But as the film unfolds, it becomes clear that Bhardwaj is no longer keen to tell a story but to become all the film makers he admires and so he indulges himself with three films in one. The first film if fleshed out more could have been set in the deliciously free-spirited world of Fearless Nadia who finds love beyond the regimentation imposed by an exploitative mentor. The second one could have been a love story set in a Kurosawa inspired universe with a warrior princess like heroine being carried to safety through colour bleached landscapes with a Japanese POW in tow. The third could have been a film about three Indian characters from divergent worlds who come together to orchestrate a spectacular setback to humble the British.Rangoon wants to be ALL of these films and also a rom com with scenes that recall, believe it or not, Jab We Met and Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin where the heroine is talkative, curious, famished and on a life changing journey with a stranger.
Bhardwaj also wants you to remember just what a good tune smith he is so there is song after song after song to rub in the context of love, passion, separation, goodbyes just in case the long scenes were not enough to overstate the point.
Certain things work in isolation though. The writing that occasionally nudges the sluggish narrative into life.
Or “Azadi sab chahte hain par uske liye qurban koi hona nahin chahta.”
“Ghar se bahar ke darinde sabhi ko dikhai dete hain..ghar ke andar ke vahashi kisi ko nahin.”
Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography keeps up with the changing palette of the film, travelling from opulent set pieces to smoke spewing trains to lush green forests and is moody, atmospheric and nuanced and one feels sorry for the editor Aalaap Majgavkar who was perhaps given an unwieldy amount of footage to make sense of a film that was obviously not pruned at the scripting stage and was overshot wastefully.
There is also Kangana Ranaut, looking stunning but more importantly throwing herself headlong into a role where she is a fearlessly heroic superstar on screen but off it, an emotionally needy woman who has not yet truly figured her own power and mostly plays small to fit into a world where men on film sets and battle fields call the shots. She transitions from one to the other seamlessly but her best scenes are where she is conflicted or angry or pulsing with raw emotion. One of the most telling moments is when despite her success, Julia is taunted by a blue blooded woman about her humble background. And the humiliation and anger on her face is naked and real and indicative of the struggle for acceptance Kangana herself has endured in Hindi cinema’s closely guarded world of privilege and as she herself said in a recent interview, “Nepotism.” Another nice little scene is where she vanquishes a Japanese soldier and runs to Nawab (Shahid) who pats her head with grudging, surprised admiration.