Ever saw a pretty painting etched over a vast canvas wherein you peered closely at different elements in isolation and liked each one but when you pulled out and viewed it as one work, there wasn't a cohesive thought or idea running through the canvas?
That, in short, sums up director Vishal Bhardwaj's much-awaited film, Rangoon.
At 167 minutes, the romantic war drama starring Kangana Ranaut (Miss Julia), Saif Ali Khan (Rusi Bilimoria) and Shahid Kapoor (Jamadar Nawab Malik) meanders through good camera-work and beautiful period costumes amid the lush locales of Arunachal Pradesh.
Set during the World War II, specifically 1943, where Ranaut's character is somewhat based on 'Fearless Nadia', Bollywood's first original stuntwoman. Miss Julia in Bhardwaj's Rangoon is a skinny, frail-looking child-woman who has been adopted by an older rich Parsi businessman, Bilimora, literally off the street. He lost a hand pulling off a stunt scene in one of his own films earlier and now spends his time grooming and building the big star attraction of his studio. Amid the ongoing tensions, Julia is invited to entertain the soldiers at the Indo-Burma border by the British commander Harding (Richard McCabe). Malik is deputed as her security during the long journey and following an air attack by the Japanese, Julia and Malik end up missing in the jungle.
With nationalism being well, the dominant flavour of the season, the story looks at the inter-personal politics between the three leads set against the backdrop of the British Indian army and Subhas Chandra Bose's INA. The love angle between Julia and Malik follows a hackneyed development and stops short of tugging at the heart strings.
Ranaut puts in an unabashed and great performance while the other two are at best, competent. Saharash Shukla who plays Zulfi, Julia's opium-smoking make-up man, has put in good work.
This film would have been better as an evocative story in a book or a pretty painting because as a film it takes you nowhere. Even if there are inherent politics to most, if not all, creative works, then this one dilutes its own purpose. It's even more disappointing because one expected more from a filmmaker like Bhardwaj who brought about career shifts for actors such as Saif Ali Khan (in Omkara) and Shahid Kapoor (in Kaminey) and made other dark, gripping films like Maqbool.
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor