Movie Review: 'Rangoon'
Opened: 24 February 2017
Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan, Kangana Ranaut, Richard McCabe, Satoru Kawaguchi
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Producers: Raj Shah, Vishal Bhardwaj, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures
Perhaps exhausted with his own numerous re-tellings of Shakespearean tragedies, director Vishal Bhardwaj ventures into unchartered territory here with Rangoon, an epic war romance set in the pre-independence 40's era, and while the end result is perfectly watchable, it's not entirely satisfying, despite a to-die-for cast who go at their multi-layered characters with flourish, unbridled gusto and earnestness.
Essentially a love triangle between a brattish, in-your-face starlet Julia (Kangana Ranaut, fundamentally playing an extension of her real life persona), Russi (Saif Ali Khan), an established, aristocratic filmmaker and a connoisseur of the British against the anti-freedom movement, and Jamadar Nawab Malik (Shahid Kapoor, hands down the best thing in the film), a Indian soldier sent along as a bodyguard to escort Julia across a war stifled terrain, Rangoon takes off when Julia, much against her will, is transported along with her companions across to Burma to entertain Indian troops.
Things go awry however, when despite tight security, she along with her cohorts are ambushed by unsuspecting armed forces, and both Nawab and Julia are left abandoned in the jungles of war torn Burma. Unsurprisingly, Cupid strikes and the duo fall in love which subsequently leads to complications when Russi, along with a troupe of English armed forces re-enters the picture to reclaim the love that he feels was rightfully always his.
Rangoon takes its time to unravel and there's a lot here to engage with, right from the raw, trodden landscape, the spectacular, albeit theatrical visuals and most importantly, performers that do their level best to cover up the gaping holes in an otherwise overdone plot.
In a role brimming with arrogance and undercurrents of insecurity, Saif adds gravitas to a part that requires Nawabi flair at least on the surface, but beneath it hides a darker, more chauvinistic character with Machiavellian shades. Similarly, as Julia, the eccentric, entitled vixen Kangana goes at it with her usual, reliable uninhibited panache, but because the character is essentially an extension of herself, I doubt she had to push herself too far here. Besides, despite looking the part, you never quite see what the fuss about her is, purely because she doesn't fully embody that star aura or persona, perhaps for no fault of hers.
The real scene stealer here though, despite minimal dialogue, turns out to be Shahid, who besides looking dishy AF, adds a layer of pain and deep routed trauma to the only character in the film for whom your heart ultimately goes out to. It's a tortured, complex character and Shahid never once goes overboard proving once again, why despite not having as much luck at the box office, filmmakers continue to consistently hanker him for projects.
At nearly three hours, Rangoon does turn out to be overlong though and despite the leads dishing out the goods, it's the supporting cast (caricature-ish, Hindi spouting English majors anyone?) and a wishy washy, over dramatic and sloppy climax is where the film essentially trips over. Had Bhardwaj stuck to his staple subtlety and not been such a cop out in the penultimate reels, Rangoon was essentially on its way to becoming cinematic gold.
That said, despite all its discrepancies, Rangoon is still one of Bhardwaj's more watchable, straight-forward films so for that, its sweeping landscapes, visual splendour, a cinematic vision that doesn't quite make it and for Shahid particularly, I'm going with three stars.