“All the world is a stage!” announce two jesters on the map of the world, where one is dressed up as Winston Churchill and the other Adolf Hitler, which is quite a befitting tribute to the Shakespearean adaptations of Vishal Bhardwaj. The gag takes a potshot at Hitler, who enacts a dog looking for a place to relieve itself and finally finding ‘relief’ in his own land, Germany.
The gag, in a way, is about Vishal Bhardwaj, who after having explored varied terrains from Saat Khoon Maaf, Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola and Kaminey finally finds solace in his own Shakespearean genre that he began with Maqbool and Omkara. Rangoon comes across as a beautiful blend of these two masterpieces by the filmmaker who composes his films, not just make them. Rangoon, featuring Kangna Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan is a stellar example of flawless casting and impeccable performances by its leads.
A love triangle with a patriotic twist, Rangoon transports you into its era, where filmmaking wasn’t about indulgence of directors with multiple takes as the makers had to be at the mercy of the British for their raw stock supply. Where love meant celebrating the scars and adorning a wounded finger with the ring of commitment. Where life is sacrificed because there is a reason worth giving up one’s life for. Vishal Bhardwaj encapsulates the varied hues of love in two hours and forty-seven minutes of sheer visual artistry.
Kangna Ranaut, as Miss Julia or rather ‘Jaanbaaz Julia’ gives her all to this role of a lifetime. The best part about her performance is that she sheds the Kangna Ranaut we have all known, and metamorphoses into Julia. Be it action, comic or emotional scenes, this gem of an actress nails it with the ease of a veteran. Saif Ali Khan as Rustom ‘Rusi’ Billimoria is spot-on. The handicap of his hand reminds you of Langda Tyaagi, an immortal role he essayed in Omkara.
Shahid Kapoor sinks his teeth into the meaty role of Jamadar Nawab Malik, convincing you that he has been a prisoner of war for 8 years in Rangoon and Singapore. Richard McCabe as Major General Harding is quite a surprise here, breaking the stereotype ‘Goras’ that we are used to watching in our films. This character is obsessed with Mirza Ghalib and Hindustani Classical Music and never misses an opportunity to quote Ghalib. Kudos to writers Matthew Robbins, Vishal Bhardwaj, and Sabrina Dhawan for such nuanced writing and character sketches. After watching Rangoon, you’d feel as if you knew these folks, including Saharsh Shukla as ‘Zulfi’, and Kawaguchhi, the Japanese soldier whom the characters of Shahid and Kangna hold captive.
Rangoon is a road movie, a war film, a love triangle saga, a musical – all packed into one. The production design and costumes adroitly recreate an era gone by. The only area where it lets you down is, surprisingly its music, which is the forte of Vishal Bhardwaj. After a point of time, the songs seem redundant and fail to connect with you as an audience. The only song that stays with you is ‘Yeh ishq hai’. Vishal Bhardwaj’s composition and Gulzar’s lyrics leave you awe-inspired, especially in the line, ‘Bekhud se rehta hai, yeh kaisa sufi hai. Jage toh Tabrizi, bole toh Rumi hai’. Tabrizi was the spiritual teacher of Rumi, the Sufi poet and philosopher.
Pankaj Kumar paints the reels with his masterstrokes reminiscent of the forties and shoots the film like a visual poetry. Aalaap Majgavkar edits the film with the deftness of a goldsmith, who knows the precise amount of artistic gold to be retained and commercial copper to be mixed.
Rangoon, in all its vintage glory, is a visual symphony punctuated with poetry.