Monday, February 27, 2017


Love In The Time Of War

Rangoon just goes to show that one shouldn’t believe what is given out by Bollywood’s vast publicity machinery.  It is neither about a Fearless Nadia-like star, nor is it a remake of the all-time classic Casablanca. In the age of instant entertainment Vishal Bhardwaj has the gumption to make a love story set during World War II--he shoots it like a grand epic, but to show passion between two lovers, he has them rolling in the mud.

It is that kind of film—in which ambition and narrative seem to be constantly at odds with each other; beautiful looking and boring at the same time.

Julia (Kangana Ranaut) is the Nadia-inspired action star, who is as fierce on screen, as she is confused and little-girly in the presence of her film producer lover Rusi Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan). She dreams of becoming Mrs Billimoria (though he is already married); he calls her “kiddo” and makes her sit in his lap.

It is 1943, when the Indian freedom struggle is in full swing and Gandhi’s pacifism is being questioned by Netaji Bose’s military rhetoric. He allies with the Germans and the Japanese against the British using the logic that the enemy’s enemy is a friend. On the Indo-Burma border the war is particularly intense with the British Indian army fighting the Netaji’s INA, as well as the Japanese.

Billimoria panders to the British—personified by the shayari spouting General Harding (a hammy Richard McCabe)—because of the shortage of raw stock, and pushes Julia to go to the border to entertain the troops. INA spies use the trip to fulfill their own agenda as a priceless sword is smuggled in Julia’s luggage by her effete make-up man and companion Zulfi (Saharsh Shukla).

Following an attack, Julia finds herself in the jungle with Jamadar Nawab Malik as her protector and a Japanese prisoner (Satoru Kawaguchi) they drag around for no reason but to prolong the first half to the point of tedium.

Julia is helpless and petulant by turns, and ends up falling in love with the stoic Nawab, who pays no attention to her tantrums, but also looks out for her.

In the second half, when Rusi and Harding reappear, the triangle simmers and INA intrigues also play out in the background, as Julia, dances for the troops.  Sadly, the romance lacks passion despite all the kissing and a From Here to Eternity-like romp in the sand, and the spy games look juvenile. 

When the backdrop is this complicated and the production design so impresive, the actors seem dwarfed. Only Saif Ali Khan is convincing as the one-armed movie tycoon; the other two look like youngsters trying to act grown up. By the time the film, and Julia, start to make sense it is already too late.

Meanwhile, there is still a movie about a fearless action star waiting to be made.


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