Raag Desh: A history lesson that is more lesson and less cinema
Posted on 28 July, 2017 by Team Wishberry
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s slogan was
“Chalo Dilli”. With Raag Desh, director Tigmanshu Dhulia has indeed marched,
and made a film that is completely palatable to today’s ‘Dilli’.
Presented by Raj Sabha TV, Raag Desh’s trailer being played in the Parliament House was a historic first. Keep that information in mind and read this review.
Raag Desh tells the story of the famous 1945-INA trials at the Red Fort where 3 INA armymen were accused of murder, as well as waging war against the King Emperor aka British India aka The British Empire. The trials are historic because they helped in stamping the fate of British colonialism. Shah Nawaz Khan (Kunal Kapoor), Prem Sahgal (Mohit Marwah) and Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon (Amit Sadh) are charged by the British and their defence is fought by the erudite Bhulabhai Desai (Kenneth Desai). In the end, the three are acquitted despite being found guilty.
Raag Desh has been cast very well. All the actors including Wishberry’s very own Kenny Basumatary as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose did their job well.
The plot of the film is excellent but it is let down by a number of things:
Its length: The film is long and winding and works on the premise that none of us (the audience) know anything about our history or the INA or World War II. The first half is a history lesson in who was who and who did what. In the second half, when the trial actually commences, the same details are repeated.
The editing: The edit fails an already weak screenplay. It is choppy in bits and abrupt with songs just coming out of nowhere (hopefully to stir the nationalistic fervour in us. But, pray tell me, why did the makers assume that the subject matter was weak and would be nationalistic enough in the first place without the songs?)
The special effects: There are two particular sequences in the film where the special effects fall apart: one is to do with a train and the other is to do with an army gathering in a compound. Enough said!
Films like Rang De Basanti also talked about the freedom struggle but Raag Desh tells you the story with an agenda — to make you a patriot and shame on you if you question anything!
The sub-plots: While interesting sub-plots greatly enrich any narrative, introducing secondary characters without any justification is a crime. In a film talking about the ‘complicated’ valour of the Azad Hind Fauj charged with killing fellow Indians, suddenly introducing the wailing mother of the accused is just lazy.
What Raag Desh could have been is a gripping court-room drama with nationalism and the freedom struggle acting as able sub-plots. However, it doesn’t end up being that way. Raag Desh is no ‘A Few Good Men’ and it leaves nothing to the imagination. The one thing it convincingly does is uphold Netaji’s belief: You give me blood and I will give you freedom.
Raag Desh is a film that essentially glorifies war. It tells you of the heroism of one man who decided that he would stop at nothing when it came to delivering his country — even if it meant colluding with Nazi Germany, even if it meant that thousands of men would die because they were ill-equipped to handle the onslaught of the Allied forces. It shows you the picture of bravado but the picture is incomplete. This is a history lesson that chooses to amplify a narrative that is the ruling the roost when it comes to the debate on nationalism in India today.