Rangoon : Movie Review
3.5 stars out of 5 (between Good & Excellent)
Director : Vishal Bhardwaj
Cast : Kangana Ranaut, Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor
Hindi (English subtitles available), Released 24/2/17
The interior of a grandly domed regally coloured film theatre looms larger in wide-angle splendour as the lens tracks upwards. An opening salvo launches a powerfully depicted battle as bombs blast their targets asunder while men rip into each other like crazed animals. A British army major croons Hindustani with the harmonium in a strikingly odd moment of offbeat humour. And towards the finale, a lady dressed as a dashing action figure sprints atop a moving train in a dazzling fusion of her cinematic past and daredevil real-life present as the heroine who rises thrillingly to save the hero.
These are some of the remarkable scenes in 'Rangoon', the new film by Vishal Bhardwaj. Set in the closing years of British Raj in India, the good old' love triangle is marooned supposedly near Rangoon where the jungles witness a battle between the British, Japanese and Subhash Chandra Bose's doomed Indian National Army (INA).
Miss Julia (Kangana Ranaut) is a flamboyant heroine of second-rate action flicks famous all over film-watching India for her swashbuckling on-screen adventures. Rising from a disadvantaged childhood, she is now set to marry the handsome movie moghul Rusi Billimoria ( an unremarkable Saif Ali Khan) who seeks to escape the attachments of his first wife and a manipulative father. Julia gets dragooned into doing a show in Burma to entertain the soldiers of the British Indian Army. That's where her affections get increasingly intertwined with Nawab Malik (a simple but strongly straight-arrow Shahid Kapoor) a soldier for the British Indian Army and also a mole for the INA. Tensions erupt amidst Julia's shows when the British start suspecting and then eliminating these hidden INA freedom-fighters.
What could have been a cracker of a film, with a brilliant intertwining of warring factions, tortured romance and suspense in the formidable jungles-'n'-swamps of Burma, ends up merely as a relatively interesting tussle, owing to the script's inadequately realised potential and uninspired direction.
Kangana Ranaut excels as the feisty Julia who effortlessly oscillates between light-hearted abandon and deep emotion. Julia does not hesitate to canoodle with another man though she's set to marry someone else when the going gets tough, she takes the toughest of stands. There is subtle feminism even after she eventually leaves the scene, as the telling aftermath triggers a wholly unexpected transformation.
The track involving a captured Japanese soldier is designed to have comedic overtones, but care should have been taken not to caricature him, at least as a mark of respect to Japan which was the only country that agreed to help the Indian nationalist movement.
Dialogues often sparkle. The last line directed at the Japanese soldier seems simplistic but is profoundly humanist. The Indo-phile Major Harding issues a genuine zinger when he rues how "Tagore's beautiful song has become the anthem of so doomed a cause as that of the INA's". But when he declares "When the British leave India, this country will become one of the world's most corrupt societies", there is sadly no one to counter that preposterous hypocrisy by riposting "When the British have left India with a literacy rate of 12 % after 130 years of "governing" the country, what else do you expect to happen in the initial stages?"
The climax with its devil-may-care shades of incredible action powered by love, loss and patriotism, transcends banal things like credibility - it is a much-needed last hurrah in a tale crying for one. But such mundane things as consistent technical polish are not in abundance in the film overall, with some action sequences' flaws ranging from flickering frames to sub-optimal special effects. Pankaj Kumar's long-range shots are admirable, but that same quality is missing in close-ups and camera movement. Pairing the runtime from the actual 154 minutes to a snappy 120 would have been smarter, but tight editing is not Bhardwaj's forte. He continues to consolidate his reputation as one of India's most versatile directors, but unwittingly not yet as one of its best ones.