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 Rang De Basanti: Is This Patriotism? 

Date of Publish - Thursday, 14th February 2019

While India is witnessing a never-before-seen streak of growth in economic and social terms, the prevailing trends of hyper-nationalism, juxtaposed with new concepts such as intolerance have caused deep divides and concerns in the nations and the world. In truth, the dividing line where patriotism ends and nationalism begins depends on what shade of lens the viewer chooses to perceive (pun intended). I have chosen to discuss this extraordinarily complex debate on patriotism. However, the mode I've chosen as an aid is an audio-visual one, one that evoked similar contrasting notions and uncomfortable questions when it came - the extremely poignant and cult Hindi feature film - Rang de Basanti.
Set in the University of Delhi in the early years of the generation, the movie covers the adolescent exploits of five college students and a small-time political volunteer in a militant right-wing Hindu outfit. While they have a relatively ordinary and particularly uninteresting existence, they began to find some meaning in their lives when they took part as actors in a documentary being made on Indian revolutionary freedom fighters, ironically being made by a Britisher whose grandfather was one of the prison official in whose four walls several of these revolutionaries were confined. Their lives changed forever when one of their friends' fiancé got martyred while on a routine flight on an IAF MIG aircraft. The ensuing treatment of his ultimate sacrifice set their temperamental selves on an unchangeable path. They began to see the shadow of their revolutionary protagonists in their own selves and in a similar fashion as they did, went on to assassinate the defence minister.  But when their actions were condemned and he minister honourees posthumously, they chose to broadcast their names and their act in the public - and were all killed in a police operation as terrorists are today. The ensuing public outcry against their treatment was shown to unleash a new 'revolution' in India.The movie showed not only the protagonists killing the defence minister over his corrupt practises which indirectly resulted in their comrade’s martyrdom, but one of the lead actor also murdered his father who was also embroiled in the high-level corruption scandal. Prior to the act, they debated over it and went ahead with the decision because they were frustrated with the state of law and order wherein the minister would likely have escaped any repercussions. But does this justify their grave act? Should Indian Pena Code which criminalises murder and also lays down several mitigating factors also today include patriotism as one of them? And Is the patriotism of Dijeet and his friends above reproach, or is it on the same plane as those of mob-lynches? Where does one draw a line in between? While some may revolt at comparing such drastically different instances, yet it does raise an uncomfortable silence when being objectively viewed.

However, Rang De Basanti’s version of patriotism also professes immense love for the nation, brought on by yesteryear inspirations rather than present-day events. This form of patriotism is energetic – similar to the people who advocate it, is above partisan-politics, is above religious divides. But this from of patriotism also justifies violence necessary to propagate it.  From their understanding of glorified accounts of revolutionaries,who chose extreme measures against a despotic foreign authority, this patriotism fails to distinguish that the present authority is a government elected by popular mandate.

What I have tried to present in the preceding paragraphs is simply a kaleidoscopic view to examine the definition and understanding of Patriotism shown in Rang De, and to question till what extent it is legitimate.

Author :
Radhika Kohli


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