In Rangoon, Vishal Bharadwaj does a Bhansali, i.e.; he creates a long and sprawling film which badly needs editing, however he appears to be so in love with the footage that he is unable to get rid of any of the 2.5 hour long material. Rangoon could have been cut by atleast 45 minutes, and you and I wouldn’t even have noticed. There is love, betrayal, angst and drama in the film but it comes only in the second half. The first half of this historical is used to set the stage, but oh-so-slowly!
Julia (Ranaut) is the leading lady of black and white films. Her mentor and lover is Rusi Billimoria (Khan). When Billimoria is exhorted by General Harding (McCabe) to let Julia do a few shows for the British Army (this was pre-independence), Julia sets forth under Harding’s escort, specifically being guarded by Jamadar Nawab Malik (Kapoor). Love triangle, capiche?
Rangoon’s characters are fictional (although Julia seems to be based on Fearless Nadia) but the events around them are real. It is set in the 1940s; the Indian National Army (INA) led by Subhas Chandra Bose is gaining strength with Japanese help, and the British are trying to thwart its movements and funding. Julia, Rusi and Nawab are sucked into this political struggle, albeit on opposite sides.
Kangana is her usual tremulous self; she always seems to do well in these slightly eccentric roles. Shahid looks a little smug as the mustachioed Nawab, and Saif fits in nicely as the dashing Billimoria, all slicked back hair and glittering eyes. There is decent character definition, but I thought that the love thing between Julia and Nawab came about a little abruptly.
There was a time when Bhardwaj films (Maqbool, Omkara, Kaminey) were instant classics – smart, well-told, engrossing tales. However, lately, and by that I mean the last few years, Bharadwaj seems to be losing his touch. Rangoon, in spite of its considerable star power is slow and meandering. It does get its act together somewhat in the second half, but by then it has sapped you of your will to live :-). Also, it seems kinda un-subtle, cut-and-dried, almost like Bharadwaj doesn’t want us to think too hard. Whither the mystery, the subtext, the things left unsaid? The poor music doesn’t help.
All in all, Rangoon makes a decent one-time watch; just temper your expectations before you step into the theater.
Kidwise: Gory violence, splattering blood and heads being lopped off with swords. Also intense love-making scenes, and a surprising amount of Kangana’s bare skin.