Rangoon is an upcoming Indian Hindi-language drama film, directed by Vishal Bhardwaj and produced by Sajid Nadiadwala and Viacom 18 Motion Pictures.The project is a period film set during World War II (1939-1945) and supposedly portrays the life and times of Mary Ann Evans aka Fearless Nadia, Bollywood’s first original stunt-woman still remembered for her fiery role in the movie Hunterwali. It stars Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut in lead roles. The film is scheduled for release on 24 February 2017.
By Noyon Jyoti Parasara
The wise say, all’s well that ends well. Rangoon does not. Not by a mile, no! But we don’t need to watch it till the end to understand that things are not right. It stumbles at multiple points, especially in the second half.
Rangoon starts on the perfect note, though. Indian soldiers, fighting for the British, are caught in the middle of the World War II. Jamadar Nawab Malik is the first person we see, as he dodges bombs and Japanese soldiers, in the northeastern frontier of the country. Cut to Bombay and we are introduced to the swashbuckling Julia – the brightest star from the movies. She is pretty and can kick butt. You should fall for her right away. She, of course, has fallen for her producer Rusi Bilimoria and will soon be his wife. Julia likes the attention. Like she does when the English Major General Harding tries Urdu Shayari on her…
Against her will, Julia is sent away to ‘Burma’ on a train to entertain the Indian soldiers there. And apart from her regular entourage, she has Nawab Malik in charge of her security. The train reaches the Barak valley of Assam from where they had to cross a river to Manipur – the state that borders the then Burma. Circumstances lead to Nawab Malik and Julia being swept away to the wrong side of the boundary, alone. Their journey back, fighting Japanese soldiers, bring them together. A kiss and few unnecessary scenes later Julia is thrown right back into Rusi’s arms.
Rangoon works well for most of the first half. The love triangle is set up and there is also an impending army attack. A crisis in the ranks of Indian National Army is established as well. However, the director's intention to keep some surprising twists for the second half does not work. More importantly, the drama fails to come to the melting point. Rather it turns dry and crumbles in the last few minutes.
Easily Vishal Bhardwaj’s most ‘commercial’ storyline, a couple of scenes of Rangoon will remind you of Sholay and Don (1978). And this is its undoing. The screenplay in the second half runs awry, never for once justifying multiple plot points.
The shortfalls notwithstanding, Bhardwaj works hard on the detailing - at least when it comes to the Indian National Army, the movies of that era and the posters, the costumes etc. Unfortunate hence that he takes geography for granted. Shot in Arunachal and passed off as Manipur, the director manages to find a railway station in Singhat region of the state. Singhat, or Singngat as it is locally spelt, has no railway station till date, leave alone have one in 1944.
It may look like nitpicking, but unfortunately, the train does play an important part in the scheme of things. More importantly, the location where the story is set is almost as big a part of the film, if not bigger, as its lead stars. Bridging plot points with convenient situations never turn out well.
What does not let down are the performances. Kangana is in spectacular form. She dances, punches and cracks her lines. Her character allows her to explore a full range of emotions and she never lets down. Shahid Kapoor as Nawab Malik holds his fort as he engages with Kangana. Their scenes together are beautifully done. The romance builds, awkwardly at first and then passionately. Saif Ali Khan steps in to support, but almost takes the thunder away at places. His character needs him to extend his real life suavity to screen, and Saif has never had a problem with. He is a man in love and yet in control. He calls his Julia ‘kiddo’ with affection, and also reminds her with gruesome authority that she is a "Rusi Billimoria creation”. In a couple of scenes when Saif asks Kangana to come sit on his lap… he is masterful.
Quite evidently his salute to Casablanca, Rangoon is Vishal Bhardwaj at his grandest best. This is his biggest film in scale and budget. He holds the reins on his technical team tight. The film has been shot beautifully. The makeup, look and everything else that adds to the look and feel is top notch. What does not make sense is the name. It is not sure why the film is called Rangoon. The film is not set in the Burmese capital and neither are the lead characters from there. The only reference to the city is that the Netaji Bose’s troops along with Japanese troops were stationed there. For the uninitiated, in 1944, Burma was under Japanese occupation and was fighting the Allied forces. Yet, the name of the film is not quite as baffling as its end. A man with a legacy of films like Omkara, Maqbool and Haider is always expected to do better. Bloody hell!