When Rang De Basanti Taught Us to Be Angry

The radical film — which turns 15 today — roused a generation, sending political shockwaves throughout India for years to come.

Meher Manda

January 26, 2021

When Rang De Basanti Taught Us to Be Angry
The ensemble cast of 'Rang de Basanti', from left to right: Alice Patten (as Sue McKinley), Soha Ali Khan (as Sonia), Kunal Kapoor (as Aslam), Sharman Joshi (as Sukhi), Siddharth (as Karan R. Singhania), Aamir Khan (as DJ)

“Koi bhi desh perfect nahin hota, usse perfect banana padta hai.” No country is perfect; it needs to be made perfect. 

The faint blue of twilight hour illuminates a mass of peaceful protestors at India Gate. Some hold placards, some hold hands, and others carry portraits of a slain man. But every one of them carries a candle. Their protest registers as a steely, determined gaze of resistance. But even in the face of their nonviolence, a throng of police officers descend on the crowd and use batons to strike, to wash out the protest as it gains national attention. 

This scene from Rang De Basanti (2006) doesn’t feel disparate from the experiences of those who protested the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019, the on-going farmers’ protests in Delhi, or the year-long Amaravati protests in Andhra Pradesh. And that is what makes Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s film essential: it culled sentiment from our most painful real-life incidents to make space for dialogue. Today, Rang De Basanti turns 15, but a lot has changed since its release first ignited youth participation in Indian politics. The state, in turn, has been vehement in its attack of dissenters and protesters. Does Rang De Basanti — a movie that supported dissent and considered protest a patriotic duty — feel almost radical today?