Rangoon: Lacks cinematic punch

A still from ‘Rangoon’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Vishal Bhardwaj’s films can never be simple and straightforward, however much they might appear to be. Behind this set-in-the-40s love triangle of an actor, a producer and a soldier, there is also a germ of a bigger idea — of how cinema or art can’t entirely exist in a vacuum, and how it will be taken over by the urgencies of the times.

When the reel calling of stunt queen Miss Julia (Kangana Ranaut) gets intertwined with a real mission she chooses to go on and a new real role she envisages for herself, all preceded by the goose-pimpled Azad Hind Fauj version of Rabindra Nath Tagore’s anthem Jaya Ho (sung by Bhardwaj himself), there is an assertion, however unintended, that art has to take an ideological lead.

This “art as subversion” element is one of the very few things about Bhardwaj’s fictionalised reimagining of film and political history in Rangoon that has stayed on with me, even though most may not put much heed on it. Much of the rest of the film remains a disappointing blur.

Rangoon is an ambitious but overblown, overlong jumble because Bhardwaj decides to take on too many strands. And he doesn’t knit them well as a whole. At one level he doffs his hat to the filmmaking of the times — the references to Devika (Rani), Himanshu (Rai) and the import of raw stock from Germany.

  • Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
  • Starring: Kangana Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan
  • Storyline: On love in the time of war
  • Bottomline: Rangoon gets too diffused and overblown

Then he casts his eye on India’s fight for freedom — the Gandhi-Bose divide — in the times of World War II, and at yet another level just tells a tale of passion and betrayal. What you get in the end is an air of diffusion rather than cohesiveness. Things get scattered, stretched and heavy handed instead of coming together in an engaging cinematic punch.

Bhardwaj’s craft does shine through. In the intoxicating, lush song Tippa. Or in Julia’s interactions with a Japanese captive — the easy bonding with the so-called enemy, the shared food and song, the Hindi-Japanese cross-talk and then letting him go, back to his mother with his dignity intact. It is a persuasive comment, in jest and also in all seriousness, at the needless fissures that wars create. It’s these individual moments that reach out, but their sum total doesn’t.

Ranaut swings between over-the-top and measured. Shahid is dependable and Saif is a revelation despite his intermittent presence. Bhardwaj casts interesting people in bit roles — Pooja Sarup and Atul Kumar as the Hitler-bashing troupe artistes. But then, in embracing a more mainstream narrative he also falls prey to some of its most terrible elements.

Like the cringing caricature that the British general (and his abominable sidekick) get reduced to his grating Hindi/Urdu, the irritating love for poetry and the fate that he meets in the filmi finale. On the other hand, there are some appealing characters like Julia’s afeem-smoking Man Friday Zulfi whom one would have wanted to see more of. Perhaps, there is another film in him alone.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 7:51:31 PM |

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