Halfway through Vishal Bhardwaj's Rangoon, Shahid Kapoor tells Kangana Ranaut, "Overacting...!" In one word, that can actually sum up Kangana Ranaut's performance in Rangoon. She's an excellent actor, no doubt about that, but it's a bit odd to see how so many of us have come to equate her 'natural' performance with great performance. Ranaut is hardly exceptional in Rangoon. She's nothing we haven't seen in her earlier films. She pays a fitting tribute to Fearless Nadia when she's Miss Julia the performer, but one is bound to wonder why Kangana is so over the top all through the film. And that's not even a fraction of the problem that Rangoon is saddled with.
Rangoon opened to warm reviews from some critics, many people on social media called it a 'cinematic gem' and went on to laud the beauty that it is. Come to the box office, there's no love from the audience at all. In almost a week today, Rangoon hasn't even been able to recover half the money that was spent making it. Estimates suggest Vishal Bhardwaj and Co. spent Rs 85 crore to make Rangoon. In India, the film hasn't even been able to earn Rs 30 crore yet.
(SPOILERS AHEAD: IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THE FILM, WE SUGGEST YOU COME BACK AFTER YOU WATCH IT)
SO WHAT WENT WRONG?
Rangoon is a mix of a stellar cast, locales so beautiful you want to cry out of happiness, and a chapter of the Indian independence struggle which is not readily available in our academic textbooks.
The film begins in 1943. Devika and Himanshu Rai are the top stars in this era, with Toofan-Ki-Beti Miss Julia spicing the scene up with her stunts. Her mentor and lover Rusi Bilimoria (played by Saif Ali Khan) is a Parsi man who 'owns' Julia. And hardly ever lets her forget that. He bought her off the street at Chowpatty in Bombay, for a sum of Rs 1,000. As Julia says, "Hazaar rupaye bahut hote hai, pata hai?" trying to help her listeners realise how much she means to Rusi. A few minutes after boasting about her love for Rusi and his love for her, Julia jumps into the mud and makes out with the British Indian Army soldier in charge of protecting her, Jamadar Nawab Malik (played by Shahid Kapoor). Thereafter, Rangoon veers off to uncharted territories, leaving the viewer thoroughly tired out and fed up of seeing these characters you've stopped feeling anything for.
The biggest problem of Rangoon is its length. The film stretches on and on and on, to a point when you are so exhausted you can't even fall asleep. There are so many sequences Rangoon could have done without. At 2 hours and 47 minutes of nothing really happening, extremely convoluted plot twists, characters you don't feel for and too many side actors, there's hardly anything in Rangoon that can redeem it. The film is beautiful to look at. Beautiful in its most pure form. From the unspoilt locations of Arunachal Pradesh to the Rangoon bridge and the azure water flowing underneath it, the cinematography in Rangoon is exquisite to say the least. And therein lies the second problem of Rangoon. Did the team spend so much of time getting the locations right that they stopped bothering about the script?
In almost a week now, Rangoon has not even been able to earn Rs 30 crore in India
THE SECOND HALF
The latter half of Rangoon bears testimony to that. In his attempt to give each of his lead characters a fitting finale, Vishal Bhardwaj ends up losing his way, a la his Miss Julia-in-love. There are times in the post-intermission Rangoon which leave you thinking why would a director include so many convoluted sub-plots in a film. Right when you start figuring out that the story of Rusi-Julia-Nawab is at the core of Rangoon, wham! You're introduced to another subplot involving a sword and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's Azad Hind Fauj. Rangoon then proceeds to an extremely absurd climax which leaves two of its three lead characters dead and the leftover one tightrope-walking towards the 'manzil' of the aforementioned sword, the Azad Hind Fauj.
For one, you're not sure exactly WHICH sequence you can call the climax of Rangoon. When Nawab Malik is identified as a traitor by the British Indian Army and taken to his fate, Julie/Julia *becomes* Julia and comes to her lover's rescue. Now, in a non-Vishal Bharadwaj universe, that might have marked the end of Rangoon. But no. Rusi's story too needs to reach some sort of an end, no matter how incredulous it is. So we have Nawab re-captured by the British Indian Army, a long round of gola-baari following, and Julia crossing the bridge to India from Burma. And that is not the end either. Bored? You bet.
When people began talking about Rangoon, when it was being shot, never was it mentioned that the film is actually a musical, or what is probably Vishal Bhardwaj's idea of a musical. As a result, the innumerable songs make Rangoon compromise on its pace, which was pretty laid-back to begin with. The film loses steam every time someone opens their mouth to sing a song, past the point of redemption. It leaves Rangoon in a weird limbo, straddling the spheres of action-romance and a Broadway musical. In 2017, if you're testing the audience's patience with a half-baked story, and peppering it with a hundred songs, at least prepare people for that. Every film is not La La Land, after all.
At the end of the day, Rangoon sinks under its weight, leaving you thoroughly frustrated. And with the regret that you've lost 3 hours of your life.