On the eve of 11 years of Rang De Basanti, famed writer Kamlesh Pandey reveals how the revolutionary film about modern-day patriotism had no takers, until #AamirKhan stepped on board
By Manishaa R
The 2006 national-award winning film, Rang De Basanti, which redefined patriotism and inspired a whole generation towards a movement, would never have been made on the same scale had it not been for Aamir Khan. According to noted writer, Kamlesh Pandey, who conceptualized and wrote the story and screenplay, the subject initially had few takers with financiers and investors refusing to invest in the film, “Those were the days of candy floss romances like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. Moreover most of the producers we approached concluded that it was another story on Bhagat Singh though it was essentially a story on young India in the year 2000. Prior to that six Bhagat Singh films had flopped miserably and they did not want to take risks,” Pandey recalled.
A few makers pointed out that the story did not have any commercial ingredients, “The script did not boast of big fat Punjabi weddings, great costumes and production values. There were apprehensions about whether anyone would be willing to see a bunch of patriots, who were inspired by their role models,” Pandey revealed.
“The script did not boast of big fat Punjabi weddings, great costumes and production values. There were apprehensions about whether anyone would be willing to see a bunch of patriots”
Realising that the road ahead was tough, he and director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra decided to make the film on a small scale with the talented Manoj Bajpai playing the protagonist, “Manoj was a ghar ka actor and he was very gracious. We also managed to get some sponsorship from an independent UK based producer but he had issues because he wanted certain actors to play roles, which was inappropriate.”
It was a chance meeting with Aamir Khan that changed the entire graph of the film, when he mentioned the one line idea of ‘what if Bhagat Singh were alive today’, “He was curious to know more. He got hooked to the script the moment he read it. The next moment he gave his nod for the film, though Manoj Bajpai was very gracious to step down,” Pandey recalls.
Aamir then got celebrated music composer, Rahman on board for the film and suddenly the film was being sought after by makers, “After Lagaan, Rahman and Aamir were considered a devastating combination and their teaming up was considered a great bet. UTV which had rejected the film three times sent across a message expressing a desire to come on board,” Pandey recalled.
Pandey also revealed how Aamir had no problems about the fact that he was part of an ensemble cast, despite being a superstar in his own right, “He was well aware of the fact that it had an ensemble cast and was not a hero-centric film. He understood his role so well that he never tried to impose himself or make it appear as if he was the hero. On the contrary, he enacted his role so remarkably well that he calibrated his own performance to the level of the other boys, which made it look like he was part of the team and not the hero of the team. I would say that his was one of the most sensitized performances at that time,” he said.
Aamir Khan calibrated his own performance to the level of the other boys, which made it look like he was part of the team and not the hero of the team.
According to the legendary ad maker turned script writer who has also penned the scripts of successful films like Saudagar and Tezaab, Aamir is among the few actors in the industry who has got a deep understanding of stories and scripts, “That’s because he had assisted his uncle, Nasir Hussain for a long time, who was basically a writer. He had been assisting a writer for a very long time, so he understood writing very much. The writers who have scripted his films know well how he understands and interprets them,” he said.
RDB eventually broke all records at the box-office with young audiences hailing the film and its very inspiring message. Pandey vividly recalls the little joke that Rakeysh Mehra and his wife Bharati would often share with him, “We used to define Rang DE Basanti as a Yash Chopra film gone wrong. When the film became a huge hit, Bharati called me and said, I think we must have done something right. We never anticipated that kind of success but somewhere within I had this feeling that the disillusionment I felt with the system would resonate among young Indians. He was also overwhelmed when Aamir officially signed a thanks on his copy of the Rang De Basanti script when it was released in a book format.
However Pandey’s biggest feeling of satisfaction came when he was invited to address a gathering of media students in a suburban college about building up awareness to social challenges, “There was a boy who escorted me to the hall and said thank you for giving me Rang De Basanti. I was happy and I felt job was done but soon after that the 200 odd boys and girls also shouted and thanked me for the film. They literally mobbed me. After that it became a routine at every place, young people would come to me and thank me for giving Rang De Basanti. That was more than anything I could ask for,” he smiled.