“Dosti ka koi majhab nahi hota, dost aur mauke baar baar nahi aate.”
This quote from Sanjay Gupta’s Shootout At Wadala encompasses what has been the representation of friendship on the big screen across ages. Right from Sholay to Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, friendship is seen to have guided not only the plot and action but also the overall expression of the films. Following suit, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti too has friendship at its heart and point of departure, where eccentricities of differences get marred by the irrationality of brotherhood, friendship and fellow feeling. Just as it shows how nationalistic sentiments can manifest in both conformist and radical manners, it also showcases how the intimacy of friendship can act as a powerful tool that stirs politics and society.
The movie explores a group of friends who, otherwise trifling around and engaging in tomfoolery, get hit by a personal tragedy and decide to fight back. The film alternates between two timelines, the 1920s and 1930s and the present, to offer an honest portrayal of history. These parallel narratives are skillfully woven together by the director to expose corruption and the dirty game of politics, revealing how these issues persist across both time and space.
We are introduced to a bunch of characters who struggle to find purpose and meaning in life. With this very struggle, their nationalistic ideas and sentiments find meaning. The friendship between these characters, forged in the mold of universal brotherhood, gives sense to the actions that unfold. As Ajay (R. Madhavan) dies in a plane crash, the sky comes falling down upon DJ (Aamir Khan), Sukhi (Sharman Joshi), Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), Karan (Siddharth) and Laxman (Atul Kulkarni) and Soniya (Soha Ali Khan). What struck them more was how the death of their friend got politically manipulated when it was ruled out as an accident caused by negligence in duty.
Reflecting the tale in Mackinley’s journal, the group takes the matter into their own hands. The actions that culminated in the takeover of the All India Radio building were driven by their friendship as much as they were by the inspiration from the journal. Ajay’s death was a wake-up call for the friends, as Sue noted, “As I watched DJ sleep that night, a funny thought occurred to me. May be DJ wasn’t sleeping. Maybe none of them were. May be they were all waking up.”
It's notable that the character of Laxman Pandey didn’t fit into the group as easily as the others did. His initial loyalty to his party and its ideals put him in conflict with DJ and his friends. But Sue’s project brought him close to the circle. After witnessing the brutality of his party towards innocent people, his ideals started to change. Though he didn’t get a chance to make peace with Aslam, their deaths celebrated their friendship that went beyond their religious affiliations.
Mehra's metanarrative storytelling takes a step ahead through its cinematography by the talented Binod Pradhan, who won the Filmfare Award for best cinematography in 2007. He makes the story more personal than it already is and celebrates the characters’ feelings for each other. The close-up shots and shots taken at a lower frame rate per second open up the inner turmoil within the characters while the hand-held camera angle allows us to be there and feel their pain and rage.
Rang De Basanti therefore, not only politicizes friendship but also reinforces it as a social responsibility and as something humane at its core. It remains a tweaked take on a coming-of-age narrative where the pervading, self-sustaining sentiment of friendship is the protagonist.