Raag Desh movie cast: Mohit Marwah, Amit Sadh, Kunal Kapoor, Kenny Desai
Raag Desh movie director: Tigmanshu Dhulia
Raag Desh movie rating: Two stars
When the subject itself is still so charged and propulsive, and the director is Tigmanshu Dhulia who has such an acute sense of place and context, you expect a great tango of both story and substance from Raag Desh.
The film revolves around the creation of Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, and its short-lived but powerful impact. But it is not what it promises to be: the convincing origin story of one of the most fascinating parts of Indian history, and how the soldiers of the INA, were, in a manner, a fraught bridge between the Indian freedom struggle and the British efforts during the second World War.
Even today, the myths around Netaji abound: where he came from is well known, but his end is still wreathed in mystery. “Tum mujhe khoon do, main tumhe aazaadi doonga”: this thunderous statement from Bose (played in the film by Kenny Basumatary) is part of every history text book, a thrilling testament to how a charismatic leader can galvanise so many, and make them follow him till the ends of the earth.
The story is told through a series of flashbacks and the trial of three young soldiers (Kunal Kapoor, Amit Sadh and Mohit Marwah) of the INA, charged with murder and treason, whose case is fought by the celebrated lawyer Bhulabhai Desai (Kenny Desai). Through the eyes of the three soldiers— a Hindu, a Sikh, and a Muslim–we see how a remarkable ‘army’ was born, and how ‘desh ki azaadi’ was also its motto, even if its ways were so antithetical to Mahatma Gandhi ‘s nonviolent struggle.
The war scenes are plentiful but you can’t help seeing the clunkiness (when will Bollywood make a film like, for example, the recent Dunkirk, which you can slam on many counts but not in the solid recreation of battle scenes). And the back-and-forthing between the past and present is not as clear as it could be, given the complexity of the events the film is trying to unravel: it was a time when the Allies and the Axis forces were trying to save the world from Hitler, and India was on the cusp of ‘azaadi’.
Making the three INA soldiers represent the religious diversity of the Indian people could have been a wonderful device, given the times we are passing through, but it comes off clichéd. And with a few exceptions (Sadh, Verma, and Desai, who excel in a few moments) the performances feel forced.
Raag Desh has lofty ambition, but the stagey treatment lets it down. The definitive INA film is still to be made.