A Negotiation between State and Creativity

Throughout history we have many examples of film industries and the creative spectrum being held hostage by the state. Whether it is the German film industry during the Nazi regime or the Italian film industry during Mussolini’s time. This story might just be the exception.
A still from Rang de Basanti; Image Source- IMDb

A still from Rang de Basanti; Image Source- IMDb

On Republic Day 2006, a film released which garnered much critical acclaims and won over many hearts. The film still remains as youth centric and critical towards the government as ever and is a must watch for any college going kid. The film is Rang De Basanti.

For the majority of its runtime, Rang De Basanti is a bildungsroman (an artistic work that deals with a person’s formative years). It beautifully portrayed how the college going youth is made aware about their material reality as they grapple with difficult ideas such as patriotism and nationalism. All of this was shown with a sprinkle of patriotism amidst the backdrop of the MIG-21 fighter jet controversy.

Just for context, India has had a history of buying and using faulty parts for its acclaimed fighter jet MIG-21 which lead to a lot of corruption in the higher governmental pockets and a tremendous loss of lives of innocent fighter pilots. Since the director, Raykesh Om Prakash Mehra was himself educated in airforce school, he decided to touch upon these issues as well.

The last thirty minutes of the film however, might be problematic for some as it shows overzealous students from Delhi University taking up arms and killing off the Defense Minister along with one of their parents.

The film of shot with ease however the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) sent the film to the Defense Ministry headed by Pranab Mukherjee for review

The Ministry told Mehra to not use names like “MIG-21” or “Defense Ministry” along with a host of other changes but Raykesh Om Prakash Mehra categorically denied from making any alterations in the final cut. He was then asked to come to Delhi and host a private screening for the Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee himself.

The young and budding director treated Pranab Mukherjee as his most esteemed guest. The story goes that after watching the film, Pranab Mukherjee simply said that his job was to protect the country and not censor films - Mehra could do whatever he deemed.

Even after this, at the private screening the Chief of Airforce had some problems. He was perplexed about what the young flyers would enquire before getting on the MIG-21’s but before this debate could reach an explosive stage, the wife of the Chief of Airforce insisted on the release.

Just like this a seemingly “controversial” film got the green signal to release and prosper commercially and critically. It also won the National Award. Later in an interview Raykesh Om Prakash Mehra praised the government and the censor board for their mature tackling of the issue.


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