Rang De Basanti is a fascinating interplay between the narrative of a jailor in British-era India and that of his granddaughter in contemporary India. The movie evokes a comparison between the Indian freedom heroes of his time and the Indian youth of her time.
In his diary, McKinley (Steven Mackintosh) named five Indian freedom fighters - Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Rajguru, Ashfaqulla Khan, and Ramprasad Bismil - whose fearless, unwavering commitment to the Indian freedom struggle shook his very belief system. Sue (Alice Patten) arrives in India to make a documentary based on her grandfather's diary.
With the help of Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), Sue chooses a group of happy-go-lucky friends who initially seem least likely to convincingly portray legendary heroes. They are a disaffected group with no sense of identity.
Daljeet alias DJ (Aamir Khan) has long since completed his education but chooses to remain in college. Karan Singhania (Siddharth) shares a testy equation with his rich industrialist father. Aslam (Kunal Kapoor) belongs to a lower middle-class family that disapproves of his choice of friends. Exuberant Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) is ever interested in girls. Laxman Pandey (Atul Kulkarni) is the outsider to the group, a fundamentalist whom Sue chooses, much to the consternation of the group.
The mood shifts when Sonia, loses her fiance, Flt. Lt. Ajay Rathod (Madhavan) to an air crash. The Indian defence minister, Shastri (Mohan Agashe) casts aspersions on Rathod's flying skills and disregards allegations of the purchase of faulty spare parts for MiG aircrafts.
The corruption among politicians evokes patriotic fervour among the friends, and in a poignant mirroring between past and present, they take the law into their hands, hurtling towards a resolution that eerily matches the lives of the Indian freedom fighters of yore.
With brilliant performances by the ensemble cast and music by A. R. Rahman that dovetails into the script, Rang De Basanti won the National Award in India. It is also the first Indian movie to be nominated by BAFTA in 2006 in the Best Film Not In the English Language category.(An edited version appeared in Culturama's August 2010 Issue)