Rangoon ****Dir: Vishal Bhardwaj. With: Kangana Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan, Richard McCabe. 150 mins. Cert: 12A
In this time of pronounced division, it’s reassuring to know East and West can still play nicely together. Vishal Bhardwaj, the director of several impressive Shakespeare-goes-Hindi adaptations (Maqbool, Omkara), here teams with sometime Spielberg screenwriter Matthew Robbins for a sweeping WW2 epic that ironically describes a collision of worlds: on one side of the widescreen frame showbusiness, on the other the theatre of war. This being Bollywood, the centre is occupied by a love triangle enacted by more characterful types than those Pearl Harbor excavated: a spoilt silver-screen goddess (Kangana Ranaut) drafted to entertain British Indian Army troops in Burma, the suave yet possessive one-armed impresario accompanying her (Saif Ali Khan) and the no-nonsense soldier boy (Shahid Kapoor) left chaperoning our heroine after her convoy is bombed.
The jungle-bound first half deliberately throws back to The African Queen, with Kapoor toughening up his charge while generating old-school chemistry with Ranaut. Yet as in his Kashmir-set Hamlet adaptation Haider, Bhardwaj also displays a sure feel for the wider conflicts surrounding his main players, painting a vivid broad-strokes picture of an India divided between the peaceable Gandhi and the punchier Subhas Chandra Bose, its British masters (capably embodied by a bilingual Richard McCabe) and a new future for itself. Post-Slumdog, Hollywood and Bollywood have repeatedly attempted to collaborate, with mixed results: here, they’ve produced a properly expansive and enthralling afternoon matinee, owing as much to the David Lean back catalogue as it does to the industry that gifted us Lagaan – and those films didn’t have dance numbers about winding up Hitler.
Rangoon is now playing in cinemas nationwide.