World War 2

Cinephile Stock: 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
 Kanwaljit Singh, Kenneth Desai, Mrudula Murali, Vijay Verma
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)

Please share the review around. And watch the movie. And comment. You don’t even need to sign up for the last.

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

Varun Oak-Bhakay



Cinephile Stock: Dunkirk


Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
Based on the Dunkirk Evacuation of 1940
Produced by Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan
Introducing Fionn Whitehead
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Tom Glynn-Carney
Photographed by Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC
Edited by Lee Smith, ACE
Music by Hans Zimmer

They were trapped by one of the most dreaded armies on the face of the planet. They were low on ammunition, they were hungry, they were scared and inevitably faced annihilation. They were stranded in a French town called Dunkerque. The shores on which flew the Union Jack were no more than twenty-six miles away. When 400,000 men couldn’t get home, Home came for them.

The Dunkirk Evacuation of 1940 is perhaps one of the most well-known events in the annals of modern warfare. Those of you who know about it should skip ahead to the paragraph after the next. Those of you who don’t, read on.

The Second World War began in September ’39. After the declaration of war on Nazi Germany by Great Britain and France, a British Expeditionary Force was dispatched to France in order to aid the latter in case it was attacked. On May 10, 1940, Hitler invaded Belgium and Holland. Three Panzer Corps pushed towards France through the Ardennes Forest. They steam-rolled through France and by the 21st, they had confined the BEF, remnants of the Belgian forces and the three French armies to a small section of the northern coast of France. BEF commander Lord Gort decided that an evacuation across the Channel was possible and the troops moved towards Dunkirk. The next day, the German forces stopped the advance rather strangely. The order of ‘Halt’ meant that the donkey work of cleaning up the surrounded forces was left to the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. This meant that the forces managed to put defences in place and pull back troops, in large numbers, to Dunkirk. The Germans resumed their pursuit on the 26th but had to face off against 40,000 valiant Frenchmen in the Siege of Lille between the 28th and the 31st. The evacuation from Dunkirk, code-named Operation Dynamo, saw battleships, cruisers, destroyers, corvettes, vessels, trawlers, torpedo boats and various other types of waterborne vehicles, including large numbers of civilian boats which, in many cases, were manned by civilians, participate. In nine days, close to 340,000 men were evacuated (As I researched for this history lesson that I’m imparting, I realised that though a majority of the forces made it back, about forty thousand men sadly fell into German hands). The British were understandably ecstatic, so much so that their Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, had to remind them on June 4 that “we must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.”

Dunkirk sees Christopher Nolan reunite with the usual suspects in Warner Brothers, Cillian Murphy, Hans Zimmer, Lee Smith, Nathan Crowley, Scott Fisher and, in an unexpected cameo, Sir Michael Caine. Nolan’s DP from Interstellar, Hoyte van Hoytema (who also photographed Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the latest 007 flick Spectre), is behind the camera for this one as well, Tom Hardy also jumps aboard and producing the film with Nolan is his long-standing producing (and life) partner, Emma Thomas. Brother Jonathon Nolan is conspicuous in his absence, having co-written six of the previous nine Nolan directorials.

Well before the film came out, Nolan insisted that it wasn’t going to be a war film. So you can imagine how disappointed I was when I heard this piece of news. It is a suspense thriller which focuses on the men involved in Dunkirk and how they survived the horrors of it rather than being a historical film. Nolan uses three perspectives to tell the story: land (the Army), sea (the Navy and civilian boats) and air (the Air Force). Omitted are the Jerries (the Germans) and Churchill and his boys in London. Nolan opts to focus wholly and solely on the men and boys at Ground Zero.

The film opens with British soldiers running through the streets of the titular town. They are being pursued by the invisible but ever-present enemy. The film’s central protagonist, Tommy, runs to the beach, where he sees a vast sea of fellow soldiers and a vast sea, with a couple of ships here and there. The tension sets in pretty quickly as the Luftwaffe bombs the beach, making one slightly nervous.

Nolan writes this film as he does most of his work: in a non-linear format. It isn’t tough to follow as long as you keep your wits about you. The three perspectives are titled The Mole, The Sea and The Air. The writing is excellent in every possible way. The perspectives change lithely and your attention never dawdles. The enemy is never seen in the film, but the writing makes one wonder where Jerry will pop up from. While the overt focus of the story is on the minds of the men, it is also, more subtly, a human story filled with emotion. It is a slap in the faces of those who say Nolan’s films have no heart. You have to use your loaf and look for the heart a little.

