25 Years of Rangeela: The Ram Gopal Verma Masterpiece that Made Taporis Cool


25 Years of Rangeela: The Ram Gopal Verma Masterpiece that Made Taporis Cool

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Rangeela means different things to different people. For some, it was the time when the country went gaga over Urmila Matondkar. For others, it was Aamir Khan’s tapori act that was the standout in the film. For music buffs, this was AR Rahman’s first original Hindi soundtrack, before he would go on to become a celebrated global artist, acknowledged all over the world. No matter what it means to different constituencies, there is a consensus that Ram Gopal Verma’s Rangeela was special.

It has been 25 years to the film’s release, and few films have matched up its pre-release excitement or post-release cultural impact. “Rangeela Re” became the song of liberation, tapori bhasha was suddenly cool to use, and the film captured the post ’91 India unlike any other film in its time. It is hardly a surprise that Rangeela has aged like fine wine, and commands a nostalgic fandom, even after all these years.

What is it about Rangeela that managed to capture the nation’s imagination?

“The film that changed my life, I became a cinephile,” recollected Agam Anand on Twitter, mentioning how he became an Aamir Khan fan for life, how Urmila Matondkar was his first crush, how Rahman’s music was fresh and that RGV had made an “evergreen” film.

Even the experience of watching the film in the theatre was special, with screams and whistles on Aamir’s entry and the blast that the audience had watching the hotel scene where he was in that iconic yellow shirt. It was a film about dreams and dreamers. “As I walked out watching Rangeela in that small town theatre, everyone was feeling relieved that Aamir Khan got Urmila in the end, all felt that even they could propose to an actress and then had a hope it could be accepted. Small town dreams. Rangeela lives on,” said Rohit Verma on Twitter.

“We were told it was an ‘adult’ film. I was 13 and ready to find out why all we could hear was ‘Urmila’ in the air. ‘Maangta Hai Kya’ still sounds spectacular on the headphone,” recollects Paroma Mukherjee on Twitter.

It was a time when ticket money was collected after you were seated, and you could ask the staff to replay songs you liked. Those were simpler, and beautiful times.

When “eve teasing” was the norm in ’90s’ Bollywood, Rangeela resisted that temptation. It also moved away from other Bollywood cliches, like not having a typical villain and featuring a female lead with agency. A movie well ahead of its times.

“Rangeela makes me breakdown every single time and feel for all three characters. A remarkable feat that is fun, entertaining and so well made – and yet so soulful. That elusive soul we all search for in a film,” said R S Prasanna on Twitter.

It was competing with DDLJ for awards that year, and many Bollywood fans still believe Aamir should’ve won the Filmfare that year. Is that the reason why The Perfectionist stopped caring for award shows thereafter?

“Still remember how my folks would squirm, every time ‘Tanha Tanha’ played on the TV. Rangeela over Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge any day!” Bollywood fans were split over the two movies and the divides exist to this day.

The soundtrack of Rangeela and the genius of AR Rahman has a separate fanbase. For many, it is still one of his best works in Bollywood.

The fact that the film has completed 25 years might make us feel old, because the songs, the dance, the funky outfits and the colourful language, all seem so recent. And that has been its beauty: Rangeela has remained relevant and relatable even after two and a half decades. A masterpiece, indeed.