Rangoon: Flawed Yet Poetic
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
The beautiful thing about stories told with fierce passion is that, even if they fail, they leave behind a lasting impression. Vishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon is exactly that; a passion filled firecracker that makes you feel invested and alive. The problem with such ambitious firecrackers is that they are equally likely to make history and go awry. Unfortunately, Rangoon goes awry. However, it makes sure that its earnest and spectacular core lingers in your mind, flaws and all included.
With the backdrop of a heinous war between India and Japan in 1943, a heated love triangle emerges. Julia (Kangana Ranaut) is a household name; when she utters her cajoling catchphrase ‘bloody hell,’ people go crazy. There is only one person she listens to devotedly and that is her producer turned love interest Russi Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan). Russi treats Julia as if he owns her. As fate would have it, Julia gets stranded with Jamadar Nawab Malik (Shahid Kapoor) on her journey to a scheduled performance at the military headquarters. In their attempt to survive, they fall head over heels in love with each other. Like any love triangle, only one can survive. But survival is the last thing on their minds when each character’s secret emerges.
In a career spanning two decades, Vishal Bhardwaj has never once told a simple story. But with Rangoon, you can’t help but think he’s gone too far. Too many strands of incomplete storylines make their way into the central plot, eventually overwhelming you. Just as the first half of the film heats up with helpless human nature amidst war, the second half tries to incorporate one too many elements, leaving everything half fulfilled.
The humor in the film is characterized and organic, the passion raw and fierce; but when fascinating characters exhibit plastered, staged and melodramatic patriotism, you can’t help but be disappointed by the inherent contradictions.
To give credit where it’s due, some scenes in the film are truly unforgettable. The way Julia and Nawab Malik are drawn to each other, their magnetic connection gets your heart beating. Quite a few of Julia’s scenes with the mysterious and unpredictable Russi Billimoria leave a haunting impression. Rangoon is a difficult film to dislike. While a dozen flaws present themselves, a thousand ‘if only’ fill your head; if only the director picked one central narrative, if only he toned down the plastered melodrama.
There is no doubt that Rangoon has some great performances at its heart. Stellar performers like Kangana, Shahid, and Saif, are the reason why the characters are fascinating. Playing the fearless and yet delicate Julia, Kangana delivers a bewildering performance. As the self-driven man Russi Billimoria, Saif incorporates many shades of gray in his performance with undeterred magnanimity. Shahid takes center stage as Nawab Malik. There is always an air of mystery surrounding him, and he metamorphoses into his intriguing character with such finesse.
The music by Vishal Bhardwaj complements the narrative, but the tracks on their own aren’t hummable pieces. While they are successful in setting the mood and theme of the scenes, they aren’t mind-blowing enough to be re-lived.
Stunning cinematography and impeccable art design elevate this spectacle and help it stay true to its period. Pankaj Kumar’s imagery truly immerses you in the film. Whether it is the engaging point-of-view shots or the artistic close-ups, his visual storytelling is of the highest quality.
Overall, Rangoon is a poetic and passionate story driven off course by multiple over ambitious and melodramatic storylines that overwhelm audiences. But even with its downfalls, it is one film you will not regret watching.