Analysis Of The Use Of Violence In The Film Rang De Basanti

Thesis Statement

In the film, ‘Rang de Basanti’, by Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, the characters make use of violence and murder of a corrupt government official, in an attempt to awaken the youth of India against the corrupt practices in the government. The use of violence in this movie, establishes the idea, ‘One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist.’


Sometimes there can be a thin line between fighting against injustice and it being assumed as a terrorist activity. In the film ‘Rang De Basanti’ by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, the director tries to awaken the youth to fight against injustice and corruption in the country, but the film can also be interpreted as encouragement of use of violence, going against the democratic system of the country and breaking laws. In the film a group of youngsters assassinate a corrupt minister as a revenge for the death of one of their friends, caused by the negligence and corrupt mindset of the minister. This essay discusses the questions that can be raised about the ethics of the use of violence when one is dealing with injustice on a larger scale.

According to Stephen Kirsch “aggression is defined as any behavior, be it physical, emotional or psychological injury to another human being.” Extreme form of such aggression can be termed as violence. In a film like Rang De Basanti, how a violence is depicted lies in the hands of the director or the creator of the film with certain assumptions on how the film will be interpreted by the viewers, whether or not in reality it is interpreted the same way as the director intended. Here the director needs to cater to a large audience of different mindset, beliefs and support and considering the fact that not everyone will support the ideologies of the director. Hence the director of the film tried his best to justify what is being projected on the screen. 

Henry Bacon quotes, “Various forms of representing violence are used to inculcate individuals into controlling their own violent impulses as well as accepting certain form of institutional violence. Such representations also offer models of how one maybe expected to resort to violence in order to defend one self, one’s beloved, fellowmen or some social configuration.” Hence one needs to consider what triggers such actions. So in a film, if the protagonist is shown as a positive character, the narrative will generally justify any act of violence by him or her against the rival. Similarly, if the same protagonist is a victim of violence, the narrative creates sympathy for the protagonist. The viewers are encouraged to care about him or her. The reverse of this also works when the protagonist is portrayed as a negative character, the narrative any act of violence by him can trigger anger and hatred towards the character, while if the protagonist is the victim of violence in the film then there is a sense of satisfaction among the users. Here we should also look at the moral stance of the viewers. Henry Bacon also says, “When we know what we see to be fictional – even if based on real events, we are easily lured to indulging in the guilty pleasure of watching scenes of violence and humiliation.” Hence one might find a fight scene, a murder scene or a rape scene entertaining even if the director didn’t intend it to be so. This can be seen mostly during an action sequence where the fight scene is well choreographed along with some acrobatics. 

For this essay we will analyze three scenes from the film Rang De Basanti.

Scene 1: Ajay Rathod, an air force pilot is killed in a plane crash. Here Ajay is shown in a good light, he is determined to serve his country and is ready to sacrifice his life for the country. He believes that no country is perfect but it has to be made perfect. In the film it is shown that the flight was crashed because of the use of cheap aircraft parts, sanctioned by the Defense Minister, hence establishing that the minister is a corrupt government official, however the minister denies it and claims that the crash was due to the negligence of the pilot. Here the protagonist is Ajay Rathod, shown as a positive character and is a victim of violence and hence we sympathize with him.

Scene 2: As revenge for the death of Ajay Rathod and to avoid any more similar incidents and deaths of such honest soldiers, his friends, a group of college students who are also the protagonist decide to assassinate the Defense Minister. During broad daylight they shoot the minister with a gun in public and run away. By doing so they wanted to let the nation know that the minister was corrupt and many brave soldiers like Ajay had to sacrifice their life. In this scene, the protagonists, are shown as positive characters and they take this step in fit of anger and rage along with an intention to take a step against corruption. Hence here the protagonists should ideally be praised by the nation but the media praises the minister instead and appreciates the work he did for the nation and label him a martyr, hiding from the people his corrupt practices.

Scene 3: The protagonists are upset about the false allegations that Ajay Rathod’s negligence caused the plane to crash while the minister was praised a martyr by the media. Hence they decided to confess on live radio, take the blame for the assassination of the minister and let the nation know about his corrupt practices. They used the radio to justify their actions in front of the nation and claiming that they are just college students and not terrorists. However, the commando forces were ordered to shoot all of them dead while they were inside the radio station. Here the protagonists were already established as positive characters and since they are the victims of violence we feel sympathy towards them.

