Since it seems to be almost obligatory to put at least one post about Rang de Basanti, I figured I might as well do my bit. Not that I've seen the film, of course, or plan to see it (it is my considered opinion that Aamir Khan should have stuck to doing the Coke commercials - it's the most intelligent work he's ever done), but I figure that shouldn't stop me from making astute and insightful observations about it - specially given the admirable job that Chandrahas and others have done of giving out the story. (Chandrahas also makes a whole bunch of points against the movie that I totally agree with. Or would, if I was willing to take the movie that seriously)
As I read through the posts about the film, the thing that struck me most was the parallel the movie tries to draw between these random college kids who go around assassinating Defence Ministers (mostly, it would seem, to expiate their own guilt over their friend's death) and Bhagat Singh and co. I know at least some people have objected to this parallel, arguing that the context was very different, and the two actions can't be compared. I personally think they can, and that the parallel is fairly strong, but that rather than being justification for the violence Rang de Basanti's characters undertake, it is rather reason to question and reevaluate the status of Bhagat Singh and the like as 'freedom fighters'. In other words, to ask ourselves whether these great martyrs were not as misguided and ridiculous as the kids in the movie.
I've never understood why Bhagat Singh and others get the kind of respect they do. My objection to their deification is two-fold - one philosophical, the other pragmatic. Philosophically, I think of them as little better than terrorists. In general, I do not believe that the end justifies the means, and am therefore unwilling to countenance the taking of life as a means of political protest, whatever the provocation. Just because you disagree with someone's politics, or believe that they are oppressing people you identify yourself with, is not a good enough reason to assassinate them. That is a route that leads straight to a Hobbesian world. Understand that is not necessarily a call for non-violence. I am not opposed to using the threat of force, or, if such threats should prove ineffective, to the use of actual violence. I am only opposed to actions that inflict violence on people without giving them a credible choice. Or in other words, I am only willing to accept the use of violence in situations where it is used as a last resort, where all other alternatives have been tried and shown to fail, and where the decision to resort to violence is taken via due process. Deciding to assasinate someone by yourself does not meet any of those criteria.
My more pragmatic objection is - what exactly is the end here? What were Bhagat Singh and co. hoping to achieve exactly? Was it really credible that the British would change their policy on India just because a few of their officials got killed? If your problem is with a particular system, does targeting the people in it really help? Or does it only make the system more determined to fight you? We call these people freedom fighters, but while I see that they fought, I'm not sure how their actions brought us even a single step closer to freedom. If anything, their actions took us one step closer to anarchy, a state in which all freedoms are suspended.
At this point some of you are probably dying to point out that these guys were brave men who died for their country (pun intended). Resisting the urge to come back with lines from Patton (about how the trick is to get the other s.o.b. to die for his country), I have to ask: did they? I know that they died, but it's not clear to me how their country came into it. Even if you believe that their actions somehow helped India come closer to freedom ex-post, that doesn't imply that that was their ex-ante intent. Was their desire to kill people driven by a well-thought out game plan to achieve real change in India's political situation, or was it driven by a feverish search for self-definition? Isn't it more plausible that a group of insecure and frustrated young men, burning with a sense of personal injury to which no real source could be ascribed, chose, as an identity, the role of 'martyrs', purely to escape the realities of their own impotence (this is how terrorists are recruited btw)? Were these truly idealogues of violence, or were they merely callow youths who stumbled upon a good way to both release their natural aggression and sanctify it in the name of their 'motherland'? Patriotism may or may not be the last refuge of the scoundrel, but it is certainly the last refuge of those with nothing else to pin their self on, of those who have no other claim to make upon the world. Behind all that high-sounding ideology is simply the brute aggression of those whose only contributions to the world can be reductive.
But they gave their own lives, you will say. To begin with, that proves nothing. Just because something is paid for with death does not make it right - price is not value. All it may suggest (even ignoring the power of socialisation - Durkheim's notion of altruistic suicide) is that the person who gave his life thought that he was achieving some great thing, but there's always the possibility that he was just wrong. If I go jump off a bridge shouting "Save the rainforests" at the top of my voice, will this mean I have championed the cause of the rainforests, or helped move these forests closer to preservation? The story of Bhagat Singh is more poignant and Bollywood worthy if we believe he achieved something, but that doesn't make his actions useful in any objective sense.