The film is on technically solid ground, with some great sound design, fine production qualities (Nathan Crowley) and fantastic practical effects by Scott Fisher and team.

Hans Zimmer provides epic music to the nerve-wracking on-screen events. Brilliant use of the ticking clock sound (from one of Nolan’s own timepieces), reminding the audience that, as James D’Arcy’s Colonel Winnant says, “Every hour the enemy pushes closer!” Music has not been used so stylishly in a film of this kind before.

Lee Smith cuts from one perspective to the other fluidly, leaving no room for error. He goes full throttle in his efforts to make the 106 minutes of screen time count.

DP Hoyte van Hoytema is in top form. I have not seen such photography in film in quite a while. He has a variety of looks on hand: the colours are cold and stripped down for the beach sequences but warm and solid for the aerial shots. One particular shot, that of three Spitfires flying side-by-side over the Channel, reminded me of Guy Hamilton’s Battle of Britain. Hoyte shoulders the 40-pound IMAX camera for quite a bit of the screen time and squeezes it into the Spitfire cockpits to create a claustrophobic environment. His team too deserves a huge clap on the back for the capturing of the shots of The Sea and those done masterfully in The Air. Hoyte doesn’t mind getting the camera drenched either in some nerve-wracking underwater sequences. I envy the people who got to see the film in IMAX 70mm. If it was so breathtaking in digital, it must have been awesome in the original format. It is really marvellous how the IMAX has been attached to the exterior of aircraft while the damn thing is airborne. Fantastic stuff!

The cast does a great job too. Sir Kenneth Branagh and James D’Arcy as Commander Bolton and Colonel Winnant respectively are the anxious senior officers on Ground Zero, worried about the men under their command and the lack of transport. Their agony is evident when Bolton wishfully says, “You can practically see it from here.” Winnant asks what he’s talking about, and Bolton replies, “Home.” They are so near and yet so far. Sir Kenneth particularly is brilliant, which he always is. British pop star Harry Styles is pretty good as the slightly brash young soldier Alex. I doubted whether he could act, but Nolan isn’t known for bad casting and his belief in Styles really pays off. Aneurin Barnard as the silent Gibson also makes a mark, reminding viewers of the fear that can take over a person in situations like Dunkirk. Barry Keoghan (George) and Tom Glynn-Carney (Peter) embody the ‘British lads’ who are eager to do their bit for the war effort. Both are quite believable and bright prospects in cinema. Sir Mark Rylance (Mr. Dawson) steps up the emotional aspect of the movie, getting into the skin of the ordinary British civilian who went to help the boys at Dunkirk. He is firm but calm in a role tailor-made for him. Cillian Murphy, a Nolan regular, is frighteningly real as the PTSD-stricken Second Lieutenant who, when rescued by Dawson and the two lads, is insistent that they ‘turn it around’ and return to England. Jack Lowden (Collins) and Tom Hardy (Farrier) are impressive as the RAF fighter pilots, sharing a complex chemistry despite never being in the same frame. Playing their boss, in a surprise cameo, is Sir Michael Caine, whose voice is as reassuring as always. Hearing it made me feel that everything would be fine. Fionn Whitehead debuts as the average British teen soldier and plays the role with a wonderful innocence and a curious determination that doesn’t make him seem like a first-timer at all. Kudos to him!

Christopher Nolan is at the top of his game as a director. He tells the story in its entirety without becoming over-indulgent, which he has been in his last two films. His direction takes this film to new heights. He serves it cold and warm. He keeps out sobbing girlfriends and wives and mothers, proud dads and sons, and most importantly, politicians. He opts to aim his guns at the men that matter and that perhaps made all the difference in the end. It is exactly the film he said it was in pre-release interviews. Take a bow, Christopher Nolan. With Dunkirk, you’ve officially entered the League of the Legends.

Whether you enjoy thrillers or not, Dunkirk is a must watch. It is powerful, taut and amazing. It is happy and it is sad. Above everything else, it is a masterclass by perhaps the greatest filmmaker of the 21st century.

Verdict: F (Frightening and Fabulous)

If you liked the review, please do share it on social media with every homo sapien that you know. And do watch Dunkirk. And no, Warner Bros. and Syncopy did not pay me, though I wish they had.

Up next on CINEPHILE STOCK: Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Raag Desh on July 28.

Varun Oak-Bhakay