“The youth will have to bear a great burden in this difficult times [sic] in the history of the nation. It is true that students have faced death at the forward positions of the struggle for independence. Will they hesitate this time in proving their same staunchness and self-confidence?”
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s 2006 smash hit, Rang De Basanti: A Generation Awakens (Paint it Saffron: A Generation Awakens, hereafter referred to as RDB), polarizes its audiences. To some it is misguided and naïve; to others it is fresh and eye opening. Generally, academic critics fall into the former category, while urban middle-class youth fall into the latter. (Popular critics, as in most cases, are more evenly divided.) Though the academic critiques of the film are many and varied, four stand out: its use of violence, its misrepresentation of Bhagat Singh, its narrow view of politics and the nation, and its use of time/history as a narrative device. Notably, notwithstanding that RDB is acknowledged to be a “youth film,” youth as a theme in its own right is missing from the scholarship on the film. This essay attempts to fill that gap. Rather than simply stopping at that, however—at adding youth to the list of themes—I argue that we should view RDB as a film primarily about youth. Not only will this provide us with new insights into the film, but it will also allow us to arrive at a more balanced understanding of it.
Because of the narrative structure of RDB, summarizing it is a complicated task; inevitably, any attempt to summarize it will contain several gaps. Nonetheless, I will attempt a summary because I believe any study of a film must contain at least some context. The film begins with a young British woman, Sue McKinley, traveling to India to make a documentary about the young, now legendary Indian nationalists/revolutionaries of the early twentieth century: Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekar Azad, Hari Shivaram Rajguru, Ashfaqulla Khan, Ramprasad Bismil, and Durga Bhabhi. To Sue’s dismay, none of the Indian students who audition for the roles can connect to the characters well enough to play the parts convincingly. Not soon after, though, Sue finds her cast in the misfits Karan, DJ (Daljeet), Sukhi, Aslam, Laxman, and Sonia. These youngsters, although they agree to be in Sue’s film, are reluctant to do so because the revolutionaries and their values seem too distant from the world they inhabit. Gradually, they ease into their roles as revolutionaries, but a distance remains between the revolutionaries and the youngsters of the present until about the last third of the film.
About half way through the film, Lt. Ajay Rathod, Sonia’s fiancé and a friend of the group, dies in a plane accident because the plane had faulty parts. When a high-up government official blames the accident on the pilot’s inexperience, the youngsters decide to hold a candlelight vigil to bring attention to the circumstances of Rathod’s death. After the police violently break up the vigil, the group decides to kill the high-up government official that shamed Rathod by falsely blaming him for his own death. It is here that the distance between the youngsters of today and the revolutionaries of the past disappear; from this scene on, the group uses the spirit and actions of the Indian revolutionaries to guide their actions. After confessing to the murder of the government official and one more person (Karan’s father), the young men are gunned down by the Indian state. In the end, the youngsters of today die as martyrs just like the revolutionaries of the early twentieth century.
Youth as Genre
According to Ulka Anjaria and Jonathan Shapiro Anjaria, RDB is part of a genre of youth films that began with Dil Chahta Hai (2001). That film, they claim, “like the films that followed it, reflects a shift towards representing capitalist decadence and the rise of a commodified ‘transnational and pronational youth culture’ emerging from the economic changes of the 1990s.” This is a sentiment shared by Nandini Chandra, who writes, “as the logic of transnational capital was internalized and made palatable, a new wave of Bombay films also emerged fixating on Indian youth and their inspired and inspiring relationship to the nation, such as Yuva ([The Youth] dir. Mani Ratnam, 2004), Lakshya ([The Goal] dir. Farhan Akhtar, 2004), and, most iconically, RDB.” This genre of films, thus, addresses the growth of nationalism among the Indian youth in the face of increasing transnationalism. As Anjaria and Anjaria note, these films also discuss “the anxieties of youth, postcolonial desires for world-belonging and generational difference in contemporary urban Indian culture.” Any analysis of RDB needs to acknowledge its place in this new generation of youth films.
