Raag Desh is directed by one of my favorite Indian directors, Tigmanshu Dhulia and chronicles the story of three officers of Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army who are captured by the British and tried for murder, disloyalty to the British Indian Army and abetment of murder. These trials were carried out in the Red Fort and even though partly forgotten now, they created an alarming and revolutionary uproar among the Indians back in the days.
Tigmanshu Dhulia’s film is an intricately written piece of art which is not only well mounted but also well intentioned. The story doesn’t take a linear path which might have been a big pull for the director considering the fact that we Indians don’t like our films complicated. In India, the simpler it is, the better it is. But apparently that’s not the case for Dhulia who smoothly alternates between the trials and the lives of the men in the Indian National Army and how they came to be captured. As the film progresses we learn more and more about the men, their choices and above all the confusion that surrounded their decision to be a part of the INA knowing fully well that they would have to shoot their own brothers.
Raag Desh is an enormous undertaking. The film has so many characters and each of the characters assumes so much of importance that it becomes difficult to actually keep track of the who’s who but thankfully for the director, most of the actors does extremely well to match up to the tone and mood of the film. What I loved about the manner in which Dhulia goes about it is the fact that he never for once tries to hide the confusion and cacophony surrounding the INA and its men under the veil of roaring patriotism. This is more of a courtroom drama and less of a patriotic uprising. The concentration here is on the trial and what led the men to their current state. This is shown through the series of flashbacks depicted by several characters.
A lot of time is spent before Subhash Chandra Bose comes around and starts holding things up. Up till that time, our protagonists are torn and confused between their love for their country, their righteousness to do what they feel is their duty and killing their own brothers in arms. This confusion plays a predominant role in shaping the men’s thought process that later on attains steely resolve. We see the transformation and know for sure how these men came to be what they have become.
The trial of the three soldiers is also shown in great details and with clinical authenticity. Be it the roaring defense lawyer played with conviction by Kenny Desai , who is my favorite actor of the lot or the troubled father of one of the soldiers played with sublime ease by Kanwaljit Singh, who is not afraid to tell Nehru that he is not the right defense for them as he has been out of practice for years. The characters all hit the right note and engage your attention and care in the proceedings. A film like this wouldn’t have worked well had there been no involvement of the audience with the characters. But that is emphatically ensured by almost the entire cast.
Apart from these two tracks, there is a third track involving a journalist played by Vijay Verma who is trying to uncover the exploits of the INA and bring it to the fore for the Indian masses. His performance is uproariously catchy. The guy has such great screen presence and natural ability to emote that everytime he is on screen it is difficult to take your eyes off him. Rajesh Khera plays Nehru proficiently. Even though he is present in bits and pieces alone, he does a good job. Amit Sadh as one of the accused Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon is brilliant. He has an intensity about his character and that was absolutely necessary to make the character work. He brings that to the table unlike the other two which I will discuss in a bit.
Kenny Basumatary is a novel Subhash Chandra Bose. I never thought in my wildest dreams that he would be such a great Subhash. He brings his own interpretation of the character and he does so with a swagger that is hard to miss. He is loveable when he strips to get his body weight equivalent amount of gold from a patriotic businessmen and he is brilliant when he refuses to enter a temple when his fellow officers are denied entry as they belong to a different religion. He even gets the look, the body weight and the posture of the man spot on. Not to mention the speeches. Outstanding work by a lad who would be hardly half the age of Netaji. Mrudula Murali shares an extremely sensitive scene with one of the accused and she sparkles in that scene. Between that and a shaky accent, she does a good job.
Finally, I arrive at the point that bugged me the most about the film. Kunal Kapoor as Shah Nawaz Khan and Mohit Marwah as Prem Sahgal somehow sleep walk through their roles. I found a total lack of intensity and urgency in their acts and that very fact pulled down this film quite a few notches for me. There was neither the fire in their eyes nor the desperation even after knowing that they were destined to be hanged. One look at them and you would know that they were going to walk scot free.
That’s where the film lost a lot of credibility for me considering the fact that they were the primary protagonists of the film. Dhulia needed two better leading men. I also found the editing of the film to be sub-par. I didn’t have so much of an issue with the way the present and the flashbacks were cut together as many had sighted. But if you consider individual sequences, how they are edited and their integration with other individual sequences then there are plenty of complaints to be put up. The background score could have been better.
Having said all that, Raag Desh is still a decent watch for its content, its design, its performances and the story that it sets out to tell. Whatever it lacks in terms of the performances mentioned above, it more than makes up for through its content, other performances and the sheer audacity of undertaking such a herculean task and pulling it off in style. This is also a film that will require multiple views to comprehend and decipher fully.
Rating : 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)