In what is now construed as a representative film that delineates the quintessential spirit of youth, at least in the colleges of University of Delhi today, without being either too simplistic or reductive in its scope or aspiration, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti (2006) does foreground a contemporary perspective. What further contributes to its heterogeneity and richness is the dexterity with which the story oscillates between the past and the present and the ramifications that the former has on the latter. Within such a framework, this research paper seeks to examine the question of deschooling in “masti ki pathshala” and the way it also serves as a roadmap for dissidence in the movie. Furthermore, it shall also investigate the pivotal role that economic class plays in this process of deschooling.
The fundamental definition of a “classroom” witnesses a new configuration in the movie and hence not only is there a shifting of the spatial and temporal dimensions but also a radical re-envisioning of the activities that take place there. As Aslam puts it, “Ji hum log khate peete hai, mauj masti karte hai, magar yeh padhai wala ilzam hum par pehli baar laga hai.” This process of de-schooling is succinctly yet comprehensively captured in the song “Loose Control” in which there is a timely reiteration of the words, “I am a rebel.” However, economic class plays a very significant role in this pathshala as can be demonstrated through the character of Rahul in the movie. This is because unlike Aslam, DJ, Sukhi and Karan, Rahul doesn’t belong from a bourgeois family. He is compelled to take up the job of a radio jockey and his exasperation is explicitly articulated when he says with a disgruntled voice, “Kya scene ban raha hai yaar. Jab saara world sota hai, tab Rahul radio par hota hai.” Not only is he excluded from the pathshala, but also has to countenance derision from Aslam when the latter remarks that in addition to the radio jockeys, “aashiq, bemaar, chaukidaar and ulloo” are the ones who are active at night. His vulnerability is most starkly exposed when he is forced to borrow money from Karan along with a cigarette. The drinking, partying and the other celebratory acts of self-indulgence that Karan, DJ and Sukhi are a part of (even Aslam composes poetry), not only presuppose leisure-time but also the question of money without which, Rahul always remains on the fringes of the pathshala. By corollary, this peripheral position also explains for his choice of a popular, yet a run of the mill career option, since there is no de-schooling that is available to him, without money.
This de-schooling that involves a repudiation of and an indifference towards the stereotypical paradigms of learning, education and career in life contradicts nonetheless the belief that “na koi padhne wala, na koi seekhne wala.” As Alan Sinfield puts it in Faultlines: Cultural Materialism and the Politics of Dissident Reading, “Any position supposes its intrinsic op-position. All stories comprise within themselves the ghost of the alternative stories they are trying to exclude” (Sinfield 47). Hence, in the movie, even before the process of de-schooling serves as a roadmap for dissidence, there is an implicit understanding about the telos or the temporality of such a pathshala. This is manifested through DJ’s remarks:
Ek din yeh sab kuch nahi rahega. Sab apne apne raste nikal jaayenge…wohi duniya de jhamele – naukari dhoondo, paise kamao, ghar basao, te life de ishaare pe nachte jao. Gate de is taraf hum life ko nachaate hai, te dooji taraf life humko nachati hai.
Aslam too is cognisant of the grim reality outside the pathshala when he says, “Yahan par zinda rehne ki ladaai mein logoan ki zindagiyaan nikal jati hai; basics ke chakkar mein – roti, kapda aur ek chat.” Besides, the very reason why DJ prefers to stay in the University even five years after graduating from it is because he realises that “baahar duniya mein achchhey-achchhey DJ pis gaye lakkho ki bheerd mein.” Therefore, the process of de-schooling notwithstanding, there is still something that these people study about and learn from, even within the masti ki pathshala itself. And this is made more conspicuous with the entry of Sue Mckinley in their lives.
