Thursday, November 09, 2006

Commitment revealed

The Hindi film Rang De Basanti released early this year became a kind of anthem of new-found social concern and public activism for India’s educated urban youth, who have so far distinguished themselves largely by their immersion in self-enrichment to the exclusion of all else, in globalising India.

The film was about spirited youth protest against MiG fighter aircraft crashes.

The film was much referred to during the students’ agitation against affirmative action in favour of historically disprivileged sections in medical and engineering colleges.

Kavita Gadgil, the woman whose campaign against flying coffins inspired Rang De, has hit out at the film’s makers for not honouring their promise to raise funds for a memorial she is building for air force pilots killed on duty.

Director Rakeysh Mehra and his team had promised to organise a charity show to raise funds for the Pune memorial but had not fulfilled it.

In 2003, Gadgil had fought a lone battle against the defence establishment for the rising number of MiG crashes, two years after her 26-year-old son Abhijeet died in a crash during a routine MiG 21 sortie.

Although the air force had initially blamed the crash on “pilot error”, Gadgil’s campaign had forced them to acknowledge there were technical reasons at play also. Gadgil had then set out to build a memorial for fighter pilots and soldiers at her farmhouse near Sinhagad in Pune. Work on the memorial has started. The Gadgils have put in Rupees 6 million and are trying to tap corporate funds.

“The film gave a message to the youth and tried to inspire them to be socially committed to a cause. The film has been a huge hit… and is now going to the Oscars. But Mehra does not want to help a cause that inspired the film in the first place. I feel completely cheated.”

She is angry that Mehra is now trying to get the service chiefs to endorse Rang De in the run-up to the Oscars.

“He wants to use the service chiefs’ endorsement to propel his commercial product onto the international stage, but what is he prepared to give in return to the services? Or to the pilots whose supreme sacrifice… he has so effectively used?”

So much for the new-found sprit of social concern and public activism!

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