“Central to this new genre,” write Anjaria and Anjaria, “is the celebration of youth—not merely as a stage to be bypassed on the way to adulthood, but as having ontological value in and of itself.” But what exactly is the ontology of youth? How did it come about? What are its confines? What are it characteristics? These are questions that Parul Bansal attempts to answer, at least in part, in Youth in Contemporary India. On the creation of youth as a stage with “ontological value in and of itself,” Bansal writes that, in general, scholars believe “that prolongation of education due to the requirements of economic life in modern age has opened up opportunities for an extension of psychological development, which in turn is creating a new stage of life called youth.” At a basic level, this stage of life is defined by age: “Youth as a biographical life stage is located between adolescence and adulthood. . . . It is distinct demographically and subjectively from adolescence (roughly from ages 10-17) and adulthood (beginning roughly since 30).” That is, in biographical, demographical, and subjective terms, youth begins at age 18 and ends at age 29. The majority of youth thus takes place in one’s twenties.
Age is merely a foundation, however, and therefore lends itself to be built upon. We might ask, for example, what distinguishes the twenties from other years? Bansal asserts that “it is a phase characterised by exceptionally high level of change and diversity.” Moreover, in their twenties, “the young stand between alternate ways of life”—that is, adolescence and adulthood. In this reading, rather than being a time of internal stability, one’s twenties are a period of experimentation, transformation, and instability. “Thus,” concludes Bansal, “the measuring yards for youth should not be only inner balance, consistency and proficiency but must also encompass confusion, dare devilry, extremism and fragmentation. Youth, thereby, represent multiple possibilities from delinquency to creative deviancy, rebellion to conformity, alienation to vigorous involvement in the spirit of the era.” Like the new genre of Hindi films that tries to represent it, youth is a mixture of competing forces. RDB, then, with its invocation these forces and its suggestion of possibilities, is perhaps the best of recent films about youth.
Identity Synthesis in RDB
RDB cannot be considered a youth film simply because its main characters are young. No, RDB must be considered a youth film because it captures certain aspects of the youth condition, and specifically identity formation. Bansal sums up some of the processes and problems of identity formation in this sentence: “In finding the match between inner needs, aptitudes, potentials, aspirations and ideals with the opportunities and constraints of the environment, the young strive to glimpse a meaningful resemblance between what they have come to see in themselves and what the significant others judge and expect them to be.” The main characters in RDB carry out the search for the “match” between the interior and the exterior, or, to put it another way, between what is wanted, what is expected, and what is right. For example, it is expressed in the incongruity between different characters’ values, such as that between Ajay and the rest of the group. It is also demonstrated in the spliced scenes of past and present that appear throughout the film. At the beginning of it, when the contemporary individual (the self) and the revolutionary nationalist of the past (the significant other) are at odds with one another, the jump between past and present is disjointed. At the end of it, when the individual and the revolutionary nationalist reconcile, the jump between the past and the present is seamless.
RDB also seems to lend credence to psychoanalyst Erik H. Erikson’s claims about identity synthesis in youth. As summarized by Bansal, “Identity synthesis represents a sense of ‘a present with an anticipated future’. This implies that past, present and future are not separate and distinct, rather they coexist together. The present carries impressions of the past, and in that sense, the past is an actual alive portion of the living present. It also counterpoints the future possibilities and prospective potentials.” In other words, identity synthesis is a type of identity formation in youth that entails a complex interaction between past, present, and future. In this interaction, the temporal stages impinge on each other. It is not a novel observation that RDB uses the intersection of temporal stages to great avail; most of the scholarship on the film discusses it, or least mentions it. For instance, Parvinder Mehta writes, “Mehra stitches history with contemporary Indian setting and suggests a mimetic, patchwork framework whereby the seams demarcating the different time frames are rendered invisible.” With the exception of one scholar, however, no one mentions how the film’s temporality is related to the formation of youth identity. This is an unfortunate oversight because, based on Erikson’s use of temporality in his definition of identity synthesis in young people, as well as its intersection with Mehta’s argument about RDB’s use of temporality, it would be hard to deny that the film is about youth identity.