Having stated thus, it nevertheless becomes important to identify the ways in which de-schooling also serves as a roadmap for dissidence in the movie. This is because despite their consciousness regarding the life outside/after the college, these characters embody non-conformist value systems in their own lives. For instance, Aslam spends time with his friends, much against the wishes and to the resentment of his father and brother. Also, Karan’s recalcitrant behaviour vis-à-vis his father is established in the movie unequivocally. Even DJ and Sukhi too, lead very individualistic lives without much care for rules and conventions. These dissident “meanings and values as they are lived and felt” can be deemed as what Raymond Williams calls “structures of feeling” since they are in opposition to the status quo and are defined against the existing systems of values and beliefs. The aforementioned point can be further reinforced in the way these characters have an antagonistic relationship with Laxman Pandey in the movie. This rebellious streak, that is an upshot of the de-schooling, plays an instrumental role in providing them with a roadmap for dissidence when their friend Ajay is killed. By playing the roles of revolutionaries in Sue’s documentary, these people invest their lives with a sense of direction, meaning and purpose. It is here that their resistance takes a collective shape, although it owes its origins to the structures of feeling that they had cultivated in the pathshala.
To begin with, Aslam realises that it is only Ajay who has a “junoon” in his life, while for himself and his friends, he believes that, “hum kisi cheez ke liye lard jaaye aisa koi jazba hai hi nahi hamaare andar.” Their deep sense of disillusionment is also revealed when Aslam says that, “yeh desh-bhakti ki baatein bahaut boring hoti hai.” Rather, they have a very derisive perspective on the corruption, “beimaani” and “berozgaari” present in the country. They essentially represent what Rajnath Singhania calls the “SMS generation”, and initially consider a news segment on the speculations regarding Defence Minister Shashtri’s involvement in the brokerage related to the parts of the MiG fighter planes as “depressing nonsense.” However, when the Jallianwala Bagh incident becomes a part of the documentary, they gradually start realising the fact that “Zindagi jeene ke do tareeke hote hai. Ek jo raha hai, hone do, bardaasht karte jao; ya phir jimmedari uthaao usey badalne ki.” This outlook can be construed as what John Drakakis calls an “interventionist” (Drakakis 55) one. Their emergent consciousness nevertheless, still contains the dissident elements of the residual counterpart and hence it is through this that we can establish that in the movie, de-schooling provides a roadmap for what John Brannigan calls, albeit in a different context, “effective dissidence” which is a part of a “counter-strategy” (Brannigan 174).
The principal impulse for justice is precipitated because of a personal loss which is the death of their friend and the fact that Ajay’s mother goes in to a state of coma. This is diametrically opposite to the large number of people who were killed in Jallianwala Bagh. Hence, at the outset, their act of replacing General Dyer with Defence Minister Shashtri in their imagination may not come across as a cogent one. However, if we consider the fact that they involve themselves in an act of subversive reading of history, then it appears plausible. This can be further corroborated by what Alan Sinfield calls “reading against the grain” (Sinfield 199). For him, it is a “transparent device, designed to provoke thought rather than concurrence” (Sinfileld 199). The dissident readings of the major characters in the movie, is also buttressed by their comparison of the loss of Lala Lajpat Rai with Ajay’s death and their understanding of Shashtri in relation to Scott. So, history offers a possibility for subversion for the present moment of crisis and this is facilitated through what Brannigan calls, “the bifocal perspective on both the past and the present” (Brannigan 109). However, if we examine the questions of the focus and the frame, it still remains to be determined whether the movie eventually gestures towards dissidence or does it actually end up reiterating the stereotype.
The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that the pathshala itself remains a closed group, excluding those who cannot afford the time and the resources required for it. But, even more challenging is the way in which the movie seemingly suggests de-schooling as a means to an end, rather than being the end per se. This is because the opening and the closing sections of the movie unreservedly engage with the need to serve the country. Karan’s vision for the youth of this country further corroborates this:
Koi bhi desh perfect nahi hota, usey perfect banana pardta hai…Police mein bharti honge, military join karenge, I.A.S. banenge, politics ka hissa ban kar is desh ki sarkar challayenge. Yeh desh badlega, hum badlenge isey.
