Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Heavy Sunday (or watching Rang De Basanti and Born Into Brothels back to back)

Sunday is the one day of the week that I do not have to do anything I don't want to do. I don't have to get up at any certain time, I don't have to work, I don't have to get dressed, leave my apartment or talk to another human being all day long if I don't want to. I, therefore, like to keep my Sundays light and uncomplicated. Sunday is the "Romantic Comedy" of the week as opposed to the Docudrama the rest of the week usually is. Then there was today.

I actually woke up in time to catch IFC's Wake Up with Bollywood movie, Rang De Basanti. I figured, "Hey, it's Bollywood on American TV so it will be a nice, light, fluffy, musical with a happy ending." In the beginning it was. A youngish English woman named Sue goes to India to make a documentary film about Bhagat Singh and other notable Indian freedom fighters who gave their lives at a very young age (23) for India's Independence. Much of her film is based on a diary written by her grandfather who was, through his superiors, charged with overseeing the imprisonment, torture and, ultimately, execution of said freedom fighters. Of course, he learned to respect the young men and hate his task.

Upon her arrival in India, she is greeted by her friend Sonia who assists her in several rounds of unsuccessful auditions for young men to play the freedom fighters in her movie. It seems as though today's kids just don't get it. Then Sonia introduces her to her core group of friends, four college guys that are cute, cool, Westernized and, of course, ambivalent about the state of affairs in India. Yes, India has its problems but nothing will ever change it so why even try, is their attitude. They agree to be in Sue's movie though they believe that they have nothing in common whatsoever with the freedom fighters who died over 60 years ago or the ideals they died for.

What follows is an hour and a half of "Oh look how fun it is to be them" movie-watching, filled with music video-like sequences of afternoons spent hanging out goofing around, budding romance, carefree youth. It's fun, it's fluffy, it's exactly what I was hoping to watch early on a Sunday morning. Then, disaster...Ajay, Sonia's fiance, who was only in about 2 scenes prior to this, has died when his fighter jet malfunctioned. Ajay is a hero, the jet malfunctioned due to faulty parts purchased as part of a corrupt government deal but the officials responsible, blame our hero in the media. Suddenly, passion is ignited in our young posse of pretty but inconsequential youngsters. They lead a peaceful protest march to India Gate that soon turns violent as the government tries to silence them.

At this point, I'm still on board. Maybe they'll go on to become lawyers and journalists and live good, happy lives fighting the good fight. Instead, they shoot the Minister of Defense down in the street as he takes his morning walk. Then one of the group, who happens to be the son of a businessman responsible for brokering the government deal for the faulty plane parts, goes home, tells dad what he did, hugs him and shoots him dead in the living room. They then take over All India Radio to confess that they are responsible for shooting the Minister and to explain why by taking calls from listeners. They are drinking coffee, hanging out, goofing around as usual, with the exception that the military and police are mobilizing outside to annihilate them.

When the police breach the building and start picking them off one by one, we get flashbacks of Bhagat Singh and his merry band of freedom fighters living out their final moments as a comparison. Then, what seem to be the ghosts of those original martyrs look on in seeming pride as these promising young men bleed their lives out on the floor of the radio stattion.

The movie ends with a shot of the five of them laughing, running through the fields of the place they used to hang out together as though there is a heaven of perpetual college life waiting for them on the other side.

Lest you doubt, I did enjoy this movie. It pushed all the appropriate emotional buttons. I laughed, I cried, I admired how good looking they all were, I wanted to be part of their group of cool kids...until they all went down in a blaze of glory. What I didn't enjoy is the message of this movie. This film makes it look romantic for five beautiful, promising young men who should be India's hope for the future not just to die for the revolution but to kill for the revolution.

And, I have to ask, where is the revolution? Unless your acts end up being a catalyst to real change on a national scale, isn't it just terrorism? Ask the IRA. If your "revolution" fails, history doesn't call it a revolution. What I know about Indian history could be written in the head of a pin but even I can see that the circumstances surrounding the actions of Bhagat Singh and his men were very different from the world the movie was set in. In fact, the guys say this more than once as an excuse for why they find it difficult to connect to playing the freedom fighters. It is a different world they live in.

I guess there is supposed to be some point in all of this about Indians needing freedom from the corruption of government which keeps the country mired in its problems of poverty, overcrowding, lack of resources, etc. But to so blatantly romanticize obtaining that through violence...just wrong. Maybe, in reality, violence is more's certainly more interesting in the short term. But cultures and nations will never evolve towards non-violent solutions until they start to believe that it is more tragic than romantic for young people to die for their country and that hope for the future lies in young people living for their ideals, not killing for them.

After that, I should have turned off the TV or, at the very least, tried a new channel but I didn't. I was still trying to process it all when the next show came on and sucked me in.

Born into Brothels has been in my Netflix queue for 2 years for a reason, I heard it was very good but very depressing and I have been avoiding heavy drama and depressing in my entertainment choices for about 2 years. Lucky for me, it was on right after Rang De Basanti today.

It was as good and as gut-wrenching as I knew it would be. If you haven't seen it yet, you should. The unconscious wisdom and resiliency of the featured children is heartbreaking. The one moment that touched me the most was something one of the boys said after the death of his mother. They said she died in a kitchen accident which turned out to be her pimp setting her on fire in her own kitchen. Her son, Avijit, about 10 years old said, "There is nothing called hope in my future."

For so many children in the world, that statement is tragically true. At the end of the documentary, we see that, for Avijit, it may not be true. He may be one of the lucky ones. It was, however, striking that these parents didn't even have enough hope to have hope for their children even when opportunity was handed to them.

So, a very heavy, thought-provoking morning has given birth to this blog. Most of the sadness from these movies stems from the loss or death of hope. Hope has become one of those words that we overuse almost as much as love. But, it's important to remember what powerful forces both are in the world. So, that is what I choose to take from these films rather than sadness...a renewed appreciation for hope.


Anonymous said...

True, the ending is where RDB really seems to go a bit haywire. I do not agree with their approach either, but what made it problematic to me was the fact that their decision-making process was not convincing. If the characters had been set up in such a way that their reaction seemed obvious, then I might have admired the maker's courage in staying true to the characters. A bit more careful writing would've solved that problem. It would still have been violent (and I suspect you still might not have liked it!), but at least it would have been a heck of a lot more convincing.


ps: Nice blog, by the way. Keep posting!

Christy said...

I agree with you. It's as if one day they just woke up and decided to assassinate a government official as a lark. Perhaps we are supposed to assume the emotional journey based on the death of their friend and the outcome of their peaceful march but it's not enough.
I also needed more to convince me that these otherwise happy-go-lucky, comparitively privileged kids would suddenly turn into assassins.

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