To put it another war, just as RDB is a film about violence, nationalism, and politics—the topics most discussed in the scholarship—so too is it a film about identity formation in the young main characters. As the cuts between past and present become increasingly seamless, or, in the words of Manisha Basu, “the geometrically aligned congruencies between obsolescence and contemporaneity take on a different and even somewhat sinister aspect, one not merely being mediated by the other, but inextricably intertwining and becoming one with the other,” the film achieves its own version of what Erikson terms “configuration.” As Bansal describes, “Erikson conceives of an intrapsychic process whereby multiple identifications are transformed into a unified structure.” What results is a configuration. Bansal goes on to explain that, in Erikson’s view, three processes are “involved in the creation of a configuration: ‘selective repudiation’ refers to a process whereby certain identifications are rejected and/or suppressed; ‘mutual assimilation’ suggests synthesizing process whereby two or more identifications somehow are merged into one, without rejecting either; ‘absorbing identifications in a configuration’ implies a process where different identifications are still seen as separate, none are rejected and they continue to exist separately side by side in some sort of dynamic balance.
All three processes that lead to a configuration occur in RDB. (For clarity of argument, I will discuss them in the order that they occur in the film, and not in the order that they are defined.) “Selective repudiation” takes place in beginning of the film when the main characters reject identification with their past selves. For example, during the script reading, Karan reads the words of Bhagat Singh only to deride them at the end: “’I’ve committed my life to the freedom of this country. I know you want me to get married but I have made freedom my bride. Your son, Bhagat Singh.’ Who talks like that for God’s sake? Your son… My freedom… What’s his problem?” At the same time, the suppression of identifications is hinted at by the recurring appearance of the historic personas in contemporary shots. “Absorbing identifications in a configuration” occurs in the middle of the film when the youngsters ease into their roles yet still exist separately from their past selves. In other words, at this point in the film, the main characters still see Bhagat Singh et al as roles to be played, and thus, remain identities separate from their own. This process of configuration is demonstrated at Ajay and Sonia’s engagement party: although the contemporary young persons have been playing nationalists in Sue’s documentary for some time, they are still removed from the past. Cinematically, the distance that remains between the past and the present is shown through patchy jumps between past (the documentary) and present. “Mutual assimilation” appears at the end of the movie—from the scene where the group decides to kill the Defense Minister until the young men die. In this part of the film, the main characters’ past selves are merged with their present selves. A synthesis occurs whereby the distinction between past and present becomes irrelevant. Basu sums it when well: “In a perfect convergence, past and present can comfortably coexist, even without the arbitration of the documentary instrument because time as a contingent medium of rupture and as the instigation to strife has been increasingly rendered obscure and finally even erased.” At the end of the film, after all three processes, a configuration is finally achieved: the martyr.
Bhagat Singh and Youth
At this time, I would like to turn to a discussion of Bhagat Singh; after all, he is the young man who acts as the axis on which the film pivots. Taken together, the scholarship on RDB avers that the film misrepresents the famous revolutionary. Aarti Wani, for instance, writes that “the Bhagat Singh of Mehra’s imagination, mediated through the diary of an English jailer and his granddaughter is only a hot-headed patriot who willingly sacrificed his life for his country. Nowhere do we hear about his ideas on religion, students and their role in politics, imperialism, exploitation and oppression or socialism.” According to Wani, Mehra’s reading of Singh is narrow because he only portrays the active side of the revolutionary; his ideas are nowhere to be found. It is therefore no surprise that she concludes, “Rang De Basanti merely succeeds in effectively silencing Bhagat Singh.” Similarly, Neelam Srivastava contends that, in RDB, “Bhagat Singh, actually a secular Marxist revolutionary influenced by Trotsky and Lenin, is divested of his radical and structured political message and is appropriated as a generic ‘national’ hero, a shining example for a disaffected Indian middle-class youth to urge them to fight corruption and change the nation.” Like Wani, Srivastava believes that Mehra strips Singh of his “radical” ideas, clearly their favorite ingredient in the Bhagat Singh formula. Thus, because the film misrepresents Singh, a grave error occurs: “Mehra’s revolutionaries are only these fiery-eyed young men of action, sans thought, sans ideas.” Clearly, Wani and Srivastava favor ideas over actions. The question is, did Bhagat Singh?
