Rang De Basanti Critique Competition

On Sep 22, the Society for South Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore organized a movie screening of "Rang De Basanti" at LT29. I was one of the participants who had to provide a critique based on the theme, "Do you support the actions taken by the lead actors?". The theme was given out before the movie started. The audio quality in the LT (Lecture Theatre) was excellent. Apart from the obvious young Indian crowd, a couple of local Chinese and Caucasian faces were also to be seen. Though watching it for the second time, I loved every moment of the movie, as I made my notes on what to speak. It was an excellent audience too, with a palpable vibrancy in the air that suggested each person watching was really proud of the movie (as if having a personal stake) and was enjoying every moment of it – something one rarely gets to see in a movie theatre. There were bits of verbal interaction as well. When a dejected DJ (with a stress on D..DDDDJ..Aamir Khan) says he doesn’t know what to do, I heard a voice behind me say "NUS mein aa kar research kar le" (come to NUS and pursue research). I laughed and cried with the movie. When DJ lights the funeral pyre of his pilot friend, I imagined my cousin Sanjay doing the same in Jalpaiguri that day, who lost his father (my mousaji – Bidya mousi’s husband) a day before. When the movie ended, it witnessed a standing ovation from all present. The organizers announced that refreshments would be served outside, but only after the critique competition was over. The students (mostly) sat back and watched. Each speaker was to be given 3 minutes to present the critique, followed by 2 minutes of Q&A. Two out of the first three speakers presented arguments saying they did not support the actions taken by the lead actors. One girl said when DJ and his friends reach the radio station, they should not have pointed guns against innocent people. On being questioned if they’d have been allowed to go and disrupt a large radio station without using guns, she said, perhaps they could have pointed guns to the security guard but not to the people inside. The response from the audience was lukewarm. One speaker said he was confused as to whether they did the right thing or not. Then came a fourth speaker, who went forth and declared, "I totally support the actions taken by the lead actors. I am no Gandhi fan…and this is the only way which actually works". He went on to say how non-violence didn’t work in the recent protests by medical students against reservations at premier Indian educational institutions. The audience clapped and cheered. I was the last speaker. Following is a gist of what I said:

My name is Naresh Kumar Agarwal and I am a Research Assistant and a 2nd year PhD Candidate at the Dept. of Information Systems, School of Computing. To answer whether I support the actions taken by the lead actors, I’d say that I totally support the actions taken by the lead actors in the movie, but to say whether you or I should do the same, I’d say "No". When I first watched the movie, and having been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi all along, I went through a dilemma whether the method advocated in the movie was correct. Mahatma Gandhi has said, "Be the change you want to see in the world". After much thought, I concluded that Rang de Basanti does not advocate the method, but rather, the courage to take on the responsibility for bringing about change, to take responsibility for the state of things in your country rather than simply blaming the other, to question and resist injustice, to follow the truth. Mahatma Gandhi has said that there are three possible responses to oppression and injustice: First is the coward’s way – to accept the wrong or to run away from it. Second possible response is to stand and fight by force of arms. Gandhi said this was better than acceptance or running away. So in the movie, given the option of not doing anything against injustice versus seeking redemption through the violent way, I’d say the violent way is preferable. But the third and the best method of all, and one which requires the most courage, is to stand and fight solely by non-violent means. In this non-violent method, violence is present, but it is not directed against the other person, only to yourself. The actors in RDB also went on a candle-light vigil to India Gate in a non-violent manner. Only when it didn’t work did they adopt violence. The lesson to imbibe from the movie is not voilence, but rather the responsibility to bring about change (instead of cowardly accepting or running away from the state of things). The following is inscribed on a tomb in Westminister Abbey "When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamt of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country. But it, too, seemed immovable. As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it. And now, as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country, and who knows, I may have even changed the world." The biggest message of RDB is to be able to change youself. And for this, you don’t really require violence, but rather, compassion for those around you. HH the Dalai Lama has said, "To experience genuine compassion is to develop a feeling of closeness to others combined with a sense of responsibility for their welfare. This develops when we accept that other people are just like ourselves in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering." (I didn’t say the Dalai Lama quote in the actual speech). A previous speaker mentioned that the actors used a personal loss as pretext to rise up against injustice, which she said is not correct. I disagree. One spark is enough to bring about change in a person – "Aag hai mujhmein kahin". That spark could be anything, if a personal loss helps you bring out the fire in you, so be it. If watching this movie helps spark the fire within, why not! So while we go out and do what we do – pursue research, strive to rise in our jobs, whether we are in our country or outside it, when we spend lifetimes wanting to go and buy the next car, that condo out there, and worrying about me, myself, my spouse and my children, let us strive to do something worthwhile for our country. "Ab bhi jiska khoon na khoula, wo khoon nahin hai paani hai. Jo bhi desh ke kaam na aaye, wo bekar jawaani hai"! (Translation, not mentioned in speech: even now if someone’s blood does not boil, that is not blood but water. Anybody who does nothing for his/her country, that is a wasted youth).

During the Q&A session, somebody asked me, "So do you believe in Mahatma Gandhi or in Rang de Basanti". I replied,

"I believe in Mahatma Gandhi and I believe in Rang de Basanti. And I see no contradiction."

The first four consolation prizes announced didn’t include my name. I was declared the Winner.

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