Rangoon’s Wrongs – A Flop Waiting to Happen

By: The Cinema Cynic
By now, the Hindi film industry is aghast at the box office disaster currently unfolding with Rangoon. Starring three excellent actors and helmed by the usually very impressive Vishal Bhardwaj, the scale of Rangoon’s failure is quite hard to comprehend. It should be noted that while Vishal Bhardwaj’s films aren’t always huge commercial successes, even intense dramas such as the superlative Haider and Omkara made a small but significant profit. This is will most assuredly not be the case of Rangoon whose budget of some Rs. 80 crores exceeds that of any of Bhardwaj’s previous venture. So what went wrong?
1)    What was Rangoon supposed to be? From the trailer I could not tell. Was it a war movie, a menage-a-trois story or an espionage thriller? It could easily have been all of the above but none of them shone through in the trailer leaving a prospective viewer confused.
2)    What was the setting? It seemed confused. Was it the Allied push into Burma in 1944? The Japanese push into India in 1944 or a combination of the two? Even for knowledgeable Indians, trying to make a film about the Burma campaign takes some doing and would require a far more compelling storyline than some weird concoction of fact and fiction about a confused period of Indian military history. Trying to link the INA into the whole story made the whole thing messier.
3)    Was there a core storyline? The character of Julia was supposed to be based on Fearless Nadia. Why not simply make a story about her? Was this story supposed to be about the Shahid Kapoor character “seeing the light” or Saif’s character being redeemed or about some nonsensical saga of a sword? I couldn’t figure it out and it left me wondering how an audience would react.
4)    Why not make it a war/ espionage film and go all out? There are times when I think Vishal Bhardwaj overthinks his scripts and complicates them unnecessarily. The Burma campaign could make for a gripping film. It was in some ways a huge Indian achievement. The story of Indian soldiers and spies could have made for a fantastic film with a good director at the helm. But, for a war film there was not enough action, for an espionage film there was not enough intrigue and for a romance film well…
5)    Where was the chemistry? Shahid Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan and Kangana Ranaut are excellent actors. I dare say Shahid is the best of the three but they are all good. Shahid is coming off critical acclaim in two tough and controversial films – Haider and Udta Punjab. However, in Rangoon, there was no synergy in the cast, no feeling that they cared for each other or even for the success of the film. If there is to be a romantic storyline at the core, there has to be some sense of passion. There was none. Some phony infatuation, maybe. But one got the feeling that something was seriously missing.
6)    Was this an ego trip for Kangana? One gets the impression that Kangana Ranaut used this film to boost her already huge ego (to be honest it’s still smaller than Ms. Quantico’s and Ms. Vin Diesel’s). If we are to be honest, Kangana’s National Award in 2016 was wholly undeserved (my vote was for Kalki Kochelin for Margarita with a Straw) and somehow it seems to have gone to her head without due reflection that she had a box office disaster with Katti Batti. Her ego seems to have shone through in this film at the expense of making a true ensemble cast work to maximum effect.
7)    Where did the budget go? At a cost of Rs 80 crores, I was hoping for higher production values. Somewhere the movie went wrong and did not even offer a visual spectacle for the audience. There were glimpses of cinematic brilliance overshadowed by an overarching air of mediocrity.
8)    Three’s a crowd? Linked to the ego issue is the fact that as an ensemble cast, the three lead actors in Rangoon did not deliver to their potential. Each one of them is a powerhouse in his or her own right. However, together, they did not work well enough. I hesitate to blame Vishal Bhardwaj for this. He got the ensemble casts of Omkara, Kaminey and Haider to work brilliantly. Was it some internal dynamics at play that caused Rangoon’s cast not to click?
9)    Was this an art film or a commercial film? Vishal Bhardwaj at his best produces films that are very much art films with minimal concessions to commercial interests. The last one that comes to mind was the forgettable 7 Khoon Maaf which was a box office flop. When he tries to blur the lines, something gets lost. Perhaps it is a lack of focus on a core story or the need to include multiple musical numbers that detracts from the discipline necessary to make a film like Rangoon work.
10)  Where was the promotion? Okay we were treated to some bizarre spectacle of Kangana passing around whips on Valentine’s Day and some truly repugnant pseudo-S&M attempt at promotion for the film a few days earlier. There was no attempt to arouse people’s interest in the film’s story. If Bhardwaj wanted to make an S&M film, Kangana gave great publicity. If he wanted effective promotion, he needed all three cast members to work together to promote the film. That didn’t happen and disaster followed.

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