Rangoon is 2017 romantic war drama film co-written and directed by renowned Indian filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj. Set in the backdrop of WWII, Rangoon stars Kangana Ranaut, Saif Ali Khan, and Shahid Kapoor in the lead roles. Kangana's character Julia bears a striking resemblance to Fearless Nadia who was Hindi cinema's first action icon who appeared in famous movies like Hunterwali (1935), Miss Frontier Mail (1936), Diamond Queen (1940), etc. Roy Wadia has filed a commercial lawsuit against Vishal Bhardwaj on behalf of Wadia Movietone Private Limited—the company which reserves the rights to the character—for copyright infringement. While Saif's character Rusi Bilimoria is a movie producer for whose studio Julia works, Shahid's character Jamadar Nawab Malik is an enigmatic soldier who is assigned the duty of guarding Julia during her train journey to Burma. Rangoon is shot extensively in India's northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.
Rangoon is essentially a period drama with a love triangle at its heart. Kangana gets to romance both Saif as well as Bharawaj's blue-eyed boy, Shahid Kapoor. And, to her credit, she shares great chemistry with both of them. Kangana, who has bagged two back to back national awards in the recent times, is known to get into the skin of her characters. And Rangoon is no exception. Here again, we get to see her exhibit the different sides of her complex character: bold as well as vulnerable, ferocious as well as fragile, domineering as well as subdued. Bhardwaj has a rare gift to get the best out of his characters. In Rangoon, it is not just Kangana who is brilliant but the entire panoply of actors leaves a lasting impression, in particular, Saif, Shahid, and the renowned British actor, Richard McCabe.
Rangoon is a visual spectacle that's marred by weak writing
Rangoon suffers from a disjointed narrative; it is easily one of the weakest films of Vishal Bhardwaj's career. The movie's greatest strength is its superb performances and the attention to period detail. Rangoon is a visual spectacle that's marred by weak writing. While Bhardwaj depicts Northeast India like no filmmaker has ever done, it is a real pity that the screenplay fails to live up to the movie's visual grandeur. Bhardwaj tries hard to evoke films like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, Inglorious Basterds, etc. but never really succeeds. Vishal Bhardwaj is a gifted filmmaker who has made memorable films like Maqbool, Omkara and Haider but in Rangoon he appears to be handicapped by a story which despite showing promise never really takes off. The movie's first half is completely flat and although the movie does pick up in the second half it fails to pack a punch. Rangoon's ending is suggestive of a filmmaker desperate to redeem himself. Remember, Bhardwaj's previous film Haider had received severe backlash from certain sections in India for portraying the Indian army in a rather bad light and so keeping that in mind Rangoon, with its overtly patriotic appeal (especially its ending), seems like the perfect antidote.
Overall, Rangoon is a visually enchanting film that leaves one high and dry. The fact that we expect a lot from a filmmaker of Vishal Bhardwaj's pedigree doesn't help the movie's cause either. Had Rangoon been made by a lesser filmmaker it would have passed for a decent film but coming from Bhardwaj it can best be described as an average film. But, Bhardwaj and team still need to be commended for recreating the 1940s India with meticulous precision. The sets, costumes, and characters look authentic and the zeitgeist of the tumultuous period is well captured. The performances are top notch. Kangana, Saif, and Shahid are a treat to watch. They get good support from the rest of the cast, in particular, Richard McCabe, who playing the part of a British Major General is at his fiendish best. The movie's biggest weakness is its underwritten screenplay that at no given point manages to challenge the viewer's expectations. In the end, Rangoon proves to be a guilty pleasure when it had the potential to be something far more meaningful.
Rating: B -
A version of this review was first published in A Potpourri of Vestiges.