Vishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon is a lot of things at the same time and it is very good in some of it, average in some others and bad in a few. Bhardwaj has never attempted a film of such scale and palate before and I was extremely excited about this film. The trailer was intriguing and I specifically kept away from all other reviews and word of mouth to have a clean slate when I watch this film. This is also a film which brings Bharadwaj and Shahid Kapoor together after Haider and Saif Ali Khan and Bhardwaj together after Omkara. What more can you ask for to be excited?
A special word for the film’s cinematography and sound design. Before we get into this review, I cannot help but marvel at the breathtakingly beautiful and haunting cinematography of this film. This is easily one of the best shot Indian films of the year so far. The amount of attention they have paid to details and lighting is worthy of being marveled at. The same can be said about the sound design as well.
The story starts in the last few years of India’s independence when the British Indian army is fighting the Japanese. The film opens with an extremely well shot and choreographed war sequence that looks and feels so authentic and terrific that it took my expectation from the film straight out of the room. Watching the film is a newly renovated cinema with plush red seats and a newly amped up projection and 7.1 surround sound system, I dug myself deep into the comfortable seats to enjoy what seemed to be another terrific Vishal Bhardwaj presentation. We see that Nawab (Shahid Kapoor) is taken prisoner by the Japanese as the rest of his Battalion flees the battlefield. A quick visit to the INDIAN NATIONAL ARMY camp soon makes it clear that the INA is in need of funds to keep up a costly war with the British. We learn that the money will come from BOMBAY. My excitement has been doubled now and I am waiting for some more fireworks.
The focus then shifts to Bombay where we are introduced to the immensely popular heroine Julia (Kangana Ranaut) and her producer/lover Russi (Saif Ali Khan). Russi is married and has children but accepts his love for Julia (in public and private) and is furthering his efforts for a divorce which is not approved by his powerful father. In the meantime, the British ask for his production company to arrange for a few shows of Julia in Rangoon for the British troops. Russi is forced to take Julia there as the British are the only ones able to supply him with film stock without which he cannot make any films and earn his bread. Julia is not willing to go but has to give in to Russi’s requests. By this time, the director establishes the fact that Julia is actually controlled by Russi and she doesn’t like that fact much. She is also very conscious of her social status and the stigma associated with it.
Julia’s visit paves the way for a rich Indian king to send an invaluable artifact for the INA which when reaches them will fuel their war till the British are defeated. This is also made clear in a brief but meaningful scene between a British general and the Indian king. The story looks rollicking now and we are all set for some whirlwind adventure. The protection of Julia is entrusted to Nawab, who has escaped from the clutches of his Japanese captors. On the other hand, Russi is tricked into staying back in Bombay by his father. On their way to the destination, Julia and company are attacked by the Japanese air force and Julia and Nawab are estranged from the rest of the company. And this is where the film hits a major roadblock.
The whole episode of Nawab and Julia trying to find their way out of the jungle and back to safety feels extremely dragged. Even though we have two splendid actors performing extremely well, the screenplay just doesn’t have anything special to have us interested. Also, the chemistry between the pair is nearly absent. They work well individually but when there is a need for sparks between them, we find none. There are multiple lip locks and a lot of intimacy but there are absolutely no feelings involved and hence it is a washout. Another huge issue for me was the reason why Julia fell for Nawab as Russi had publicly accepted her and she was on the way to becoming his legal wife. Why throw away all that for a fling. Nawab had also not done much to generate such selfless love from her.
Once they find their way back, the story shifts track from a love story to a love triangle. The INA issue is still running under the rugs and is referenced every now and then but only momentarily. The emphasis is by far on the love triangle. As Julia and Nawab keep running into each other, Russi can’t help but notice Julia’s soft corner for Nawab and she often takes it a few steps ahead of what she should have. This track hams a bit too. The reasons are what they were before. The lack of chemistry and valid reason for Julia to do what she does is a major stickler. Also, there is little chemistry between Russi and Julia.
Soon the secret of the donation sent by the king to the INA is revealed and all hell breaks loose. The British are in look out for the mole in their midst and Nawab, who happens to be the custodian of the sword, needs to get the sword to the INA. Julia is torn further between a comfortable life in the British rule and her duty as an Indian. However, her choices are made clear when Nawab is caught after much hue and cry and he is being deported along with the sword back to Bombay. She assumes the character of “Toofan Ki Beti”, a masked vigilante, that she is adored for in India and frees Nawab as well as the sword. This is where the film shuns all reason and logic and goes totally haywire.
That’s not all, the film goes on for another 20 minutes wherein they even turn Russi into a patriot who goes on to chop off the head of the British general who has been a constant source of annoyance for the duration of the film’s runtime before handing the sword to the INA who arrive at the exact point where they need to be to collect the sword without any prior intimation. Does it make any sense? Hell no! But it does look pretty. Oh! And before I forget to mention, Julia and Nawab are killed in the meantime.
Rangoon is Vishal Bhardwaj’s most massy and brainless film till date. What I love about his cinema is not present here. The hard-hitting realism, the interesting plot twists and the bravura characters are all exchanged for a glossy glammed up epic that is extremely shallow and somewhat idiotic. Even the music is hardly catchy. The songs are too many and they bore you. This film should have taken the kind of approach that Bhardwaj took for films like Maqbool, Haider, and Omkara. You constantly feel that there is a potent film somewhere in there amidst all the cacophony of well-laid-out mess, but you just never get to see that film except in “blink and miss” flashes of brilliance. I was expecting a lot more from this film and even though it’s good enough to deserve a view, it falls way short of its mark.
Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)