Captain Vishal Bhardwaj Sinks The ‘Rangoon’ Ship Midway

Posted by Purnangshu Paul in Culture-Vulture
February 27, 2017

It is easy to speak your mind by typing a set of words and invest a couple of hours to summarise a film in less than 500 words. In the process, quite a lot of writers forget the blood and sweat that goes into making a film of a grand stature. By saying this, I am not asking you to be non-critical about a certain film. Rather, I am favouring a discourse which gives rise to constructive criticism.

Being a Vishal Bhardwaj fan, it is tough for me to accept an unappetising film like “Rangoon” and thus, I decided to rant about it.

A filmmaker risks money put in by producers, believing in the script and the actors performing in the film. But what if one cog in the wheel is weak and on the verge of breaking? It drags the film and ultimately takes the whole vehicle down.

In Vishal Bharadwaj’s grand scheme of things in “Rangoon”, the story and the screenplay were the weakest cogs that sank the ship midway.

Following the story of ‘Fearless Nadia’ – the first female action star in India and a quirky imposition of pseudo-nationalist fervour, Rangoon finds itself nowhere and besmirched. Set in the World War II period, the film claims to encompass Hitler, British regiment, Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose and the choices of freedom fighters but fails to do justice to any one of them.

Kangana Ranaut, playing the role of Julia in the film, is clearly inspired from the 1930s famous female-action diva Nadia, aka, Fearless Nadia. Julia is an actress working for Rusi Bilmoria (played by Saif Ali Khan), which again is inspired from Wadia Movietone owned by Homi Wadia and his family.

Another major character in the film Jamadar Nawab Malik (played by Shahid Kapoor), was a result of collaboration between three writers – Vishal Bhardwaj, Matthew Robbins and Sabrina Dhawan to keep the plot going. The sad part is that none of the writers were sure about how to draw the character graphs of the three actors.

While Rusi’s character dwindles between the patriarchal archetypes of the Indian society to that of a crazy lover, Nawab Malik finds it tough to maintain his masochism throughout, giving in to the pressure of being ‘bali ka bakra’ (scapegoat) at the end of the film. To fit into the narrative that is supposed to be woven around Julia, Kangana too had to struggle a lot. It takes another man for her to liberate herself and be more like the tough, beasty, male-bashing ‘Hunterwali’ character she plays on screen.

But wait! Was it at all liberating? Frankly speaking, no.

Julia gets her heroic moment only once in the whole film after the interval, when she has to save her lover Nawab, running on top of a train jumping from one carriage to the other, only to end up being saved by him… again!

With all the rona dhona’ and drama that Julia was subjected to in the second half of the film for following her heart and ditching Rusi for Nawab, it was nowhere close to being liberating.

Nawab Malik, although portrayed exceedingly well by Sahid Kapoor, finds himself difficult to fit into this love triangle.

Never before in any Bhardwaj film, have I seen the cast so helpless and contributing so little to push the narrative further. Be it theZulfi, the dresser that Julia adored or for that matter the other people in her troop, or Mema, or Maharaja (Surendra Pal), nobody seemed to be important in the film written entirely based on the three major characters.

Rangoon just couldn’t manage to elevate itself to becoming a grand Bharadwaj film presenting a broader meta-narrative like his previous films “Haider”, “Omkara” and “Maqbool”. It remained confined within the four walls of the quintessential Bollywood love triangle that we don’t expect from a visionary filmmaker like Bhardwaj.

However, “Rangoon” scores with Vishal Bhardwaj’s suave moments, like a British officer practising raagas on his Harmonium or a stage actor masqueraded as Hitler struggling hard on stage to find a proper country to drop his ‘pee’ on!

Pankaj Kumar enthrals with his cinematography, capturing the very best of Arunachal Pradesh on screen along with some beautifully lit screens. This is the only category where “Rangoon” has surpassed the cult status already set by “Haider”.

Music, as in very Vishal Bhardwaj film, has traversed the narrative in style, providing the much-needed breather every once in a while. While I don’t see myself fit to criticise Gulzar, I would say he is the saving grace, penning songs like “Tippa” and “Yeh Ishq Hai” in an otherwise dull and directionless film.

Anurag Kashyap once said that he plans his film in a way that it looks like he is making it big without having a lavish budget to bank on. Bhardwaj tried the same with choppy visual effects but failed miserably. The editing of the film is also choppy and abrupt.

Although the art direction and befitting costumes designed by Dolly Ahluwalia helped the film get its desired look, it failed when it came to visual effects. Rather than making it look like a bigger film, it made Rangoon seem like a shoddy B-grader.

The climax makes or breaks a film as it leaves the audience with a final impression. When compared with Bhardwaj films, “Rangoon” will look as though someone else has minced his thoughts, shattering the whole plot.

Passing the focus from Julia to Rusi was the last thing that we as audience members would have wanted. The tardy rope walk across a bridge by Rusi with Maharaja’s sword to help the Subhash Chandra-led army oust the British from the country is the biggest letdown in the film.

It seemed Bhardwaj, who is responsible for carrying the baton of meaningful cinema, is walking a tightrope to save the cinema he believes in.