These seeming contradictions notwithstanding, it is not conformity but rather resistance in the favour of which the movie tilts the balance. This is so because even a smooth functioning of a “masti ki pathshala” is ineluctably predicated upon other systems and institutions of a society, which sustain it through their own sets of values and practices and are engaged in serious work in order to facilitate the concomitant indulgence in masti; be it the bars, clubs, discos, tea-stalls or the canteens. A “chhotu” (who serves tea to DJ when he rehearses Bismil’s message) or a Rahul has to forego his desire of being a part of such a pathshala and do what he is supposed to do (and not what he wishes to), in order for the creation of the possibility of such an alternative space. This can also be said to be true of the parents of the protagonists in the movie as well. One’s diversion can only be sustained through the other’s diligence. It is precisely this understanding that explains for the movie’s emphasis on the need to have a direction, meaning and purpose in life. The contrast is also exemplified in the way in which people like Ajay care for the country in order to make it possible for his friends to be absolutely unconcerned about it.
The dissidence is, however, most explicitly manifested in the way the protagonists kill the Defence Minister and then accept their crime openly in order to tell the truth to the people, which, had it not been done, would have led to a valorisation of the deceased Shashtri. Furthermore, the overriding message of the film is also pertinent for determining the limits or rather the checks and balances that are necessary in such a pathshala. This can be corroborated through another movie Shaitan (2011), in which an exceeding of limits in masti ki pathshala eventually turns out to be pernicious for all the protagonists. Beckett’s question in Waiting for Godot (1954), “What do we do now, now that we are happy?” acquires significance in such a context, albeit in a different way so that the relevance of “how far and no further” is felt even for the process of de-schooling in masti ki pathshala. In Mehra’s film, the young protagonists realise their sense of responsibility that is inextricably related with the privileges that they are entitled to, in their lives. It, and by extension even Shaitan, suggests that a disregard to what is normative should not become a dogma in itself lest it may defeat the very aspiration of the initial impulse that had precipitated such a departure in the first place. Nevertheless, it is precisely this fearless, venturesome and non-conforming outlook of the protagonists in Rang De Basanti, which, when coupled with a sense of direction, meaning and purpose in life, provides a roadmap for effective dissidence; having a multiplier effect not only within the youth presented in the movie, but also those outside it. The fact that economic class plays a principal role in such processes of deschooling in the masti ki pathshalas may only tangentially or rather marginally undermine the potential for effective dissidence that the movie foregrounds, instead of precluding it altogether.
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. Ed. G.J.V. Prasad. New Delhi: Pearson Longman, 2005. Print.
Brannigan, John. New Historicism and Cultural Materialism. Basingtoke: Macmillan, 1998. Print.
Drakakis, John. “Cultural Materialism.” The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism: Twentieth Century Historical, Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Ed. Christa Knellwolf, and Christopher Norris. Vol. 9. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 43-58. Print.
Rang De Basanti. Dir. Rakesh Omprakash Mehra. Perf. Aamir Khan, Siddhatha, Kunal Kapoor, and Sharman Joshi. ROMP, 2006. Film.
Shaitan. Dir. Bejoy Nambiar. Perf. Rajeev Khandelwal, Kalki Koechlin, Gulshan Devaiahand Shiv Pandit. AKFP, 2011. Film.
Sinfield, Alan. Faultlines: Cultural Materialism and the Politics of Dissident Reading. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Print.
—. Shakespeare, Authority, Sexuality: Unfinished Business in Cultural Materialism. London: Routledge, 2006. Print.
Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977. Print.
Shailendra Kumar Singh is presently pursuing his PhD from Jamia Millia Islamia after completing his Bachelors in English Literature from Sri Venkateshwara College and Masters in the same, from Hindu College, University of Delhi. His research interests include Gender Studies, Indian Literature in English Translation, Eighteenth Century Literature and Premchand’s literary corpus. He likes watching movies and believes in the efficacy of literature to influence lives in a desirable way. He may be contacted at Shailendra.firstname.lastname@example.org.