By asking this question, I do not mean to suggest that ideas were not important to Singh (of course they were); but it would be a mistake to think that ideas were primarily important. Actions were just as important as ideas—if not more so—and this is demonstrated best, in Chris Moffat’s view, through an interrogation of “the slogan of Bhagat Singh’s Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA): Inquilab Zindabad, ‘Long Live Revolution’—a life for revolution, a life of revolution. What does it mean to commit to revolution in perpetuity? What form does this militant life take in the present? This is to direct our study of politics to action and the contexts of action, rather than propositions and ‘mere beliefs’” (Italics in the original). Focusing on action, continues Moffat, “allows us to acknowledge the primacy of the gesture in the political life of the HSRA: it was, I will argue, the bomb, the bullet, the chant, the hunger strike, the kissing of the hangman’s noose that did the demonstrative work for these revolutionaries, rather than any idea of the good articulated in a pamphlet.” In this reading, Wani and Srivastava’s critique of RDB (i.e. that it misrepresents Bhagat Singh because it empties him of his ideas) is painfully unoriginal. Like Gandhi, Singh was not only a “thinker,” but also a “doer.” Indeed, Singh was a precocious thinker who did articulate his beliefs in writing; but his ideas only reached their potential through action. This is what Moffat calls active thought, which emphasizes the importance of acting on ideas in the present. Explains Moffat, “Gestures toward a contingent present speak politics as active thought, an anti-doctrinal orientation captured in Lenin’s question: What is to be done? Rather than simply demanding the elaboration of a deed (‘to be done’), this question necessitates engagement with the present as the platform for action . . . This is a politics conceived as craft or art, a form of judgment rather than the mastery of certain theories” (Italics in the original). In the film, the question “What is to be done?” is answered in the scene where the group decides to kill the Defense Minister. After the Defense Minister breaks up the candlelight vigil, which was supposed to bring attention to government corruption, and leaves untainted, the group feels they have no option but to kill him. The dialogue at the beginning of the scene reads thus:
“The Bastard got away with it again.”
“What can we do when the law of the land protects people like the defense minister?”
“We have to take drastic measures.”
“What drastic measures? What do you want to do?”
The killing of the defense minister can be read as a “gesture toward a contingent present” where corruption (embodied in the defense minister) does not exist, or as the act that fulfills the idea. So, if we follow Moffat’s lead and “direct our study of politics to action,” then the “primacy of the gesture” in RDB, rather than misrepresenting Bhagat Singh, presents him in a surprisingly authentic form.
Not surprising, however, is Moffat’s belief that a politics of action is inseparably tied to youth; for, just as the contingent present of a politics of action is always vanishing, so too is youth. The question is, why do young persons get involved in politics of action if youth is vanishing? As Moffat explains, “when we speak of ‘youth’ anointed as a force in politics, this is to suggest [that] certain practices of engagement and perceptions of common capacity are defined by an internal temporality of belonging—that of age. But age is an unstable marker: years pass and so too, the capacities of youth.” Perhaps the most plausible explanation is that the youth have the most to gain by getting involved in a politics of action as well as the most to lose by not getting involved in such a politics. On the one hand, if the youth get involved now and succeed in achieving their political goals, then they benefit from those rewards now. On the other hand, if they do not get involved in politics now, then they cannot reap the benefits that go along with acting now (i.e. enjoying the benefits of political action for a longer time span). Thus, youth get involved in a politics of action not in spite of the vanishing present, but because of it. As Moffat puts it, “the sense of a vanishing present exhorts urgency.”
Importantly, “the urgency of a vanishing present” answers more than one question: in addition to explaining why the youth get involved in a politics of action, it also explains why they are best suited for it. In Moffat’s reading of Singh and the young revolutionaries of the early twentieth century, “youth are constructed against those who, with age, have become buried under accumulated interests and obligations, who may possess the will but not the capacity to let go, to respond completely to the demands of a present.” In short, change in the present demands someone with a will and a capacity to act, and that is the youth. According to Simona Sawhney, this is an idea that the film’s title, Rang De Basanti, evokes: “Basanti, the colour of spring, is also the colour of sacrifice and renunciation. Behind the association of spring with renunciation possibly lurks the idea that only in youth, or in springtime, is sacrifice possible; as Bhagat Singh often remarked, only the young have something to give: their energy and hope, their future.” Unsurprisingly, perhaps, we have come back to Singh’s ideas. I say “unsurprisingly” because, as we have seen, Singh’s actions and ideas are interwoven. More important, one could argue that, of all Singh’s ideas, none is more lofty or exclusive than youth. Notwithstanding its connection with action, then, youth inevitably brings us back to the idea.
