Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
It may be one of the most awaited films in recent times but Rangoon is a royal misfire.
Within minutes of the movie’s beginning, you realise the promise of a heart-wrenching period drama was a farce -- a set-up to promote a self-indulgent film that doesn’t know what it wants to be.
The director Vishal Bhardwaj has desperately tried to play to the gallery, and has miserably failed.
The film’s plot, set in the 1930s, is thin. Producer and former action star Rusi Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan) is the friend, patron and lover of Miss Julia (Kangana Ranaut) -- an orphan he bought for Rs 1000.
Julia, inspired from the iconic Fearless Nadia, is a top action star when the Second World War begins. She is exuberant, slightly cynical and keeps repeating, ‘bloody hell’ – only that her character is grating enough for the audience to say it back to her.
Julia seems to be taking a cue from the top Western heroines of the 1940s, but her feminism isn’t liberating and appears to be solely driven to prove the adage that beautiful women are dumb.
She accidentally gets trapped in the beautiful jungles of Arunachal Pradesh with cocky Jamadar Nawab Malik (Shahid Kapoor), the third vertex of the love triangle. He has been a war prisoner and serves in the Queen’s army. There’s little more to Malik than his deliberately hardened expressions and rippling muscles.
Until this point, Rangoon appears to be reaching a point where it could be called a ‘love story in the backdrop of war.’
But it turns out to be a tug-of-war, between the Bhardwaj who made Maqbool and Omkara and the Bhardwaj who made Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola and Haider.
Two stage coordinators comment on everyone from Hitler to Churchill like Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah did in Maqbool. In another instance, the sound of a train engine transforms into a song like ‘Aao na’ from Haider.
But it also wants to play with symbols like the ‘pink buffalo’ in Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola. Some scenes ever appear to take a leaf out of Mad Max: Fury Road.
This confusion crawls on to the actors’ faces, especially Saif Ali Khan, whose seriousness is only pierced by stunts that belong to Sajid Khan films. Probably he was hoping for another Omkara, but all he has got is more intense Rustom.
Everything boils down to Kangana Ranaut’s Julia and her antics. She is undoubtedly a rock solid performer, because if there is one actor who shines despite odd writing, it’s her. She is terrific as a theatrics-loving stuntwoman. The poor script never lets Julia reach her pinnacle but she steals the show even with small scenes – her sitting on Saif’s thigh on a slight signal and then defying him seconds later, her monologue on being a kept – but the meandering story loses too much steam too quickly.
The wild swing of story plays the spoilsport.
The chief architect of this mess is General David Hardings (British actor Richard McCabe). Never shy of trying his hands at Urdu poetry, Hardings is an old-school villain, the kind who loves to laugh fanatically before killing their victims. Harding’s character stretches on both sides and restricts the love story from blooming, let alone intensifying.
The movie is picturesque. Colours come out of the screen and soothe our minds. Lighting and choreography are pitch-perfect. Every beat is nuanced, every frame caresses the bleeding hearts that keep waiting for the fire to ignite.
Being a period film is another challenge for Rangoon as special effects lack authentication in war scenes. The elaborate costume planning comes to rescue though.
Rangoon’s Audio Jukebox:
It’s an ambitious film where Bhardwaj wants to merge two worlds: One inspired from Shakespearean tragedies and other motivated by the valiant lovers of the Indian cinema. In the end, neither comes alive on screen – on top of it a messy climax that topples whatever hard work was done building a world of romance.
At 167 minutes, Rangoon isn’t only long but painful. And this isn’t the pain of love. And it doesn’t end in pleasure.
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