Vishal Bhardwaj’s unauthorised salute to Fearless
Nadia, Hindi cinema’s first action heroine, has an uncomplicated narrative,
quite unlike his trademark fare of metaphors and multiple meanings. The canvas
of war in British India of the 1940s is spectacular and three substantial
actors play out their parts with sincerity.
But here’s the hitch. Bhardwaj attempts a merger
between a fictional love triangle and the patriotic fervour of Subhas Chandra
Bose’s Azad Hind fauj which marched
to a beat different from the Indian army under the British. If that sounds
garbled, that’s precisely where the problem lies. It’s a marriage that few will
attend or relate to.
It could’ve worked if Bhardwaj had not given in to the
luxury of indulgence. An overlong film that runs into 2 hrs and 47 minutes, a
muddy romance that arouses no passion and too many insipid songs that drag the
narrative, tell the tale of a filmmaker who has a plot in his head that doesn’t
come off with conviction on celluloid.
Of course, the attention to detail and the aesthetics
are in place. Dolly Ahluwalia’s wardrobe is well-researched and Pankaj Kumar’s
camera makes lovemaking and Kangana’s waistlength bare skin tasteful, not
lustful. However, aesthetic camerawork cannot create the smouldering chemistry
that was required but not delivered by Bhardwaj.
Where the director scores is in bringing out film star
Miss Julia’s vulnerability in her relationship with mentor and married lover
Russi Billimoria. Saif Ali Khan as the suave, one-armed movie moghul who cherishes
his friendship with the British is a splendid bit of casting. He brings a
slight arrogance to Russi as he patronisingly calls Julia “kiddo” and taps his
thigh saying, ‘Come, come, come, come, come’ like she’s a pet. After falling in
love with soldier Nawab Malik and an ensuing reluctance to indulge Russi any
more, when Julia points out, ‘I’m Miss Julia when you want, and Mrs Billimoria
when you want?’ that’s her coming-of-age moment. And that’s when an annoyingly
over-the-top heroine begins to endear and Kangana Ranaut begins to turn in a
heartbreaking performance. Shahid Kapoor as Nawab Malik, the covert INA officer
in love with Miss Julia, is army-stiff as required but he had much more to do
in films like Haider.
Bhardwaj’s Hindi-speaking British are heartless, comic
caricatures who sing ‘Aaye na balam’
or strut around saying, ‘I’m white, I’m always right.’ Miss Julia turning into
a one-woman rescue team for the INA sends the audience into giggles. Finally,
you stagger out wanting to say, ‘Bloody hell’ like Julia often says in the
For a film that doesn’t evoke passion or patriotism, Rangoon gets a 2.5* rating.
Bharathi S Pradhan
Senior Journalist & Author