Readers Write In #182: A character analysis of Karan Singhania, the soul of Rang De Basanti

Posted on May 18, 2020

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(by Sai Krishna Ramavajula)

Apart from teaching us how to light a cigarette with utmost swag and style, the character of Karan Singhania (played by Siddarth)in Rang De Basanti taught us both filmmakers and the audience something else as well. It is about how to write an interesting character .In 2016 at the 10-year celebration function of Rang De Basanti Siddarth told that for him this movie means only two people – Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (the director) and Aamir Khan. But sorry Siddarth!! I think that the soul of this film is represented by Karan Singhania more than anyone else in this film (no disrespect to all the other wonderful characters). If as a viewer you could connect with this guy, then the movie succeeded in what it sets out to do.

Karan’s introduction scene is that of him lighting his cigarette nonchalantly with a wooden fire stick at a chaotic night party. He is a rich guy (removing his expensive watch) who would get in the water to give his drowning friend a helping hand. He is smart enough to understand what the All India Radio guy wants and gives him some of his dad’s money which is rotting lying around (in his words). He is not interested in his father’s wealth. But Karan is not your stereotypical spoilt son of a rich dad character usually seen in our movies. He has his issues with his dad that is not completely revealed– is it because of his father being a corrupted man or is there something else to it? There was certainly a woman in his life who is still inside him (and his drawer too). Is it a young picture of his mother or is it his ex-girlfriend? He is not an open book and there are some ellipses as far as the writing of this character is concerned, but these missing elements do not come in the way of this character’s journey and the audience investment in him.The missing details make us more curious about this guy.

‘Meri Ab Bhi Samaj Meih Nahi Aarah hai Saala’ is what Karan says when he first reads the lines of his character (Bhagat Singh). Though he does not believe that this country has a future and argues with Ajay Rathore (Madhavan) that this Desh Bhakti (patriotism) things are boring, he is still the first one to show up for practicing his lines. Nothing about Bhagat Singh makes sense to him but yet he tries to get a feel of the emotions. The Nation’s headlines are still depressing nonsense to him. But, between the two versions of the Paathshaala song, we see him as a different man. In the first version of this song, he was just a rich guy who does not care about anything. In the second version of the song, we see him getting on top of the jeep to give a salute to the India Gate, a memorial celebrating the sacrifices of the Indian Soldiers.This shot raises a few questions about him. Does he believe in the sacrifices made by these soldiers? Is he coming out of his own beliefs? Is there more to this guy than what he says? He is the first one to get up from the SUV and salute. Everyone just follows him later. The wonderful cinematography of Binod Pradhan and A.R.Rahman’s music elevates this scene and all the characters.

A little later in the film when Ajay proposes to Sonia (Soha Ali Khan) and everyone around them is celebrating, we move in to slow motion to pay attention to Karan’s reactions. He is genuinely happy for both of them, but we sense that Karan is hiding something. Even when shown through Sue’s recordings he is seen brooding. In a particular scene in Tu Bin Bataye where everyone is racing with each other, he is seen walking at his own pace and with a cigarette (of course) alongside everyone. He is with them but also not with them in some ways. His dynamics with Ajay and Sonia in this song could be a movie of its own. There is something enigmatic about this guy.

We have two scenes showing the argument between Ajay and Karan about patriotism and the future of this country. First, it was in the Dhaba during dinner and the second one happens at the bar (in the second half). In the earlier scene, Karan says that there is no future for this country,and he would leave this country as soon as he graduates. Hesays all of this with a smiling face, he just states his opinion on these things, he is indifferent to the happenings around him. After agreeing to play the character of Bhagat Singh and getting a slight taste of the freedom fighters’ journey, the second argument takes place. Now, he still thinks that nothing in this world is worth dying for. It might appear that he is back to square one. But if we look closely there is something different about Karan this time. He is now upset and there is anger inside him that the efforts of these great men like Bhagat Singh have resulted only in such an India filled with people like his father. Ajay’s words start to prick him but still, he believes that as you begin to start doing things, your story is cut to end. No amount of talking can convince this guy here onwards.

Ajay’s jacket in a way refers to his pride in his Nation and patriotic feelings for the country. Karan is attracted by this jacket. Maybe he secretly wants to do something about this country but only after seeing people like his father maybe he has lost hope. In another scene, When Ajay is getting readyto leave, he throws his sexy jacket to Karan, it could be interpreted as Ajay passing over the baton to Karan. Ajay’s death shakes him up, something that Ajay’s words could not do. In Ajay’s funeral Karan is shown standing between Sonia and Ajay’s mother (Waheeda Rahman) and yet he is the one who breaks down first. Karan would have been the most difficult person to convince that this country has a future and it needs some work. But, Ajay’s death at the hands of his father and corrupt politicians does it effectively, this scene and Khoon Chala set up the emotion for the remaining part of the movie.

In the climax, speaking over the radio Karan repeats what Ajayhad been telling him all this while. Koi Bhi Desh perfect Nahi Hota Usse perfect banana padta hain! He finally says we (the youth) will change it. But these are not just superficial words coming from him. When a listener questions about the allegations against his father (Anupam Kher), it is revealed that he killed his dad as well. He did not do it for any other reason except for Ajay’s death and he is not happy about having killed his father. There is a complex emotion at play. He truly becomes the third kind of person that Sue’s grandfather refers to.

You might wonder if this analysis is coming from a fanboy of Siddarth. But I would like to argue that the director and writers would agree with me on this. Even the song Khalbali begins with Karan in the foreground and all the other characters in the background far far away. He is the only character who is staged and sketched with such detail. Sure, I am a fan of Siddarth’s wonderful acting in this movie. But the credit equally goes to the writing team comprising of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Kamlesh Pandey, and Rensil D’Silva. They showed us how even in a multi-starer movie with so many characters, good writing can make you invest in a particular character and follow their journey. I think this fantastic movie needs a re-watch particularly to be seen through the eyes of Karan. He might not be the leading character but, for me, Karan Singhania is the soul of this film.