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Rangoon  : Hunterwali Meets Subhas Chandra Bose
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Friday, February 24, 2017
Vishal Bharadwaj
Kangana Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan, Richard McCabe

Vishal Bhardwaj’s unauthorised salute to Fearless Nadia, Hindi cinema’s first action heroine, has an uncomplicated narrative, quite unlike his trademark fare of metaphors and multiple meanings. The canvas of war in British India of the 1940s is spectacular and three substantial actors play out their parts with sincerity.


But here’s the hitch. Bhardwaj attempts a merger between a fictional love triangle and the patriotic fervour of Subhas Chandra Bose’s Azad Hind fauj which marched to a beat different from the Indian army under the British. If that sounds garbled, that’s precisely where the problem lies. It’s a marriage that few will attend or relate to.


It could’ve worked if Bhardwaj had not given in to the luxury of indulgence. An overlong film that runs into 2 hrs and 47 minutes, a muddy romance that arouses no passion and too many insipid songs that drag the narrative, tell the tale of a filmmaker who has a plot in his head that doesn’t come off with conviction on celluloid.             


Of course, the attention to detail and the aesthetics are in place. Dolly Ahluwalia’s wardrobe is well-researched and Pankaj Kumar’s camera makes lovemaking and Kangana’s waistlength bare skin tasteful, not lustful. However, aesthetic camerawork cannot create the smouldering chemistry that was required but not delivered by Bhardwaj.


Where the director scores is in bringing out film star Miss Julia’s vulnerability in her relationship with mentor and married lover Russi Billimoria. Saif Ali Khan as the suave, one-armed movie moghul who cherishes his friendship with the British is a splendid bit of casting. He brings a slight arrogance to Russi as he patronisingly calls Julia “kiddo” and taps his thigh saying, ‘Come, come, come, come, come’ like she’s a pet. After falling in love with soldier Nawab Malik and an ensuing reluctance to indulge Russi any more, when Julia points out, ‘I’m Miss Julia when you want, and Mrs Billimoria when you want?’ that’s her coming-of-age moment. And that’s when an annoyingly over-the-top heroine begins to endear and Kangana Ranaut begins to turn in a heartbreaking performance. Shahid Kapoor as Nawab Malik, the covert INA officer in love with Miss Julia, is army-stiff as required but he had much more to do in films like Haider.  


Bhardwaj’s Hindi-speaking British are heartless, comic caricatures who sing ‘Aaye na balam’ or strut around saying, ‘I’m white, I’m always right.’ Miss Julia turning into a one-woman rescue team for the INA sends the audience into giggles. Finally, you stagger out wanting to say, ‘Bloody hell’ like Julia often says in the film.


For a film that doesn’t evoke passion or patriotism, Rangoon gets a 2.5* rating.


Reviewed by
Bharathi S Pradhan
Senior Journalist & Author

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