Film Review: Raag Desh
A verbose, uneven film about the Indian National Army
The year is 1945. World War II is on, as is the continuing colonial rule of the British Empire in India. Tigmanshu Dhulia opens his film, Raag Desh, in Burma (now Myanmar) and tells us, via voiceover and a non-linear narrative, about the betrayal of the Indian Army by the Allies, the influence of Subhash Chandra Bose and the rise of the Indian National Army (INA). He zooms in on one incident of the time—the trial of three INA officers accused of murder. Kunal Kapoor plays Shahnawaz Khan, Mohit Marwah plays Prem Sehgal and Amit Sadh is Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon—a Muslim, a Hindu and a Sikh, respectively.
As much as this period piece is a history lesson about the birth of the INA and the rise of Bose, it also spotlights the significance of this trial, which in some ways marked the beginning of the end of British rule in India. It’s no coincidence that the film is produced with the support of Rajya Sabha TV, on which an extended serialised version of these stories will soon unfold.
As far as courtroom trials go, the depiction of the infamous “Red Fort Trials" is shabbily handled and varyingly performed. Kenneth Desai’s portrayal of lawyer Bhulabhai Desai is very theatrical, the British officers are parodied (the extreme close-ups of their mouths when they say the word “murder" are just bizarre), Sadh’s dialogue delivery is muffled and Kapoor is rather flat.
The actors to watch out for are Marwah as the charismatic Prem and Mrudula Murali as freedom fighter Lakshmi Swaminathan. Their romance finds respectful space in the story, which has the makings of a powerful document of India’s history, but turns out to be a highly verbose and untidy production.