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‘Rang De Basanti’ Proves That Dissent Too Is A Form Of Patriotism

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I was seven when “Rang De Basanti” was released. Unaware of the status it would attain in the context of my life in the years to come, I had watched the film in a cineplex with my parents and my sister. While the film was well received, for the most part, it left the audience perplexed. But it is one of those films that people have gradually, in a process that has been very profound, learned to love. It’s the same as “Tamasha” – whose impact was not felt instantly and like “Lakshya” which was unsuccessful on the silver screen, not because it was a terrible film but because Farhan Akhtar had a fairytale directorial debut with “Dil Chahta Hai”. While “Lakshya” stalled miserably at the theatres, it has been acknowledged as a good film, as people, especially the young minds, have watched and re-watched it in search of inspiration.

Sue McKinley, played by Alice Patten has a nine to five job that requires her to make documentaries for a living at ‘World Vision’. But one day she finds the diary of her grandfather James McKinley, an officer in the British army, only to become emotionally affected by the stories of the revolutionaries in the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. She makes up her mind to pack her bags and fly to India, depending on the only friend she has in the country, Sonia (Soha Ali Khan). She arrives in the national capital territory, to make a film, without any funds. She’s a little zealot in her own ways.

“Rang De Basanti” is undoubtedly a youth-film. Zestful at every step, it captures the spirit of the nation, which is young. Strictly going by the demographics, India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35. India is a young nation, which is why this film continues to appeal. While the movie deals with a number of themes, the primary plotlines are the making of the documentary and the MiG fighter plane scam. There are times where the first one hour and forty-six minutes feel like a film on their own, which gives the movie the feel of a fragmented whole.

“Rang De Basanti” is a testament of university culture and the fact that the coolest film of the last decade highlights the existential angst of the postmodern times. Deejay (Aamir Khan) has sudden bouts of existential angst. In one such sequence in the film, Deejay explains to Sue that while he had acquired his degree some fives years ago, he could not convince himself to leave the campus for fear of obscurity. This is a sad reality for many students across the various campuses in India. Many students, while pursuing their post-graduation, settle for the comfort that the campus culture offers. Their university becomes a haven for them, which they find tough to leave for the outer world. It is the same existential angst that had occupied Shahid Kapoor’s character in “Kismat Konnection”. While there were many who’ve claimed that Aamir Khan was a miscast because he was way past the age acceptable for playing a varsity student, the director actually portrays ingenuity by casting Aamir and doing so by successfully weaving a storyline for him, in a film that otherwise had actors who do not work in the mainstream.

We see the film unfold through the eyes of Sue, who keeps thinking about the six friends on a cinematic plane and by the time we’ve arrived at the end of the first half, the actors have become their characters and the characters in the film have become their historical counterparts. We see the character of Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), who plays Ashfaqulla Khan in Sue’s documentary, facing the same conflict that his historical counterpart did. Aslam is not in agreement with the idea of not intermingling with the Hindu majority of the country, which was being propounded by his father and brother. Ashfaq too, right until his death in 1927, worked for Hindu-Muslim unity, the Independence of India and against the partisan forces in his own community. Aslam is shown to be the ideal Muslim. The treatment that the minority finds in this film tells us about the director’s idea of a minority, while the film is not fascist, certain elements in the film imply that the director also believes that there was a section within the minorities, that can be held responsible for the partition of India.

Sue, the outsider, has been used as a mouthpiece for important social commentary. For instance, she is quoted saying “I was so stupid to pack my bags and come to a place where people are looking for an excuse to kill each other”. While Sue speaks Hindi, during one of the scenes, the screenplay demands that she say “tumhara jawaab nahin, Sonia”. The proverbs in a language, lose their essence in translation. “Tumhara jawaab nahin”, is an expression and not a direct translation and there is no way that someone who is just learning to speak in a different tongue, would pick up its proverbs easily, this flaw is a result of poor writing. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra is a fine director when he has been given a good screenplay and is not involved in the writing process himself. “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” is a brilliant piece of work whereas “Delhi 6” is a result of weak writing and so is “Aks”, which if I may state, very controversially is one of Amitabh Bachchan’s best work, acting-wise.

“Rang De Basanti” has the ability to move back and forth in time. The boys fight against the ruling party that is shown to be involved in high-level corruption just like their historical counterparts were engaged in a struggle against the British, which makes this film a huge allegory for the Indian Independence movement. A brilliant scene in the film, for instance, would be that of Scott’s assassination and how the film immediately cuts to present day and time after his murder and has the ensemble riding in a jeep as they smile mischievously. While the camera techniques could be old, this does not prevent “Rang De Basanti” from being visually appealing. The movie is said to be set in Delhi, but the Director’s and the Director of Photography’s eye for aesthetic has taken the film to various locations. This visual gem allowed Binod Pradhan, who was also the Director of Photography for “Devdas”, to win the Filmfare for best cinematography that year.

The music is an integral part of this film, the visuals in the songs are stunning and do not take away from the film’s storyline. The songs cannot be skipped because they’ve important sequences that advance the storyline, whether it be ‘tu bin bataye’, ‘luka chuppi’ or ‘khoon chala’. The film’s music cannot be seen separately from the movie itself. Serenity in ‘tu bin bataye’ and chaos in ‘khalbali’, is successfully conveyed through camera work, tension is conveyed through A.R. Rahman’s background score in flashback scenes.

The only song that did not have anything new to add to the film, would be the title track ‘rang de basanti’, this song sequence could be edited out without the audience being able to tell that something has gone missing from the film. Because unlike other songs, this song does not blend into the storyline of the film and looks like it has been edited in to showcase the village Olympics. So, for me, those five minutes of the title track are the most discountable, in the entire movie. As far as I can call to memory, the computer-generated aircrafts in ‘tu bin bataye’, did not exist in the theatrical release but were later added, when the movie was released on DVD.

The poem, Sarfaroshi Ki Tamannah, has been incorporated into the song ‘lalkaar’ but the movie wrongly ends up attributing the war cry, Sarfaroshi Ki Tamannah, penned by Bismil Azimabadi, a poet from Patna to the poet-revolutionary Ram Prasad Bismil. Though Ram Prasad Bismil immortalised this poem, it is not his creation. Also, in a scene that takes place between Ashfaqulla Khan and Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaq is advised by Bismil to flee to Afghanistan, where he could remain safe with those who shared his religious identity. One can doubt the historicity of such events because Shamsul Haq had discussed a similar incident in his book, “Muslims against partition”, where Frontier Gandhi was faced by embarrassment and dejection when Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had asked him to join the Muslim League, once the partition of India was announced. One wonders, whether such events in history were actually frequent or was this scene added to convey a sentiment but in the end distorts facts by shaping history in the public context.

While “Rang De Basanti” leaves us with several questions, looking back one can’t help, but wonder would the film still be as well-received had it been scheduled to release in today’s date and time, even with the country’s present political atmosphere?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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