Central to Singh’s notion of youth as a force in politics is, as Sawhney hints at in the quote above, the belief that sacrifice is “the privilege of youth.” As Singh so eloquently puts it in a passionate essay on youth from 1925, “without an adolescent, who can denote blood? For sacrifices you will have to look towards the youth. The youth is the fortune-builder of every community. A scholar has rightly said, ‘It is an established truism that young men of today are the countrymen of tomorrow holding the high destinies of land. They are seeds that spring and bear fruit.’” As the men of tomorrow, the young men of today carry with them the burden of the future. Sacrifice, then, is the privilege of youth because the future is the responsibility of youth. Concludes Singh, “a true youth without hesitation embraces death. He defies and confronts the sharp and pointed bayonets. He smiles while sitting on the mouth of the canon. He sings a song on the jingling of shackles. He swings on the gallows with bravery. On the day of his execution his weight increases. O, Indian youth, you are ignorant and sleeping carelessly. Open up your eyes and see the light of the rising sun. Don’t sleep more […].” The five young men who became martyrs by the end of the film fulfill this call to action. Not only do they awake from ignorance and come face to face with the light, but they also smile in the face of death. Each man becomes, in the words of Bhagat Singh, “a true youth.” In the last analysis, although RDB may not call on the full pantheon of Singh’s revolutionary ideas, it does elicit his ideas about youth.
Of course, there is a flaw in looking at RDB as a film about youth. As many scholars have written, RDB “casts the affluent middle class exclusively as the voice of political agency” in contemporary India. Thus, the youngsters of the film represent only a small minority of India’s youth. This is undoubtedly true and, along with the other commentators, I must concede this. However, as I mentioned at the beginning of this paper, my goal was to find some way to balance the polarized critiques of the film. Youth, notwithstanding its pitfalls, seems to be the most practical way of doing this; as the size and relevance of the middle class increases, the film’s commentary on youth will also increase in importance. The question is, will the next generation of Indian youth accept the film’s portrayal of youth identity and politics?
 Bhagat Singh and B.K. Dutta, “Message to Punjab Students’ Conference,” in Chaman Lal, ed., Bhagat Singh: The Jail Notebook and Other Writings (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2007), 139. The text is also available online at https://www.marxists.org/archive/bhagat-singh/1929/10/19.htm (accessed last on July 6, 2014).
 I say “smash hit” because, according to one author, Rang De Basanti was “a runaway hit that grossed over 345.5 million Rupees worldwide in its very first week.” Manisha Basu, “Rang De Basanti: The Solvent Brown and Other Imperial Colors,” in Bollywood and Globalization: Indian Popular Cinema, Nation, and Diaspora, ed. Rini Bhattacharya Mehta and Rajeshwari V. Pandharipande (London: Anthem Press, 2010), 181n1. Another commentator adds some important context when he notes, “Rang De Basanti has been a runaway hit but its success appears to have been perhaps greater in the metropolitan cities (and with non-residents) than in the hinterlands/rural areas because it seems to be positioned this way.” M. K. Raghavendra, “Globalism and Indian Nationalism,” Economic and Political Weekly 41, no. 16 (2006): 1503.
 Alice Patten plays Sue.
 The male revolutionaries are, unsurprisingly, the focal point of the film.
 Siddharth plays Karan/Bhagat Singh, Aamir Khan plays DJ/Chandrashekhar Azad, Sharman Joshi plays Sukhi/Hari Shivaram Rajguru, Kunal Kapoor plays Aslam/Ashfaqulla Khan, Atul Kulkarani plays Laxman/Ramprasad Bismil, and Soha Ali Khan plays Sonia/Durga Bhabhi.
 Madhavan plays Lt. Ajay Rathod.
 Ulka Anjaria and Jonathan Shapiro Anjaria, “Text, genre, society: Hindi youth films and postcolonial desire,” South Asian Popular Culture 6, no. 2 (2008): 131-37.
