Rangoon... What a debacle!

MUMBAI: Every filmmaker wants his own ‘all time classic’ and it is best not to confuse such a filmmaker with a realistic, practical maker with business sense. This lot is usually pretentious and indulgent kind. He wants his own Gone With The Wind, a Doctor Zhivago, Mary Poppins, Sholay, Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! or even Dangal. When too many films from the past influence your script and you try to take a bit from each one, the result is Rangoon.

Rangoon is supposed to be a period musical love triangle. But, even before reaching the love triangle part, the film meanders too much with stuff that has no relevance -- like the capturing of a Japanese soldier by Shahid Kapoor, which is treated like fun and games.

This period drama is based during World War II. The Burma campaign as it was called, was a serious business as the Japanese army had taken over Rangoon and had Assam in mind next. Here the Japanese army personnel in groups of three or so are shown hanging around as if on a picnic! The British side of the army consists mainly of Indians and a few Sikhs to make it easy for the viewer to identify them.

What the British generals and army personnel do in the film could have been made into a full-blown comedy on the lines of Mel Brooks’ movie, History Of The World II.

Shahid Kapoor, playing an army man fighting on the Burma front, has been captured by the Japanese. He is granted release thanks to intervention by the Indian National Army of Subhash Chandra Bose. But, he is also sermonised by the INA to enroll and serve the interest of the country rather than the British. He agrees and when he goes back to the British general, he is a mole for INA.

During this serious war where the untrained British army is always on the defensive and losing ground, the general in charge, Richard McCabe, thinks his army men need some entertainment. So what if Japanese planes are bombing his troops? In the film, the Japanese are either economical or considerate for they only drop a single bomb instead of the carpet bombing as is the norm during a war.

Kangana Ranaut's character is invited to entertain the army men on the Burma front. Her character is reportedly modelled on Fearless Nadia, the Australian born queen of Hindi action movies in the 1940s. Kangana, the paramour of her producer, Saif Ali Khan, plays a similar role to Fearless Nadia’s man in real life. Saif and Kangana are madly in love with each other so much so he is ready to divorce his wife. Was this part needed at all?

Kangana proceeds to Imphal to entertain the army. A free and fearless kind that she is, she is not ready to be protected by anybody but Shahid has been appointed as her bodyguard. A situation is created so that Saif, who was to accompany her, can’t do that anymore because his father has suffered a heart attack. (But when Saif reaches his father, Gerson Da Cunha, the father is reading a Gujarati newspaper which has a banner headline about Germany’s partition……..and this is only 1943!)

Kangana arrives at the army base which consists of a few junior artistes dressed in olive fatigues. It does not matter that the Indian and British army both wore mostly khaki in those days. The general, McCabe, is depicted as a sadistic buffoon and comes across as more entertaining than the invited guests. He likes to quote Ghalib, recites Indian classical ragas and makes all kinds of faces.

At this point, the writer and director seem to have forgotten that Kangana is renowned for her onscreen stunts and action and not dancing. Once on the border, all she does is sing and dance at the drop of a hat!

If Kangana can turn a dancer from being a stunt queen, she can also shed her deep-rooted love for Saif and start making out with Shahid on day two without much ado. That done, she also falls in love with Shahid in due course while also being in love with Saif. It is all very complicated.

Time to bring in a shade of patriotism, now. There is a Maharaja, Amrit Pal, who owns a sword which, he claims, if donated to INA, can raise enough money to throw the British out of India and pave the way for the INA to march to Delhi to realise their motto of ‘DilliChalo’. Somehow, the sword has landed at the Burma front and Shahid is supposed to deliver it to the INA on the other side of the bridge. Now, how many films have had their climax over or across a bridge? And what happened to the love triangle?

Rangoon is such a tacky film, neither the writer nor the director seem to know what it is about as they jump to a new track every so often after shelving an old one inconclusively. No research seems to have been done on the subject. The script is full of inconsistencies and irrelevant subplots. No character is properly defined. The result is 247 minutes of patience trying tedium.

The script is episodic without sticking to a theme. Editing is nonexistent. Direction is poor with experimental stage approach. Music is bad and, yet, as many as a dozen tracks are forced in. The lyrics are incomprehensible.

Why do makers of period films go on to make good-looking actors look ugly? Saif, with his sticky wig and wrinkled face looks aged. He has lost the palm of his right hand and wears an ugly detachable appendage which, again, is of no consequences except indulgence. Shahid is scarred, muddy or has his face blackened most of the time. Kangana looks painted and dons a silly wig. All three fail to impress in this film. The film has a few well penned dialogues. Art direction is not convincing. Stunts are oft seen.

Period films are a bad idea and some recent examples: Pankaj Kapur’s Mausam (2011), Kunal Kohli’s Teri Meri Kahaani (2012) and Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet (2015).

Rangoon is a very poorly conceived and executed film. A classic happens but, when you plan one, you come up with a Rangoon, a debacle!

Producers: Sajid Nadiadwala, Vishal Bhardwaj, Viacom 18.

Director: Vishal Bhardwaj.

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor, Kangana Ranaut, Richard McCabe, Alex Avery, Gerson da Cunha.

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