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Rang De wins seal of war cabinet

New Delhi, Jan. 10: The Indian Air Force tonight cleared a rocket from Bollywood ' a movie starring Aamir Khan ' after the top military brass vetted it in a drill resembling a war room gathering.

The censors had referred Rang De Basanti to the air force because it raises questions about the MiG21 and insinuates that the defence ministry is corrupt.

Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee took along with him the defence secretary, Shekhar Dutt, the army chief, General J.J. Singh, the navy chief, Admiral Arun Prakash, the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, and a platoon of general-rank officers from defence headquarters to the Films Division’s auditorium to preview the film.

Few films can boast that they can create such an emergency for the entire military top brass.

The venue was secured completely with army soldiers wielding Insas rifles guarding its perimeter as the VIPs watched the film in the company of Sharmila Tagore, the chief of the Central Board of Film Certification, whose daughter, Soha Ali Khan, plays the female lead in the film. Aamir Khan drove in with his personal security guard minutes after the military brass had taken their seats.

“It’s a good film. I just thought they all should see it,” said Sharmila.

“I have come because we have been asked to see the film,” said the defence secretary who had stepped out during the show to attend to a phone call.

For Ronnie Screwvala of UTV, the film’s producers, and its director, Rakeysh Mehra, who played hosts, the row has ensured the film publicity ahead of the scheduled premiere on January 19. The film is yet to be cleared by the censors.

It should clear the hurdle now as the air force is satisfied with the routine disclaimer in the beginning that the film is a work of fiction with its characters bearing no resemblance to real-life figures.

Rang De Basanti is said to be loosely based on the real-life story of the late Flight Lieutenant Abhijit Gadgil, a young fighter pilot who was killed flying a MiG21.

In the film, the character is Flight Lt Vijay Rathore (played by Madhavan) and Soha Ali is his girlfriend who teams up with his friends to find out what led to the young pilot’s killing.

In real life, Gadgil’s mother, Kavita, took up the issue with the political leadership in 2003. An outpouring of public concern after successive MiG21 crashes resulted in fatalities led to the then defence minister, George Fernandes, flying in the aircraft.

The film also has Anupam Kher playing the role of a middleman and insinuates that top defence officials, not excluding the minister, can be bribed to sell cheap and poor quality spares and machinery.

A group of defence ministry and air force officials had also seen the film over the weekend and had felt the need for advisories to its makers. But after this evening’s screening, Air Marshal P.S. Ahluwalia, the director-general (inspections and flight safety), said: “The IAF has no objection to any aspect of the movie and it can go as it is. It is a good film.”

Earlier this morning, announcing the IAF was going to organise an international flight safety conference, he had said: “We are an open and democratic country and we cannot ask for curbs on freedom of expression. I cannot say that we are objecting to the film but there may be certain advisories after the film has been referred to us.”

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