With Rangoon, the superbly talented Vishal Bhardwaj brings two of his favourite actors – Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan – in a single movie. He also ropes in one of the finest actresses of our generation, Kangana Ranaut with whom he is working for the first time. Rangoon is a love story set against the backdrop of World War II, something India has rarely attempted to do on silver screen. Has Vishal Bhardwaj managed to do justice to the milieu, well, read our review ahead to know the answer….

What’s it about

In the year 1943, British kingdom was deeply involved in the bloodiest war of last century, World War II. India was in the midst of the Quit India movement. Actually our country was confused between two sections – Mahatma Gandhi’s ahimsa way or Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s more aggressive method. Netaji had already joined hands with the Japanese army, and has formed his faction, INA, with the sole purpose of giving freedom to India. However, INA needs funding that will come Bombay…

Away from these major political events, in Bombay, Miss Julia (Kangana Ranaut) is the reigning star on the silver screen with her action star image. She is also the lover of Rusi Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan), a former stunt hero who has turned into a major movie producer after he lost his arm. Rusi is friendly with the British, especially commander Harding (Richard McCabe), who requests Rusi to send Julia to Burma to boost the morale of the soldiers there. She is put under the protection of Jammadar Nawab Malik (Shahid Kapoor), a British soldier who had escaped from Japanese. Due to an enemy attack, Julia and Nawab get separated from the entourage, and on their way back to the army barracks, develop feelings for each other. Complicating things further is the return of Rusi, the threat of INA and a spy in their camp.

What’s hot

There is a reason why our filmmakers rarely attempt to make movies set in the pre-independence era that too showing India’s involvement in WW II. With so much exposure to Hollywood movies for our audience, it’s not easy to do justice to the setting. But Vishal Bhardwaj and his team deserve a pat on their backs for recreating the foregone era. Be it the production design, the beautiful locales used and and the props, the technical values are simply brilliant. Pankaj Kumar’s camera work effortlessly captures the hues of the forest, the pristine green waters of the river as well as the dark grey clouds that are a metaphor for the looming doom for some of the characters. The background score is simply superb. The first few minutes of Rangoon is Vishal’s ode to Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan – a bloody skirmish between two enemy forces though shot on a smaller scale, but impactful nevertheless. The film however gets on an all time high in the final portions (except for that portion on the rope bridge), that has been well directed and keeps you on the edge of seat. Though the volte face of a certain character could have been handled in a better way…

Among the performers, all the three lead stars stand out. Kangana Ranaut, who is the focal point of the narrative, is bloody brilliant as the daredevil actress who can throw knives with a blindfold, but is a prisoner in the matters of heart. Her acceptance of the Miss Julia persona near the climax is whistle-inducing. Shahid Kapoor is first-rate as the soldier who gets distracted by love from his real mission. Check out the fire in his eyes when he confronts his Japanese prisoner or when he valiantly sings INA’s version of Jana Gana Mana. Though saddled with the weakest character of the lot, Saif Ali Khan’s conflicted performance makes you root for him, even when his character spews arrogance. When you see his eyes brimming with tears on discovering his love’s deceit, you do feel that Vishal should have given this National award winner a little more meat in his role. Among the supporting cast, the Tony award winning actor Richard McCabe nearly steals the show from the lead cast as the shayari spouting British commander. (Also read: Kangana Ranaut shares some secrets about her Rangoon co-stars Saif Ali Khan and Shahid Kapoor and you can’t miss this!)

What’s not

Vishal Bhardwaj had lofty ambitions when making Rangoon in merging India’s freedom struggle, the INA involvement and the doomed love triangle. But in trying to do justice to each plot thread, the writing falters making the movie somewhat bloated. The core of the movie is the love triangle between Nawab, Julia and Rusi. Barring a few moments in the first half Nawab and Julia’s love story failed to make that necessary impact that Rangoon actually intended. The plot is very predictable, and the twists are easily to be deduced. Also with the writers ignoring Rusi for major chunks of the movie, the entire emotional conclusion to their entanglement doesn’t hit your heart hard in the manner you wanted it to. It also reminded me of Titanic for some reason. The middle proceedings involving these three drags a lot, till the movie involves the INA and the British army subplots. The climax feels a bit filmy and has shades of a forgotten Sanjay Dutt – Madhuri Dixit movie Sahibaan. Saif’s character could have been fleshed out more – he may be arrogant and is cahoots with the enemy, but he is in love with Julia so much that he is willing to go against his affluent family. But the writers chose to focus more on Julia and Nawab, that his character nearly ends up as a sneering antagonist. Barring Bloody Hell and Yeh Ishq Hai, most of the songs are quite okayish and often act as speed breakers.

What to do

Rangoon has some superb performances and you can’t just ignore the passion involved in the making of the movie. A little trimming and more development of the main plot could have made it a masterpiece in its genre. However, Rangoon lands just a bit short of Vishal Bhardwaj’s best works, which still remains Maqbool, Kaminey and Haider. Watch it purely for the experience.

– reviewed by Sreeju Sudhakaran

Our rating: Three and a half stars