Kan­gana Ra­naut tries to Reprise an iconic Role in but falls flat on her face

WKND - - Bollywood Queen Lacks Sheen - By Khalid Mo­hamed

ow, Kan­ga­nara­naut doesn’t re­sem­ble the leg­endary Fear­less Na­dia — queen of the B- grade ac­tion thrillers of the 1930s and ’ 40s — from any an­gle. Ev­i­dently, that didn’t de­ter Vishal Bhard­waj from rein­car­nat­ing Na­dia as a rather whiny, lovelorn Jaan­baaz Ju­lia — a pur­ported show­case for Kan­gana — in his mis­con­ceived pe­riod ro­man­tic saga Ran­goon.

Ex­pen­sively mounted and lushly pho­tographed, Ran­goon didn’t ex­actly in­vite ser­pen­tine queues at the mul­ti­plexes. Ini­tial trade re­ports stated the in­tensely- pub­li­cised ex­trav­a­ganza had opened to “poor col­lec­tions”. Re­views and word- of- mouth buzz were mixed for the over­long film — 167 min­utes, de­spite se­vere edit­ing at the last minute.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Wa­dia Movi­etone — copy­right hold­ers of the Na­dia films, which were made by JBH Wa­dia and Homi Wa­dia — sought to block Ran­goon from re­lease on sched­ule. A set­tle­ment was reached at the nth hour, ac­cord­ing to in­sid­ers.

A bid to recre­ate the Fear­less Na­dia per­sona — a dare­devil who could per­form life- de­fy­ing feats atop run­ning trains and han­dle scores of bad guys with the crack of a whip — was at­tempted ear­lier by Kan­gana in the de­servedly for­got­ten Re­volver Rani ( 2014) directed by one Sai Kabir. The char­ac­ter of the gun- tot­ing, fist- flash­ing fe­male Robin Hood was al­loyed to that of da­coit queen Phoolan Devi.

Un­der Bhard­waj’s di­rec­tion, she per­haps hoped to come across as a more plau­si­ble and pop­u­lar ac­tion hero­ine, this time with­out any al­lu­sions to Phoolan Devi. No such luck. If Ran­goon can boast of any­thing, it’s a rather over­wrought, in­con­sis­tent per­for­mance by Kan­gana, win­ner of three Na­tional Awards and li­onised in the me­dia as a woman who speaks her mind out loud and clear.

She was pun­gently crit­i­cal of Karan Jo­har’s “nepo­tism” on his show Kof­fee with Karan. She con­tin­ues to be de­ri­sive of Hrithik Roshan, whom she once de­scribed as a “silly- ex”. You’ve got to hand it to her, she gen­er­ally doesn’t suf­fer her detractors gladly… which is fine.

The snag is that a per­cep­ti­ble over­con­fi­dence has seeped into her act­ing, as ev­i­denced in Ran­goon. She car­roms be­tween a sniv­el­ling, teary- eyed woman who must choose be­tween her bene­fac­tor, a film pro­ducer played by Saif Ali Khan, and an up­right soldier played by Shahid Kapoor, who’s Fear( less) Fac­tor: 1 Fear­less Na­dia was the queen of B- grade films such as Di­a­mond

snap­shots: ( right) Kan­gana's char­ac­ter in Ran­goon comes across as clue­less; ( her role in Re­volver Rani was sim­i­lar to Jaan­baaz Ju­lia; Fear­less na­dia on whom Kan­gana’s char­ac­ter is based in Ran­goon se­cretly fight­ing for In­dia’s free­dom from the Bri­tish.

She comes across as a woman who doesn’t quite know her mind ( or heart). Nei­ther does she strike you as a fan­tas­tic dancer; nor is she impressive in her ac­tion moves, aided as they are ma­jorly by spe­cial ef­fects. In­deed, a leap on a train top, with Kan­gana wear­ing the fa­mous Na­dia mask, is strangely rem­i­nis­cent of the open­ing stunt se­quence of Dhoom 3.

By com­par­i­son, Fear­less Na­dia — born Mary Ann Evans ( 1908- 1996) in Aus­tralia to a Bri­tish soldier and a Greek mother — was one of a kind, an orig­i­nal. On screen in Hun­ter­wali, Di­a­mond Queen, Miss Fron­tier Mail, Pun­jab Mail, Jun­gle Princess and Lu­taru Lalna — to name a clutch of them — her per­sona had men grov­el­ling for mercy at her feet. As a mes­sianic hero­ine, she would ar­tic­u­late the cause of women’s rights. More­over, her snappy di­a­logue crack­led with im­pact­ful state­ments on free­dom and equal­ity for ev­ery caste, colour and creed. It’s only be­lat­edly that Na­dia has been saluted as the no- non­sense, eman­ci­pated hero­ine of In­dian cin­ema in the pre- fem­i­nist era.

Off screen, Na­dia ( the screen name was given to her by an Ar­me­nian sooth­sayer) was as feisty as they come. Trained in dif­fer­ent skills like horse- rid­ing, hunt­ing, gun shooting and ac­ro­bat­ics, she trav­elled with a cir­cus till she was spot­ted by JBH Wa­dia and cast in brief roles in Desh Deepak and Noore- Ya­man. The au­di­ence loved her. Lead roles fol­lowed.

And it was only af­ter decades that she mar­ried Homi Wa­dia in 1961. Lore has it that his mother dis­ap­proved of his mar­riage to a ‘ for­eigner’. A larger- than- life and ami­able fig­ure at Bollywood par­ties to­wards her end years, Na­dia passed away in 1996 at the age of 88.

The point is: does Ran­goon catch at least the essence of the ‘ Hun­ter­wali’ of yore? Alas, it doesn’t. Al­right, so Vishal Bhard- waj did not in­tend the film to be her biopic. Still, the li­cence to bor­row vi­tal el­e­ments se­lec­tively from any real- life per­son and adapt it to suit the con­ve­niences of a script is ques­tion­able if not de­bat­able, isn’t it?

One last thing. Kan­gana Ra­naut’s Jaan­baaz Ju­lia act is a dis­ap­point­ing one, even if it is not com­pared to its role model. Here’s hop­ing that she re­turns with re­newed force ( and not over­con­fi­dence) in her films un­der pro­duc­tion right now: Hansal Me­hta’s Sim­ran and Ke­tan Me­hta’s Rani Lak­shmi Bai. Fin­gers crossed.

You’ve got to hand it to Kan­gana Ra­naut, she gen­er­ally doesn’t suf­fer her detractors gladly, which is fine. The snag is that a per­cep­ti­ble over­con­fi­dence has seeped into her act­ing, as ev­i­denced in Vishal Bhard­waj’s Ran­goon

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