Cast: Kunal Kapoor, Amit Sadh, Mohit Marwah
Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia
In his better films like Haasil and Paan Singh Tomar, Tigmanshu Dhulia ensures he never takes sides. His characters present a narrative and leave it to the audiences to decide if they want to support or oppose their stand. In fact, it’s his objectivity that makes Rannvijay Singh and Paan Singh (Irrfan in Haasil and Paan Singh Tomar) memorable characters. He operates within the same boundaries in Raag Desh (a classical Hindutsani raga with patriotic sentiments) as well.
We know the story of Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj, INA) and how it became a major player in India’s struggle for independence before Bose’s sudden disappearance from Rangoon. We have also heard the stories of three decorated officers of the INA, Shah Nawaz Khan (Kunal Kapoor), Prem Sehgal (Mohit Marwah) and Gurbaksh Dhillon (Amit Sadh), and how they turned into the symbol of unity in diversity during a court case against the British government two years before the Indian independence.
Raag Desh is a detailed break-down of this famous case which revealed how vulnerable the British regime had become. It was also important because Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi were taking interest in the case. Probably they knew that the trial of three officers will have a favourable impact on Congress’ demand for complete sovereignty.
It’s an interesting premise. The film claims that close to 25 lakh Indians fought for the British Army in the World War Two. Out of these, 40,000 Indians surrendered to Japan after its win over Britain in Burma and nearby areas. The Japanese government later made the Indian troops collaborators in their war against the allied forces. An Indian officer, Mohan Singh, was appointed the incharge of this troop, but later Subhash Chandra Bose (played by Kenny Basumatary) took control and gave birth to the INA.
The actual film begins when trials start and the British regime decides to handle it with an iron fist. Raag Desh finds its flow here and Tigmanshu Dhulia slowly absorbs us into the terrific detailing of the case. Bhula Bhai Desai (Kenneth Desai), a lawyer on the verge of retirement, helps Dhulia in getting the perfect narrative tone for the film.
Disgusted with the Congress which refused to give him a ticket to contest the general elections, Bhula Bhai puts aside his differences with Nehru to plead the case of three men whose patriotism is dependent on one ruling.
However, Bhula Bhai is just a face as many fight in the background. From a former judge to a helpless father, this faceless crowd constitutes people from all walks of life. They all understand the value of the judgement and how it can change the entire discourse.
Dhulia doesn’t manipulate the court proceedings to earn our sympathy. After all, it’s a film with heavy patriotic fervour, nobody would have minded that, but he sticks to the facts and narrates the story of all the major characters from a neutral perspective.
There lies the real beauty of his storytelling as the ambiguity around the lead characters remain till the last moments, and even when it clears you are left with many angles to think about.
In one of the scenes, Gurbaksh Dhillon and Shah Nawaz Khan put words to such sentiments. One of them believes that the outcome of the trial gives the British an edge while the other categorically demonstrates how the heavy public outcry can influence their case.
This isn’t the most powerful scene in the film though. It’s a conversation between Nehru (Rajesh Khera) and Judge Sehgal (Kanwaljeet Singh) when the latter successfully convinces the former to fight for the three officers inside the court. The dialogues show the director’s delicate understanding of the Indian polity and society.
The audience keeps watching everything from a distance when the INA officers disclose their side of the details. It becomes a party to the discussion only when it realises that deciding war crimes is very subjective in nature.
Then there are actors like Kenny Basumatary and Mrudula Murali (Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan) who bring a distinct charm to the film. Basumatary’s jovial face while he is weighed against gold makes everything look cheerful.
The back and forth in narration hampers the flow, though. Further, the documentary-like feel hampers the drama to reach its zenith, but these are minor issues and can be easily overlooked.
What matters is Amit Sadh resurfaces as an able actor after a long time. Kunal Kapoor’s matured take on the life of Shah Nawaz Khan is another plus of Raag Desh. Mohit Marwah also holds his ground and infuses seriousness into the film.
There is a strange thing about patriotic films. You know what’s going to happen, but your eyes still get moist when it happens. The same will happen to you as well when Kadam Kadam Badhaaye Jaa will play on the screen. This 137-minute soldier versus traitor story is totally worth your time.