Red Fort Trials

Cinephile Stock: Raag Desh

RAAG DESH

 Based on the Red Fort Trials
Directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia
Written by Tigmanshu Dhulia Pramod Singh
Produced by Gurdeep Singh Sappal
Starring Kunal Kapoor, Amit Sadh Mohit Marwah
with
 Kanwaljit Singh, Kenneth Desai, Mrudula Murali, Vijay Verma
and
Kenny Basumatary as Subhas Chandra Bose
Photographed by Rishi Punjabi
Edited by Geeta Singh
Music by Rana Mazumder Siddharth Pandit
Background Score by Dharma Vish

State-owned Rajya Sabha Television’s foray into film production comes at a time when major production houses and studios in India are shutting shop and films are losing people large amounts of money. Kudos to RSTV for taking on a subject which is tricky as far as box office collections and general public interest go.

To give you a gist of what the film is about, here is a brief history lesson. Bear with me. The Indian National Army was formed from the Indian PsW taken by the Japanese Imperial Army after the Fall of Singapore in 1942. It folded up pretty quickly, thanks to their Founding General Capt. Mohan Singh’s distrust and disenchantment with the ways and intentions of the Japanese and the Indian Independence League. The force was revived upon Subhas Chandra Bose’s arrival from Nazi Germany in mid-1943. Within days of his arrival, Bose took command of the INA, legendarily proclaiming to his ‘soldiers’ the words “Tum mujhe khoon do, main tumhe aazadi doonga.” The fact that a similar experiment with PsW in Nazi Germany – the Indian Legion – had not fared well did not deter the INA. They were utilised as a guerrilla force, participating in operations in Arakan, Imphal and Kohima before being pushed back by the better-equipped British Indian forces. The wheels fell off the INA’s campaign quite rapidly as their opponents pushed on and they retreated to Singapore. Soon after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Bose boarded a flight to Saigon. He was never seen or heard of again. The INA was finished but the British weren’t. They decided to try prominent figures of the INA as deserters in a court martial. The first trial was that of the film’s three protagonists.

All three were charged with ‘Waging War Against The King’, Dhillon was charged with ‘Murder’ and Shah Nawaz and Sahgal with ‘Abetment to Murder’. A defence committee was set up by the Congress; lawyers of the calibre of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Bhulabhai Desai, Asaf Ali and Jawahar Lal Nehru were a part of the defence team with the prosecution headed by the Attorney General of India, Noshirwan P. Engineer. The British intended on making an example of the trio and show India that they were traitors. But when censorship ended and people realised what the INA was, public opinion turned in favour of the defendants, going so far as to causing mutinies and riots. The fact that the three men were from different religions – the three largest in number – united the country, something our rulers failed to foresee.

The film wastes no time in needless prologues and throws the audience into the battleground with the INA after a brief narration by director Tigmanshu Dhulia himself. It goes from Singapore to Burma to Delhi and halts in other places, including battlefields, along the way.

The first hurdle is the screenplay. Written by Dhulia and Pramod Singh, it has too many unnecessary scenes. The romance between Col. Sahgal and Capt. Lakshmi Swaminathan doesn’t fit with the proceedings. There is just too much crammed into the film. A little tightening would’ve been hugely beneficial. Geeta Singh’s editing is haphazard. The nonlinearity of the writing requires swift jumps from place A to place B but that is poorly handled. The film’s authenticity loses a few points when officers, who wore pips on their shoulders in the British Indian Army are also shown to be wearing stripes, which are worn by NCOs only. Dharma Vish’s background score is a little repetitive and gets a little on your nerves after a while.

But we’ve dwelled too much on the negatives. Despite its shortcomings, the screenplay has plenty of beautiful scenes to offer. The historical research is applaudable and it makes the film feel real. Rishi Punjabi’s photography is okay for the most part, but the wide-angle shots and the action sequences are extremely well shot. FRI, Dehra Dun serves the purpose of multiple locations quite well. Mukesh Chhabra’s casting is spot-on. The production design is solid too. Rana Mazumder and Siddharth Pandit do a wonderful job with the music of the film. Mazumder’s rendition of ‘Kadam Kadam Badhaaye Ja’ is the best I’ve heard and the track ‘Tujhe Namaami Ho’ fits in beautifully. Pandit’s Teri Zameen is slow but just as good as the two previous tracks. Sandeep Nath and Revant Shergill’s lyrics are powerful.

The supporting cast is perfect. Vijay Verma is earnest as the fictitious journalist Jamal Kidwai. Mrudula Murali does a fairly decent job in her limited scenes as Capt. Laksmi Swaminathan. Kanwaljit Singh as Acharuram Sahgal, a Judge in the Lahore High Court and Col. Sahgal’s father, is wonderful. Kenny Basumatary as S.C. Bose imbues the character with a sense of honour and honesty. Instead of putting the man he plays on a pedestal, he humanises him. Kenneth Desai goes all guns blazing as the ailing Bhulabhai Desai. He pushes himself into the character brilliantly, delivering a rousing monologue towards the end of the film.

Mohit Marwah as Col. Prem Kumar Sahgal is a revelation. He is very good and given that he has only been on screen once before this, he is exceedingly believable as Col. Sahgal. Amit Sadh is intense as the hot-headed Lt. Col. Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon. His Punjabi speaking skills are fantastic and he is able to add the appropriate rawness to the character, which is a result of Lt. Col. Dhillon having risen through the ranks in the Army, unlike the other two. Kunal Kapoor is more subdued as Maj. Gen. Shah Nawaz Khan and does a great job with the Urdu-Punjabi dialect. He portrays the conflict of the character with ease and a sense of dignity. What they do absolutely right is that they are distinct as heroes. They aren’t larger than life and their speeches about loving their country aren’t jingoistic. They feel like flesh and blood.

Tigmanshu Dhulia may have slipped a little in the screenplay but his direction drives the film. He doesn’t let it become over-bearing or sentimental or chest-thumping jingoistic, all of which has been done by the likes of Sunny Deol and Akshay Kumar and a large number of social media users. He examines Indian society and politics of the time quite subtly and the subtleness is where his strength lies. The scene where Bose tells his officers to wipe off the vermillion from the foreheads is remarkable because of how sync it is with the way things are happening today. He keeps clear of Bose’s disappearance and focuses on the job at hand. His direction that makes one forget about the film’s shortcomings whilst watching it. He doesn’t have the same objectiveness he had in Paan Singh Tomar but that was expected.

Would I recommend Raag Desh? Hell yes! It is a reminder of who our heroes should be and what all we have lost in fighting for Independence and what we may lose if we don’t stop squabbling. It is patriotic in a more relatable sense than those shrieking panellists on news channels. Most importantly, it is the story of an event we should all know about. So, skip the Bazmee and Bhandarkar bonanza and watch the Dhulia movie this weekend.

Verdict: D (Daring and Definitive)


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Up next on CINEPHILE STOCK: Imtiaz Ali’s Jab Harry Met Sejal on August 4.

Varun Oak-Bhakay

28.7.2017