Rang de Basanti

Today movies, music and Television in general plays such an influential role in the construction of social reality for most of us. When these narratives tell us the most important mythic stories, it is important to give them some attention. Since its’ release Rang De Basanti has been at the center of much social commentary and its’ effect on the Indian youth have been looked at in some detail. My conversations with youth in Pakistan have led me to the conclusion that in recent times no other movie has been able to engage their imagination more.

Here is an excerpt from the page on Wiki for the movie. We can reflect on this influence and understand the power such narratives have today.

Social influence

Before and after the film’s release, the Indian society was influenced by the film. A study of the bloggers‘ behavioral patterns during the first month of the film’s release revealed that there was a significant increase in government and politicians drawing ire for their inefficiency in proving basic amenities, corruption, bureaucracy. Intense political discussions spurred on by the film’s influence was observed in these patterns.[98] While commenting on the movie sparking discussions among people, writer D’Silva said that “it has struck a chord somewhere”.[99] Besides instigating political thought and discussions, it evoked social awakening for many. While some discussions rallied on how the citizens should support and contribute to non-governmental organizations to exercising simple citizen duties of paying taxes and voting, the others contemplated on how to become more responsible towards the country.[100] Several young Indians could relate to the movie because it spoke their language and evoked patriotism from them.[101]

While such reactions were observed on the Internet, youth activism took to streets to protest on public interest issues. A direct impact was on the 1999 Jessica Lall Murder Case, one of the high-profile murder cases in India. After the court judgment a month after the film’s release, the main accused as identified by many witnesses was acquitted because of inefficient prosecution and hostile witnesses.[102] The acquittal of the main accused sparked intense civil protests and media campaigns that sought his re-arrest. Taking cue from the scene in which the protagonists hold a silent, candlelight vigil at New Delhi‘s India Gate, one such group of demonstrators carried out a similar rally to voice their protest.[103] Shortly after the protests, a survey was conducted to assess reasons for the sudden upsurge in people’s social involvements. Eighteen percent of the respondents felt that movies like Rang De Basanti was the main reason behind it.[104] Another such massive youth activism was seen in the Priyadarshini Mattoo rape and murder case where similar rallies were organized in India, United States and around the world.[105][106] Another social outcry, after the release of the film, was against introduction of reservation for socially backward classes in educational institutions. Young doctors and engineers joined hands in peaceful rallies in major cities across India.[107] Though the film was not released in the neighbouring Pakistan, it evoked similar reactions. In September 2006, Pakistan’s national newspaper, Jung launched a television channel that was to focus on the citizens’ issues and support public awakening.[108] Reacting to these strong social reactions, actor Kunal Kapoor thought that the film was just a catalyst that presented “patriotism in a package that the youngsters understood and empathised with”.[109]

In the Indian media, frequent referencing of the film was evident, with many brands using pictorials from the movie.[110] In addition, the media also uses the terms “RDB” (abbreviated title of the movie) and “RDB effect” while referring to instances of public activism on matters of public interest.[111] When the 2007 Delhi University Student Elections focused more on the important issues facing the students than in the previous years, one student referred to this as the “RDB Syndrome”.[112] On similar lines a play, which was influenced by the film, is based on the “RDB effect”. The play’s storyline focuses on a young Indian expatriate whose life changes after watching this film.[113]

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