Review: Rangoon is an actor’s film

Actors: Kangana Ranaut, Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor
Director: Vishal Bharadwaj
Writers: Matthew Robbins, Vishal Bharadwaj, Sabrina Dhawan
Cinematograpy: Pankaj Kumar
Music: Vishal Bharadwaj
Run time: 170 minutes

Minor spoilers ahead!

Set in the time of World War II, Vishal Bharadwaj creates a magnificent landscape in pre-partition India where his three protagonists, Julia (Ranaut), Rusi (Khan) and Nawab (Kapoor) are enveloped in a tale of deceit, espionage and romance. It sounds like the perfect mix of a thrilling blockbuster. And it almost is – if it weren’t for the overly dramatic end.

The film creates a convincing periodic sense, the language and the backdrops are as authentic as they get. Whether it is Miss Julia’s (Kangana Ranaut) hairstyle to the editing sequences done by filmmaker Rusi Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan) – the attention to detail is splendid. The lead actors also convincingly pull off their respective characters.

Kangana is a fine performer and she needs no brief about her skills – but in Julia she creates a new brand of heroine: funny, spontaneous, a damsel, yes, but not in distress. She is a damsel in danger and even though love is her weakness, she is a woman with a strong head and a body able enough to kill the bad guys all on her own and rescue her hero. Ranaut is lovable and admirable as Julia as she rides horses and romances with Nawab in a mudpit (literally). Her comedic timing is impeccable as she delivers punches effortlessly with a delightful mix of wit and naivete. Her hilarious attempts at communicating with Japanese soldiers and her repartee with Nawab are the highest points of the film.

Saif Ali Khan is Parsi stuntman-turned-filmmaker, Rusi Billimoria, who ‘owned’ Julia when she was just a teenager. His love for Julia is part romance, part ownership. Khan brings a sinister shade to this romance as he bosses Julia around – but creates a kind of likeability to his character by fighting for Julia till the very end. Khan’s English and Hindi delivery of his dialogues is impeccable and one cannot think of an actor other than Saif Ali Khan to portray this classic anti-hero with shades of aristocracy and disconnected snobbery.

Shahid Kapoor is a revelation once again. In this film, he is gruff yet endearing. He speaks Japanese and fights for independence. He sings the INA anthem and tends to Julia’s wounds. He plays rebellious sergeant Nawab Malik who falls in love with Julia in his duty to protect her. Kapoor is flawless in this role and especially wows you as he speaks fluent Japanese and creates the desired impact despite it being a mostly distant language for Hindi/Urdu audiences.

Rangoon’s story however mostly flatlines after the second half. Despite the intrigue and the altercations and brutal deaths, the story seems disjointed at certain points. The climax of the film becomes slightly implausible and it seems to go off on a tangent that the audiences seemed little prepared for. For example, the first half of the film is mostly about the relationship between the three protagonists and the audience is invested in the thrill of romantic nuances and the gradually building tension between Julia and Rusi – however, the second half becomes almost completely devoted to Nawab and his relationship with India’s independence, which thus makes the film slightly out of focus of what it wants to be. Despite the mesmerizing cinematography and a stunningly real background of Arunchal Pradesh and Indo-China border, the second half is out of sync with the first. Yet despite these minor pitfalls, Rangoon is an enjoyable watch because Bharadwaj is successful in creating a magical and wistful ambience with these fine actors and an action-packed feature. The music is soulful and melodious and the title song, “Bloody Hell” is enjoyable and fits perfectly in the narrative of the film.

Bharadwaj rightly called it a collision between “Moulin Rouge and Saving Private Ryan”. For a treat that is the performances by the lead actors and a foray into a vaudeville version of India’s independence from the British empire, Rangoon is worth your time and money.

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