Rangoon quick review: Kangana's Julia is the heart of this thrilling tale of love and war
It is pegged as a love triangle, but Rangoon begins with scenes from a war. It is 1943 and World War II is in full swing, as is the Indian struggle for Independence.
The cry for freedom is the one that is split into the nonviolent one as propagated by Mahatma Gandhi, and the more violent revolution spearheaded by Subhash Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army.
The INA is trying to push ahead through Burma and thence to India with the help of the Japanese Army. On the other side are Indian soldiers serving with the British.
Against this backdrop, we're introduced to the three main characters of Rangoon — there's Nawab Malik (Shahid Kapoor), an Indian soldier in the British Army who has spent eight months as a prisoner of the Japanese, first in Burma, then in Singapore. He escapes, earning the respect of his superior officers.
Then we have Rusi Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan), a studio owner whose career as an action star comes to an untimely end when he loses a hand while performing a stunt.
And then there is Julia (Kangana Ranaut) — Rusi’s find and muse, leading heroine and darling of the masses.
The British Army wants a star to travel to the front lines in Burma to cheer up the Indian soldiers serving there. Rusi is persuaded for business and emotional reasons to send Julia to the front; at the last moment, he is unable to go with her. But the British have promised her every protection, and this she gets in the form of Nawab Malik.
As they make their way to the front, the travellers come under enemy fire. Julia and Malik are cast adrift and must make their way back to India against the odds.
And so begins an attraction that perhaps neither has anticipated. But the world, war, Rusi and reality must intrude, and the new lovers must contend with these, in addition to their thwarted passion.
Right up to the interval, the pace is thrilling. Both the elements that form the mainstay of the story so far — war and love — are shot at close quarters and in a way that will have you enthralled every step of the way.
The intensity picks up in the second half, as the repercussions of the characters' choices begin to catch up with them. At the same time, relations between the trio become further entangled. What will each of these characters’ journeys be? Who will they become when faced with tough choices? Will they have a chance to redeem themselves?
These are questions that are more interesting than the plot itself. And as Nawab, Julia and Rusi move towards their individual destinies, we see Shahid, Kangana and Saif really shine.
It's a testament of how good they really are, that you cannot state which of them does the best job.
Shahid is a pleasure to watch, as the idealistic, stoic soldier. Kangana lives the part of Julia — fierce on screen and feisty off it, but also incredibly vulnerable and lost, without Rusi to tell her what to do, and later, without Malik’s love. Saif's character seems uni-dimensional at first, only to prove anything but as the film progresses.
For all the perfection that Kangana and Shahid bring to their roles, there is a moment when Saif’s Rusi, torn by jealousy and brooding over his rival, looks into the camera — it brings home what a fine actor he is, and how often underappreciated.
Of course, while Malik and Rusi play important roles, Julia is at the heart of Rangoon. Seeing her in her hit film ‘Toofan Ki Beti’ — swinging from chandeliers, fighting the bad guys with her whip, eye mask adding both intrigue and glamour — that runs to houseful shows, brings home just how unlikely that scenario would be in today's times.
There is no swashbuckling female action star who would enjoy that kind of adulation or ensure the blockbuster commercial success that Julia guarantees her studio; at the same time, it is a meta statement of sorts that it is Kangana Ranaut who plays Julia, among the rare female actors who is able to pull off hits on her own steam. The reel and real come together in a compelling way in the second half, when Kangana depicts Julia becoming more than an onscreen star, and carrying out off-screen heroics as well.
Rangoon is far from a perfect film; there are scenes that definitely do not work in terms of the effects. Some of the pivotal moments have a cartoon-ish quality that detracts from the immersive-ness of the experience. It can be a distraction just when you need to be with these characters every step of the way. And the chemistry between the lead actors covers up the fact that their relationships could have done with slightly better etching.
But while it lasts, what an experience Rangoon is. Leave aside the mechanics of war and history (on which it scores a few solid points), on love — of the controlling sort, of the dependent sort, of the unfulfilled and forbidden sort — Vishal Bhardwaj’s film is a gem.
Watch the trailer of Rangoon here: