hope of a new order largely due to these men’s actions. Ask your grandparents about it if you don’t believe me.

3. There were many many people back then who decided that Bhagat Singh & Co. had no right to take the ‘law into their own hands’. If it hadn’t been for the others who did not sit back and agree with the ‘law’, we might not have gained freedom, because the British would not have to fight to keep control over India.

4. Bhagat Singh & Co. did not use assassination as their only tool. They participated in more non-violent protests than most people living in India today have ever done. The bombs they threw in the parliament were most clearly designed not to hurt anyone (a fact borne-out by the British themselves). They killed Saunders because they believed that he was responsible for murder.

To take a modern example. Today Saddam Hussein is under trial for genocide. The country that brought him to trial is America. American troops have killed more innocent Iraqis than the number of Americans killed by Iraqi troops. Shouldn’t Bush be under trial for genocide too?

You will state that this argument is fallacious. And it is. My point is, why shouldn’t Bhagat Singh & Co. have the right to decide if Saunders was guilty of murder? Who does have that right? Either one should say that nobody has that right. In which case anarchy would reign based on who has the greatest power (America in the example). Or one should say that it depends. On what? In Bhagat Singh & Co’s case, they believed that Saunders was guilty as charged and should be taken away and hanged (or rather – shot). By law in most countries, 12 jury members are enough to convict a man of murder. So we’ve got half a dozen men convicting Saunders of murder. And there was no need for any defence. It was public knowledge that he was responsible for the deaths of many innocent lives. The ‘law’ at that time protected him from any action taken against any ‘native’ person. Who is to say that Bhagat Singh & Co. were wrong in what they did. Not me. None of us might be living the lives we are if it weren’t for them.

Coming back to the film itself.

1. Even though some people find it disagreeable, the fact is that the events of our bunch of modern ‘revolutionaries’ (DJ & Co in short), paralleled the actions of BS & Co. almost exactly.
a. Systemic failure of some kind (Jalianwala Bagh vs. MIG crash)
b. Non violent protest (Simon go home vs. candles at Amar Jawan)
c. Police brutality at non-violent protest.
d. Violent retaliation against a single person identified as cause of said Systemic failure (Saunders vs. Defence Minister).
e. Death of the conspirators (Hanging vs. Shootout)

2. At no point during the film do any of the group advocate violence as a solution to any problem. Karan most clearly says at the end that he agrees that what they have done is wrong. He encourages everyone to change the system by joining the IAS or politics. He does not pretend to be a hero of any kind. Anyone who watches the movie and comes out saying that the movie is advocating violence needs to have his head checked. It’s like saying that because Harry must kill Voldemort, JK Rowling is advocating violence. RDB is a movie that incites us to change our society just like HP is a series of books talking about good vs evil. Neither of them say use violence. They just point of that at times, when people are pushed too far, violence is the method that they used. Not that violence is the method you should use. Change what you can.

3. Some bloggers believe that nobody living the life of DJ & Co would do such a thing. Why not? Bhagat Singh & Co. did the same thing 80 years ago. They could have also lived ‘normal’ lives had they chosen to. My grandfather himself had a choice of joining the ICS and decided against it (during the Quit India movement). Had he joined it, he would have had a cushier life than most people in our country even today. When you love and care about someone or something (whether it is a friend, a lover, a child or even a country) enough, you will be willing to take up arms against injustice done to the object of your love. And you will be willing to die in that cause. It has happened in the past, and continues to happen today. A young person in college is highly likely to not use the long winding route to justice. Give him a gun and he will go out and kill someone. Babri Masjid anyone? Many of the people who brought the structure down were young students caught up in the moment. Ordinary young men from ordinary middle-class families. Many of them agreed later on that they had done something wrong and would not advocate it. What makes it so unbelievable that DJ & Co would so something so hot headed and then agree that they have done something wrong.

4. Do you really believe that suicide bombers go and attack their targets while pissing in their pants? Far from it. Most of them believe in their cause so strongly that it would take an army to stop them from achieving their purpose. (Of course now a huge number of people will link what DJ & Co did with terrorism. It is a wrong assumption. According to one of the primary working definitions of terrorism, it is the unconventional use of violence against civilians for political gain. The aim of terrorism is to terrify. The aim of DJ & Co was most clearly to administer justice in their eyes. They were not terrorising the government or the people of the country. It is very clear in that regard. If of course you did not recognise that – too bad)

5. Other bloggers believe that the government would not act the way it did. There would not be any attacks on unarmed peaceful protests in the heart of the capital. Nor would there be massed public killings of the group at the AIR headquarters. Wake up and smell the humus. The government in India and around the world does exactly that. Time and again. It can and will do that because it has the power to attack those who oppose it. The media is powerless to report on this beyond a point because most forms of mass media are commercial entities and can be bribed, bullied or coerced into reporting the news (or not) in the way the government wants. Look at Google in China!

But most importantly, this movie is NOT advocating violence. For those of you who misread this, it is NOT ADVOCATING VIOLENCE. Rather it is a movie that tries to tell you that things are wrong with our country in much the same way that things were wrong 80 years ago. If we sit back on our fat asses and type on our computers arguing about whether violence is right or wrong, nothing will change.

It is a MOVIE after all. It is NOT a documentary. It is designed to get your minds out from the little hole that it has dragged itself into and make you look at the world around you. And in that, it has achieved it purpose adequately. Because you are sitting there and criticising it, you have been affected. Good or bad. It doesn’t matter. But criticise the right things. Don’t go on about how the movie advocates violence or how violence doesn’t change anything. Violence exists in this world. It does change things. For good or bad. The war on Iraq can be directly linked to the twin tower attacks. Did it improve life for the Al-Qaeda? Maybe not. But it changed things – most certainly. (Again I am not linking Dj & Co with Al-Qaeda. I am just pointing out that the effects of violence are far from negligible). And the movie most definitely does not advocate violence. Watch it again if you don’t believe me. And this time, watch it with an open mind. And remember that you can watch a movie like this, today, in a free India, because of people like Bhagat Singh & Co.

Categories: movies, politics | 2 Comments