05 May 2006

Did 'Rang De Basanti' fail us?

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty, and truth, and compassion against injustice, and lying, and greed. If people all over the world, in thousands of rooms like this one would do this, it would change the Earth.”
[William Faulkner, 1951, commencement speech when his daughter Jill graduated from high school in Oxford, Mississippi]

Our parents, teachers and elders are a bag of mixed messages. They tell us to be honest, but not hurt anyone’s feelings. They tell us to speak frankly, but be polite at the same time. They tell us to help others in trouble, but not get into trouble ourselves while helping them. They tell us to fight for justice, but not at the cost of damaging our (and their) reputation.

So, which one is it going to be? Which precept should we follow? Which standard should we adopt for ourselves in order to be good human beings?

We know we should applaud positive thoughts, images and actions. We know we should protest those that are damaging. We know we should get involved and change what’s corrupting our society. We know we should live freely and not be swayed by fear or anger or oppression. But sometimes, in doing so, we lose sight of the laws that govern us and break the codes of normal social conduct. Just as our group of heroes – and one heroine – did in the film ‘Rang De Basanti’. They were swayed by anger and oppression (not fear, mind you). They took the path of the lawless and murdered people.

What kind of an example is this film setting for our teenagers? Is this how we respond to oppression today?

Over the past few months, I’ve been speaking to teenagers, some youths in their mid-twenties and some adults too, about ‘Rang De Basanti’. Curiously, I’ve received a very passive response from most people. They all found the film fascinating – except the end. They all said that that’s not what happens in real life. That, we are non-violent people. That, we are not freedom fighters any longer, rising up against British oppression. That, murder is not in our DNA.

Curiously, again, when I asked them, “In that case, what would you do? How would you script the ending to ‘Rang De Basanti’?,” these teenagers didn’t have a concrete answer. After some ho-hum they said that they would petition, start an agitation, etc. When I reminded them that these steps were already taken in ‘Rang De Basanti’ and the actions of our heroes were crushed by the establishment, the teenagers seemed to lose interest in the topic and sauntered off.

What does this say about Indian teenagers today? Did ‘Rang De Basanti’ fail us altogether?

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