This wannabe epic love story, set amidst the Indian freedom struggle even as World War II rages on, bites off way more than it can chew and ends up faltering on most counts.
To say that Rangoon, a love triangle involving a top stunt actress, Nadia, no sorry, make that Miss Julia (Kangana Ranaut as she spells her name now), the studio owner and a former stunt hero himself, Rusi Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan), and her security guard, a soldier in the British Army, Jamadar Nawab Malik (Shahid Kapoor) is a disappointment is an understatement. The film, set in undivided India of 1943 against the huge canvas of the Quit India movement, the rise of Subash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA) and World War II in Asia, has way too many threads to strand and ends up doing justice to none of them. Leave alone getting into the complexities of the times and the layering of the story, the heavy-handed and plodding film, has a surprisingly shoddy script and a loud and melodramatic treatment that just gets more and more absurd and even laughable by the time it reaches the climax. There are but a few moments in Julia and Nawab’s developing relationship and their interaction with the Japanese POW (Satoru Kawaguchi), whom they leave to go back home to his mother, that stay with you and little else.
The lead trio, otherwise fine actors in their own right, are just about adequate. But then neither of their characterizations gives them much scope to really act and it has to be said that none of them are able to portray their characters with the mindset, values or body language of the period either. And bloody hell. Kangana looks far too skinny to be a stunt queen who can lift men, twirl them around and hurl them away. In any case, even normal heroines of that period were more filled out than she is to be credible. Her graph and ‘coming of age’ too is unconvincing to say the least and in a terribly weak performance, she is lost between ‘parodying’ a stunt star from the 1940s and creating some real moments for her character. Richard McCabe as the Urdu and Hindustani sprouting British Major General makes for a horribly weak and hammy antagonist. Just about the only Churchill-like worthy moment his character has is when he prophetically declares that giving power to India will end up making it one of the most corrupt nations ever. In that sense, there are the odd nods to the contemporary that Vishal has managed to put in cleverly – the interviewer asking Julia about who the love of her life is ‘as the nation wants to know’ for one – but these are far and few in between.
Even the music, normally Bhardwaj’s forte, is just so-so. Yeh Ishq Hai, having echoes of AR Rahman’s Dil Se (1998) title track, is the best composed song in the film. The picturizations of Julia’s shows for the lads look like nothing from our films in the 1940s, especially in terms of its contemporary choreography and music styles. Incidentally, where and when does Julia get time to rehearse with her team to come up with such elaborately choreographed numbers? Especially, when she is first lost in the jungle with Nawab away from them all and even after reaching the Army Camps in Rangoon, she spends all her free time with him with them even re-enacting shades of the From Here to Eternity (1953) beach romp. Are we simply supposed to let go, saying this is a mainstream Hindi film after all. But then, isn’t Visual supposed to be one of our better filmmakers who is supposed to give thought, logic and sensibility to our films?! Admittedly, there are the occasional Broadway-like flourishes like the number introducing Julia in the film, or the song in the train, but sadly, this sort of attitude comes nowhere else in the film. Cinematographer Pankaj Kumar (Ship Of Theseus, Haider) does create some eye-catching visuals but then a few beautiful images a film don’t make. The production design gets the period right in broad strokes but falters in some of the smaller details highlighting yet again that period films are not really our style. The VFX work, it has to be said, is tacky in quite a few places.
All in all, Rangoon is a dull film that has little going for it considering the talent involved. It also fails as an intended tribute for the brave men and women of the INA. For a time pass film with the INA as a backdrop, give me the unpretentious Filmistan production Samadhi (1950), with Kuldip Kaur and Nalini Jaywant performing the enchanting Gore Gore O Banke Chhore number for the troops, any day. Jai Hind!
Hindi, Romance, Action, Drama, Color