You can argue that their deaths were a valuable propaganda exercise, that they sacrificed themselves to create symbols for the independence struggle. That begs the question - okay, why did they have to kill someone first? If all that was needed were stories of idealistic young men who died for their country, surely there were enough people who suffered or were killed without having commited a crime first. Wouldn't these people's stories have been more effective? The Christ myth works on a similar aesthetic principle (a young man who suffers an agonising death for the 'sake' of mankind) but it works precisely because Christ is innocent and pure - he doesn't go around killing Romans before they crucify him. In fact, by taking the law into their own hands, didn't these rebels effectively obscure the stories of those whose suffering they were trying to avenge, and who would, arguably, have made better subjects for the martyrdom spin?
What, then, was the motive behind their giving their lives? (Notice I'm taking the non-cynical view and arguing that the chose to give up their lives, rather than assuming that they got caught and had no hope of reprieve, so decided to put a brave face on it). Camus, in The Rebel (a fascinating book to read in this context, btw), argues that nihilistic assassins justify their actions to themselves (and to others) by putting their own lives at stake as well. The argument here is pure reciprocity - in order to be justified in taking a life, you need to be prepared to give your own (this sounds astonishingly fair, till you consider that the victim to this 'exchange' doesn't get the same choice). What we are left with then, is blood guilt: the killing of the other is unjustifiable, and to even attempt to apologise for it would simply be to admit defeat and therefore shame. The assassin's death is then ultimately an act of pride - the 'martyr' is not concerned with the 'cause', he is interested in the maintenance of his own ego, and chooses to die in order to avoid his own internal dissonance. Such an act is 'heroic' in a purely dramatic sense, but like all 'heroic' acts it is a fundamentally selfish one. These are not self-sacrificing martyrs, they are actors playing to an imagined gallery.
By explicitly arguing for the parallel between the characters in Rang de Basanti and Bhagat Singh, the movie manages (unintentionally, I'm sure) to highlight these issues. The plot of the movie is ridiculous, the actions of the main characters unjustifiable, but all this idiocy belongs not with them but with the role models whose 'principles' they are, arguably, faithful to. In that sense (and again, I emphasise that this is almost certainly not the filmmaker's intent) Rang de Basanti can be seen as that sublimest of statements - a political satire - one that can help to demonstrate that our great 'freedom fighters' were as empty-headed as the characters (and audiences) that they inspire.
 I've always been fascinated by the way we tend to arrogate all credit for the withdrawal of British from India to ourselves. The destruction caused by WWII, the changing political dynamics of the post-nuclear world, the rise of Soviet influence, the growing impracticality and irrelevance of the old imperialist institutions - all these never seem to get much airplay in our popular discussions  of 1947. Personally, I'm only sure that the British left - whether we drove them out is another question entirely. I'm not saying that the struggle for independence wasn't important, just that you could as credibly argue that we just lucked out in 1947.
 I emphasise popular discussions - I'm sure historical theories on this exist, it's just that you don't see movies being made about them.
Follow up comment: Just a quick comment on this post, based on the comments I've received so far. I'm not unaware, of course, that it is possible to build a consistent argument that would justify Bhagat Singh's actions (something starting from the question of whether, in a system without the right to vote, an individual can be assumed to be governed by the law would be interesting, for instance). It's not an argument that I personally would agree with, but it's an argument I'm willing to debate and consider, and it would be useful because it would help highlight the differences in fundamental assumptions that underlie the two points of view. My real point in the post above isn't so much to criticise Bhagat Singh as to critique the non-obvious assumption that he was a great man. That may be true, but it's a conclusion that needs to be arrived at, not assumed.
That's why it's ironic when people accuse me of being uninformed. My point is that most people are worse than uninformed - they're unquestioning. (Honestly, how many people read this post and didn't experience a sense of outrage that came not so much from disagreement, but from the dissonance of having someone you've always been taught was a great martyr questioned? That's one of the reasons I really appreciate Pareshaan's comment, btw). That's the kind of intellectual laziness that creates fanatics.
Bottomline: The point of being provocative is not to be right. The point of being provocative is to create credible doubt that forces people to reassess their beliefs, so that even if they continue to hold them afterwards, it will be for a good reason.