In the United States, the law defines terrorism as, “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents”.[footnoteRef:4] Here along with civilians, the non-combatants include off-duty military and security personals, in peaceful situations. There can be misunderstandings concerning the definitions of the word ‘terrorism’ and sometimes it is not associated with small groups of people who engage in futile violence against the political establishment or certain sections of society. This definition may however change for different regions depending upon the political situation of that region. Accordingly, for India, one of the forms of terrorism can be ‘motivated violence against the citizens of the country’. In the film there are two parties, the political leader and its followers and on the other hand there are these protagonists. The protagonists believe that the minister is a threat to the nation and that through his corrupt practices indirectly killed a soldier serving the nation, while the followers of the minister believe that the protagonists killed an important leader of the nation. Hence for each party the other party is a terrorist group.

The film also falls into the category of nationalist films. John Kane quotes, “Nationalism is an ideology that stresses allegiance to one’s nation as a major political virtue and national preservation and self-determination as prime political imperatives. In its varied forms, nationalism has proved an immensely powerful force for popular mobilization over two centuries in almost every part of the world.”[footnoteRef:5] In the film there are direct references to the Indian freedom struggle in the pre-independence era and the fight for independence against the British rule through flashbacks(in sepia tones). In fact, the assassination of the Defense Minister is shown to be inspired by the killing of a British official by the freedom fighters like Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh. Taking in account the analogies made in this sequence, the assassination of the minister can be termed as being motivated by a nationalist agenda, but so can the shooting down of the protagonists since both the parties embody different modes of nationalism. 

According to Margarett Levi, ‘noncompliance is an important resource of political change’[footnoteRef:6] and that 'inherent in the defiance of many rules is not only a threat to social order, but a challenge to the particular pattern of domination on which that social order rests' (Piven 1981: 489). What the protagonists in the film intended to do was to bring about political change. A political leader in a democratic system has some powers, support and backing from their followers who support his/her ideologies even if they are morally wrong. In the film the political leader, also being the Defense Minister of the country is at a very high position. His followers and alliances follow the same ideology of corruption as they are benefiting from it too. Hence any allegations against the leader for corruption or murder will provoke a backlash and will likely to be quashed at the level of the court, with no charges against the political leader. This creates a fear among the citizens who are affected by the immoral working of these leaders and in some cases any action against these leaders can lead to death threats. Hence the protagonists resorted to non-compliance but keeping their actions anonymous as there was no other way to end the scam of supplying cheap faulty parts for aircrafts. However even after assassinating the minister, his followers and supporters honored him as martyr and the media too joined them, giving the nation a false image of the minister. So now if the nation considers the minister clean, the protagonists who attempted to kill the minister can be declared as terrorists. 

The film ends with the death of all the five friends who were at the radio station by the Indian commandoes who were ordered to shoot down all of them despite them claiming on national radio that they were not terrorists. The news channels are reporting this incident live and students and citizens are shown protesting against the harsh actions taken by the military on the protagonists without questioning them and following the legal procedures before claiming them as terrorists. The incident sparks a fire among the youth of India who on becoming aware of corrupt practices in the political system of India, are encouraged to join politics, enroll themselves in the military and run the country.


The film, ‘Rang De Basanti’, shows that any act of violence taken against someone or any system can have multiple opinions about it. Even if there is a nationalist agenda behind the violent act, they need to be justified and be acknowledged and agreed by the people affected by it. While going against the working of a social model, one must take care that any actions against it can be considered as a threat to this model and might have to face consequences. The tagline of the film, ‘The youth awakens’, clearly states that the target audience of the film is the youth generation of India. With this tagline, the film encourages the youth to take interests in the politics of the nation and be recognize of the immoral and corrupt practices existing in the current state of politics and take step against it, aiming to completely eliminate corruption and injustice, however while doing so, being aware of the threat and backlash by someone with opposing ideas and opinions. The film also received negative reviews since, the use of violence contradicts the idea of Gandhi’s pacifism, in a country where Mahatma Gandhi and his non-violence methods are respected. The film clearly doesn’t abide by these ideas and hence was not appreciated by the followers of Mahatma Gandhi’s principle.


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16 December 2021
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