Cast: Aamir Khan, Siddharth, Atul Kulkarni, Sharman Joshi, Kunal Kapoor, Soha Ali Khan Pataudi, Alice Patten, R. Madhavan, Waheeda Rehman, Kirron Kher and Om Puri Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra Producer: Ronnie Screwvala Music: A.R. Rahman Rating ***
I don't remember when I last saw a movie that had a story to tell and a message to give -- and did so in a real, gritty manner without being either preachy or dreary.
Some people say history is boring. But sometimes walking through the lanes of the past can be enjoyable and gratifying, especially if your guide is someone as gifted as Rakyesh Mehra and companions as spirited as Aamir Khan, Siddharth, Kunal Kapoor and Soha.
If Mehra's directorial debut "Aks" was unusual, his latest "Rang De Basanti" is atypical and awe-inspiring. It is not a patriotic film that bores you by glorifying the past. Instead, it meticulously draws a line between the past and the present, both of which move in parallel lines. If the past shows a group of young martyrs sacrificing their lives to uproot the British from the country, the present has a bunch of college pass-outs clueless about their future.
The film records their transition while they work on a documentary film based on the lives of freedom fighters, a gradual awakening to what life around them is all about.
If Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev fought against British rule, these youngsters wage a war against corrupt politicians who rule and ruin the country.
The film opens in London where young British girl Sue, played by Alice Patten, chances upon the diary of her grandfather, who served as a jailor during the British rule in India. She decides to make a film on the young Indian revolutionaries mentioned in the diary.
The company she works in refuses to sponsor her. It doesn't dampen her spirit and she flies down to India where she meets Sonia, played by Soha Ali Khan, who helps her in realising her dream. Sonia introduces her to DJ (Aamir Khan), Karan (Siddharth), Sukhi (Sharman Joshi), Aslam (Kunal Kapoor). After meeting them, Sue decides to make a film with them on martyrs like Bhagat Singh, Chandrasekhar Azad and Rajguru.
Initially, they surprise her with their cynicism about freedom fighters, India's future and corruption. The youngsters are convinced nobody can propel India in the right direction.
But once they begin enacting the lives of the historical characters comes the transformation in their outlook about the present and their own role in changing it. The death of their friend, Flt. Lt. Ajay Rathod, played by R. Madhavan, ignites their anger against the system and they explode.
The film sends out the message that every generation fights its own set of battles for the country.
Hindu fundamentalists are also targeted in the film through Atul Kulkarni, an extremist who fights to retain his Indian-ness. After watching the film, the pre-release hype over MiG fighter planes seems pointless.
Most films these days have a predictable story and viewers are usually a step ahead in foreseeing what's next. But Mehra proves to be cleverer and keeps the curiosity alive till the end. The climax comes as a big 'surprise'.
Aamir proves his mettle as a cheerful extrovert, though at some places his age betrays him. Anyway, "Rang De Basanti" cannot be termed an out and out Aamir film because the rest of the cast gets equal opportunity to showcase their talents and they don't disappoint you even once.
The film has stellar performances by the entire cast. British actress Alice Patten is brilliant and Soha surprises by her acting prowess. In fact, this could be called her best performance so far.
Om Puri, Kirron Kher and Waheeda Rehman walk in and out of the script in minuscule roles.
A.R. Rahman's music complements the story, but the editing is a little loose and at times obstructs the flow of the story.
In sum, an entertaining film -- and an enlightening one too. Well worth the money spent.