Saturday, March 04, 2006

Rang De Basanti - A few reflections

It has been more than a month since Rang De Basanti has hit the screens and I assumed (wrongly as the first comment indicates) that this disclaimer was unnecessary. So here goes.. Those of you who haven't seen the movie yet, please be forewarned that this post, though not a review of the movie, does contain some spoilers.

Without doubt Rang De Basanti is a pleasant watch. There are a lot of fun-filled moments interspersed with some absorbing and thought-provoking ones. Since we went in a gang of 14 to watch the movie, I didn't get much of a chance to reflect after the movie ended. The other day however, I was listening to the 'Rang de basanti' soundtrack and it triggered a few reflections that I would like to share.

In the recent past and the not so recent past, several movies, the most prominent of which are "Gentleman", "Indian" (Hindusthani), "Mudhalvan", "Ramana" and "Anniyan" portray violence of some sort as a means of doing away with corruption. Not just violence but 'Glamorous violence' in which 'heroes' accept credit for gruesome killings as if they were being offered the bharat ratna award. While this glorified violence is stylish to watch, does it make any sense?

Rang De Basanti draws a parallel between pre-independence revolutionaries who sacrificed their lives in the freedom struggle and five youngsters who fight corruption after experiencing a mental awakening brought about by the untimely demise of a good friend. In the movie, five perfectly normal college students turn killers, which of course means that they weren't normal in the first place. It takes a lot for a stable human being to turn into a killer. A LOT.

If the movie makers are suggesting that we follow in the footsteps of the revolutionaries in our fight against corruption, they're wrong. In fact history suggests otherwise. It is common knowledge that our Independence was won through the non-violent MASS MOVEMENT rather than the scattered bursts of attacks by the revolutionaries. Keeping this in mind, the protest that Ajay Rathod's mother leads makes much more sense than the assassination of the Defense minister. The resulting lathi charge (I doubt if it would have happened in real life) would have made big headlines and garnered sympathy from all sections of society.

Anyways, coming to the issue of corruption itself..

So long as there is evil in the world (And I believe this will always be the case) corruption will exist in some form or the other. The question that begs to be answered is.. Why is corruption prevalent to such a large degree in our country?

Personally, I feel that a lack of deterrent is the main reason for this all-pervasive corruption in India. If people are caught for a misdemeanor they would much rather pay 50 Rupees to a policeman than 500 Rupees to the government. What do they care about where the money goes? Ditto for the policeman who would rather take 50 Rupees from the law-breaker than write out a ticket that would ensure that the 500 Rupees reaches the government. This is where the deterrent comes in. If the cost of 'attempting to bribe' is very high.. MUCH HIGHER than the 450 Rs that might be saved, most people wouldn't attempt to bribe. Obviously I wouldn't try to bribe customs if I KNOW that the minimum penalty would be a term in jail. Also, the bribe taker would think twice if his pension or job were at stake. With high cost deterrents in place the briber and the bribe seeker would be shit scared of each other even assuming the absence of all other witnesses.

I do believe we are making progress, albeit slowly. For instance when I turned 18, I wanted a driving license. Only, it was inconvenient for me to take the driving test because I was studying in Chennai at the time. Paying a few hundred bucks to a driving school did the trick. Note that I hadn't taken a single class from the driving school. The license arrived in my absence and my Dad signed for it! However, the very next year when my sister needed a license, even the driving school from which she had taken lessons for months could not get her a license without her taking both the written and driving exam. The cost of issuing a license without a record of an exam has gone up. Deterrents have been put in place.

I'm confident corruption will decrease gradually. Only, given the extreme differences between the rich and the poor and the high illiteracy levels in our country, it is going to be an agonizingly slow process. I don't see any shortcuts.. :-(. No amount of killing (glamorous or otherwise) is going to help.

If you ask me, Rang De Basanti may have been entertaining, may have resulted in an adrenaline rush and may have had some touching moments. But does it pass on a meaningful message for the general public? NO. Period.

*Today happens to be the birthday of a very close friend of mine..

Happy Birthday Murali!!! Thanks for all those great times we had*