With his last film (not taking into account the delayed ‘Yaara’) ‘Bullet Raja’, director Tigmanshu Dhulia attempted to make a commercial potboiler which failed to resonate with the audience. The director is known for making hard-hitting films that are steeped in realism and have characters that one encounters on a day-to-day basis. Though, as the director claims himself, his films have had a sense of escapism associated with commercial Hindi cinema, they had a sense of realism in them. ‘Raag Desh’, Dhulia’s newest offering, is based on the Indian National Army Trials that took place in pre-independence India.
The year is 1945. The Indian National Army or the Azad Hind Fauj, formed by Subhash Chandra Bose, is turning out to be a powerful force that is on its way to change the course or give a new direction to the freedom movement against the Britishers. The INA, consists of a large number of people who, under the leadership of Bose, are determined to do all that it takes to save the nation from the crutches of the British Rule. The Army hits a roadblock as the news of their leader dying in a plane crash comes through. Shah Nawaz Khan (Kunal Kapoor), Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon (Amit Sadh) and Prem Sahgal (Mohit Marwah), three young soldiers from the Army, are charged with murder and treason. Bhulabhai Desai (Kenny Desai), an Independence activist and one of the finest lawyers in the country, decides to defend the three soldiers in court.
Tigmanshu Dhulia and co-writer Pramod Singh must be lauded for the kind of research they have done to put together this period film. The effort that has gone into digging out information and details of certain events from a bygone era is clearly visible in the way the film has turned out to be. I did not have much knowledge about the Indian National Army Trials but after watching the film, one feels enlightened to have gathered a significant amount of data on a chapter in history which one was not aware of. The film has a runtime of about 145 minutes and it is important that you stay alert as a viewer throughout the film. Losing your attention even for half a minute could result in losing out some really important information. The film has a non-linear narrative that moves back and forth between past and present. There are several sub-plots and the film packs in an enormous amount of information in those 145 minutes. The film which his dressed as a war cum courtroom drama is filed with high-octane drama and has a consistently intense tone to it. The screenplay (Tigmanshu Dhulia and Pramod Singh) is not only well-researched but vastly engaging as well.
As mentioned earlier, the film gives the viewer a lot of information to feed onto. While there is clarity in the way most of this information is communicated, certain scenes and sequences could have been more engrossing with a more simplified approach. There are certain portions where Tigmanshu has given the film a stage or theatre-like setting. Some scenes come across as too long as we see them in a singular shot or one magnification. The editor (Geeta Singh) should have lent some energy to these scenes by cutting them sharply. The songs (Rana Mazumder and Siddharth Pandit) and the background score (Dharma Vish) have been used very well in the film.
Kunal Kapoor lends charm, dignity and gravitas to the character of Shah Nawaz Khan. Amit Sadh gets several dramatic moments to shine as an actor and he rises to the occasion by delivering an earnest performance. Mohit Marwah shows remarkable improvement over his debut performance in ‘Fugly’ and shows a lot of promise by portraying a difficult roe in his second film. Kenny Desai gets one of the best roles in his career as Bhulabhai Desai. His performance is outstanding. Kenny Basumatary leaves a mark in his brief appearance as Subhash Chandra Bose. Kanwaljit Singh leaves a huge mark as Prem Sahgal’s father. Mrudula Murula is good as Captain Lakshmi Sahgal.
While watching ‘Raag Desh’, we feel as it we were a part of the surroundings where the war was happening. ‘Raag Desh’ is a well-researched and intricately crafted film that introduces one to a chapter in history which is lesser discussed. The strength of the film lies in the fact that it makes you participate in the proceedings of the film as a viewer, making it come across an intimate and immersive experience.