This article depicts the closing of the distance between a rational public sphere and popular Hindi cinema in view of a spurt of youth-related Hindi films in the 2000s, especially Rang de basanti (2006). Rang de basanti is taken as the starting point for a discussion of the idea of politics deployed in and through Hindi cinema. The film provides an eclectic mishmash of Gandhian satyagraha and revolutionary rhetoric, a combination that resonates ironically within a neoliberal educational imagination. The media-orchestrated response of the avowedly apolitical, but staunchly antireservationist, upper-caste students' group Youth for Equality (YFE), which emerged as a direct offshoot of the film, definitely echoes this. However, the YFE's investment in academic capital and merit has deep roots in the discredited popular Hindi cinema of yore. This essay argues that the YFE's overture to politics flows from a dawning realization that the mainstream political sphere no longer shares its concept of merit, since a new political consensus about reservations is now apparent even in the most Brahmanic and right-wing of established political parties. The essay then attempts to come to terms with how the YFE class goes about adjusting to the new playing field of cultural politics. Finally, it tries to place the role of education and student politics in a broad historical perspective, exposing the links of the contemporary public sphere to a more privatized and subterranean location in Bombay films.

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