 Ibid., 132.
 Nandini Chandra, “Young Protest: The Idea of Merit in Commercial Hindi Cinema,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 30, no. 1 (2010): 121-122.
 Anjaria and Anjaria, “Text, genre, society,” 133.
 Ibid., 132.
 Parul Bansal, Youth in Contemporary India: Images of Identity and Social Change (New Delhi: Springer, 2013): 10.
 Ibid., 12.
 Ibid., 16-17.
 Ibid., 17.
 Questions of temporality in RDB are discussed most extensively in Parvinder Mehta, “Predicaments of history and mimetic agency: Postcolonial return, repetition and remediation in Rang De Basanti,” South Asian Popular Culture 9, no. 3 (2011): 299-311. Basu, “Rang De Basanti: The Solvent Brown,” deals with temporality at some length, as well.
 Mehta, “Predicaments of history,” 306.
 On youth reception of RDB, Jyotsna Kapur writes, “The visceral response the film evoked amongst the young, urban middle class, I believe, has to do with the disillusionment it expresses with the hollowness of consumer culture [(present)] while holding out the possibility of taking charge of history [(past)] and setting it correct [(future)].” The Politics of Time and Youth in Brand India (London: Anthem, 2013), 127n2.
 Basu, “Rand De Basanti: The Solvent Brown,” 106.
 Bansal, Youth in Contemporary India, 17.
 Sonia, one could argue, is probably the only character that does not reject her past self. Rather, it seems that her past self is suppressed.
 Rang De Basanti, directed by Rakesh Omprakash Mehra (2006; Mumbai: UTV Motion Pictures), Netflix, accessed July 6, 2014, http://www.netflix.com/WiMovie/70047320?sod=search-autocomplete. All translated dialogue that appears in this paper is taken from the Netflix version of the film.
 Basu, “Rang De Basanti: The Solvent Brown,” 107.
 Aarti Wani, “Uses of History: A Case of Two Films.” Film International 5, no. 1 (2007): 75. This review essay is also available at http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2007/wani120207.html (accessed last on July 6, 2014).
 Neelam Srivastava, “Bollywood as National(ist) Cinema: Violence, Patriotism and the National-Popular in Rang De Basanti,” Third Text 23, no. 6 (2009): 713.
 Wani, “Uses of History,” 75.
 Chris Moffat, “Experiments in political truth,” Postcolonial Studies 16, no. 2 (2013): 185.
 Moffat, “Experiments in political truth,” 185.
 I borrow the terms “thinker” and “doer” from Vinay Lal, “Reading Gandhi and Avowing the Impossible,” Lal Salaam (blog), October 4, 2013, https://vinaylal.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/reading-gandhi-and-avowing-the-impossible/ (accessed last on July 6, 2014).
 Ibid., 185-86. Moffat is not the only one who makes a connection between Bhagat Singh and politics as art. For another take on the connection, see Simona Sawhney, “Death in three scenes of recitation,” Postcolonial Studies 16, no. 2 (2013): 202-214. On the realization of politics as art in RDB, Sawhney writes, “only by learning to speak a different aesthetic language are the protagonists of the film able to become political agents. Thus poetry appears as both the shaping of an aesthetic language that functions as the (essential) supplement to the political, and as the inheritance, internalization, and repetition of this language” (210).
 Rang De Basanti.
 Moffat, “Experiments in political truth,” 186.
 Ibid., 187.
 Sawhney, “Death in three scenes of recitation,” 210.
 I borrow the phrase “the privilege of youth” from Moffat, “Experiments in political truth,” 186-87.
 Bhagat Singh, “Youth,” Matwala (May 16, 1925), quoted in Ishwar Dayal Gaur, Martyr as Bridegroom: A Folk Representation of Bhagat Singh (New Delhi: Anthem Press, 2008), 67-68. Note that Bhagat Singh was seventeen years old when he wrote “Youth.”
 Ibid., 68.
 The phrase “come face to face with the light” is from the song “roobaroo,” the last one to appear in RDB.
 Kapur, The Politics of Time and Youth in Brand India, 127. The quote used here is a part of Kapur’s summary of Chandra, “Youth Protest.”