Quick review: rang de Basanti is a beautiful, moving film about how easy it can be to ignore the past and the importance of revolution. Only watch it if you are in the mood to cry for about three days.
Long review: The film reminds us how quickly history is forgotten.
Sue (Alice Patten) is a white, female, British filmmaker. She wants to create a documentary about 1920s Indian revolutionaries. She provides the way in for a Western audience: it is not an Indian filmmaker telling this story, but a white British woman. However, she does learn Hindi and travels to India to produce her documentary.
The young men she hires to recreate the past are not particularly interested in the story. They are college students (“boys,” Sue will say later) and interested in the present. Not atypical for people their age. Of course, the revolutionaries who lost their lives were also young men. While these men must still deal with the legacy of colonialism, their lives are more comfortable because of the sacrifices the revolutionaries made. Complacency is easy.
Sue is just one of two major female characters. The movie is focused on the stories of four actual male revolutionaries, so that’s not a surprise. Yet while we see the fallout Sonia’s (Soha Ali Khan) fiancee is killed and his death covered up because of corrupt officials, little is told about the families of the 1920s revolutionaries.
Perhaps this makes sense to streamline the narrative, yet once again, this movie suggests, as so much media does, that history was only done by men. Women react (Sonia) or are a catalyst (Sue), but it is men who do and make history.
A quick Google search reveals several articles about female revolutionaries. They existed, they made history, but they are often forgotten or left out.
Certainly movies like Bajirao-Mastani put more focus on historical women’s stories. But Rang de Basanti is particularly interesting for its place in the canon, its impact on society, and the way it frames the story. How do we talk about history? What do we remember, what do we do with those memories?
That this movie had a noticeable on Indian society shows the importance of media and of representation. This was an important story to tell, and it was told well. So we must keep telling more stories. We must include women, the poor, the marginalized in those stories.
A movie like this also reminds us about why feminism is important: it’s not enough to just have one or two interesting female characters. We must also look at the intersections of power, of race, class, education level, and so on. For a more inclusive present and future, we must depict an inclusive past: the past as it really was.