Banner: Rajya Sabha TV
Producer: Gurdeep Singh Sappal
Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia
Cast: Kunal Kapoor, Mohit Marwah, Amit Sadh, Kenneth Desai, Kanwaljit Singh, Mrudula Murali
Writers: Tigmanshu Dhulia, Pramod Singh
Music: Rana Mazumder
Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Raag Desh takes you back, way back, to the 1940s, to that long-forgotten chapter of Indian history when three officers – Shahnawaz Khan, Prem Kumar Sahgal and Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon – of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA aka Azad Hind Sena) were captured and put on trial for treason, waging war against the King, and murder.
With seemingly effortless skill, Dhulia brings alive this part of the Freedom Struggle and the story of these three men and their contribution to not just Azad Hind Sena but also to the fight for independence. However, while the subject is fascinating and the intention admirable, as usually happens with stories based on history, the director-writer crowd it with too much information, too many characters and unnecessary scenes, which compromises the flow of the narrative.
While RaagDesh essentially focuses on the three men – Captain Shahnawaz Khan (Kunal Kapoor), Captain Gurbaksh Dhillon (Amit Sadh) and Captain PK Sahgal (Mohit Marwah), who headed the INA in 1942 – the film also recounts the dramatic events post the Second World War that led to the formation of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s revolutionary Indian National Army. The film also offers a glimpse into the fascinating man that Bose was and his defiant patriotism.
When Khan, Sahgal and Dhillon are captured, they are put on a trial at the Red Fort, where Bose wanted to hoist the Indian flag after defeating the British Army. Unfortunately, his untimely death and the capture of most INA troops put an end to his dream. Bhulabhai Desai (Kenneth Desai), an Indian independence activist and acclaimed lawyer, along with a defence committee formed by the Congress, fight the case in their defence.
The first half of the film quickly establishes its main protagonists and takes us through their valour and determination to go to any lengths to free India from British rule. These heroic and endearing characters instantly win your heart. However, as the movie moves towards its second half, it gets crowded with too many characters and gets side-tracked into unnecessary sequences, which slow the pace of the film. Crisper editing could have somewhat come to the rescue.
The non-linear screenplay is engaging initially, but gets a little confusing as the story moves forward. The film also has heavy usage of archetypical Punjabi, which for non-Punjabi speakers is difficult to comprehend. Raag Desh also has a lot of Japanese and English.
Known for his hard-hitting and earthy subjects in films like Haasil, Charas, Shagird, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster and Paan Singh Tomar, writer- director Tigmanshu Dhulia manages to evoke patriotism, grief and compassion in the audience through Raag Desh but fails to deliver a complete cinematic piece that engages the viewer from start to finish.
Production designer Dhananjoy Mondal succeeds in creating the pre-Independence era and though essentially a courtroom drama, Raag Desh also has some well- executed war scenes, which are splendidly captured by DoP Rishi Punjabi. The one department where the film excels is casting. The film succeeds on the strength of its cast.
Performance-wise, it is remarkable how Kunal Kapoor, Mohit Marwah and Amit Sadh resemble the real INA heroes and excel in their parts. Kunal Kapoor perfectly captures the essence of Shahnawaz Khan through his body language and delivers a very credible performance. Mohit Marwah, as the crossword-solving Sahgal, surprises with his subtle yet powerful act. He has some of the best scenes with British army officers. Amit Sadh impresses with his Punjabi diction and delivers a memorable performance. Kenneth Desai as Bhulabhai Desai is fantastic. His emphatic and passionate argument in defence of the charged soldiers in court is remarkable. The rest of the cast support the film well.
Verdict: Worth a dekho!