Sound And Fury Signifying Nothing
During World War 2 when the British still ruled India, Miss Julia ruled the silver screen with the help of Russi Billimoria. The British will help Russi buy film stock from London if Miss Julia entertains the troops. Before you can say, ‘Captain America!’, you are introduced to a subplot to smuggle a priceless sword to the rebelling Indian National Army. There are reluctant bodyguards, sacrificing soldiers, national anthem being sung, atrocities on common folk, and a bridge on the river Kwai (or some fabulous computer generated river with resort pool like waters) that should have been blown up by at least one warring side. The movie is so long you are too tired to call it names when it is over.
Every wonderful movie Vishal Bhardwaj has made has had help in the the scripting department by Shakespeare himself. He has subplots and layered characters and not one thing seems out of place. In fact, so universal are the stories, Vishal has earned his accolades because of a man who lived 400 years ago. It must have taken lots of courage to venture into Captain America territory and tell the story of an entertainer in the middle of World War 2.
Miss Julia (Kangna Ranaut is simply amazing!) is a movie star based loosely on Fearless Nadia. She is the protegee of Russi Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan, dressed to the gills and garnished with a scowl) who believes that the British are the best thing to happen to India. He entertains the Brits and is willing to send his star to the border areas to entertain the troops.
You don’t want to think of Captain America or wonder why the troops would need entertainment if their morale is good. Weren’t starlets sent to boost morale? But if Vishal Bhardwaj made it, then maybe it was so. Anyway, Russi Billimoria is in love with Miss Julia but has a cantankerous dad who wants to separate the two. He fakes a heart attack and Russi stays back.
The British General (or is it Major General) who hams in his every scene is given way too much imporance. It’s amusing to hear him sing, ‘Ka karoo sajni, aaye na balam’ in a kurta, but he gets really annoying and caricaturish when he spouts, ‘Thoom Indian log traitor hota hai!’ or some such stuff you last heard in movies like Shaheed and Kranti…
Oh, Miss Julia’s party gets ambushed by Japanese planes and she gets separated with her reluctant Bodyguard (yes, it’s Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner romance without the sexiness of the silk and sword scene) who brings her safe back to the British camp. In the process we are introduced to a wonderful Japanese soldier who is captured by this duo, who escapes and is never seen again. What a waste of a character we as audience invested in because he’s not really a brute, a killer. He wants to sing, and really wants to get back to his mother.
As expected Julia falls in love with the soldier (a mooch sporting Shahid Kapoor) who does his best to get wet and clayey and removes leeches from Kangna’s legs. Remember those movies like Jewel Of The Nile? Those city damsel meets rough forest guide romance movies? Exactly what happens here. And you find yourself stifling a yawn. Get with the program!
She finally arrives at the camp where she is scheduled to perform. She does, everyone loves her. Russi has shown up too, and you don’t want to care if Shahid Kapoor’s name is Jamadaar Nawab Singh or Sultan Singh. Because the sword of Maharaja being smuggled to finance the Indian National Army is traveling in Miss Julia’s costume case. There is much exchanging of anonymous letters and betrayals and more songs but dammit! The sword is still around. But Nawab and Julia are happily in a world of nakedness and love and no one notices them. Then there’s hysterical killing and whipping and beating up and jealousy because Russi notices sand on Julia’s arms and neck and the same sand on Nawab’s neck too.
The conclusion seems to be miles away because Miss Julia is - as Nawab says - imprisoned in her body, and that’s why she cannot see the need to be free in the larger sense of the word. The miles are covered by just laughable CG work. Whether it is the train traveling through the straightest route one has imagined in the hilly tracts of Arunachal Pradesh or any of the North Eastern part of India, or the stunts on train tops, the work seems to have been given to unpaid summer interns. What a shame it is when the train interiors, the costumes and cinema moments have been done beautifully. Even some dialog work offered to Kangna are fun despite the romance track being dank an unoriginal.
If you thought the end of the film were near, you would be disappointed. There is a hilarious (unintentional, of course) dramatic blow up the bridge scene in the end and Saif Ali Khan is made to pretend he’s Philippe Petit from the movie The Walk with the priceless sword instead of the balancing rod Petit carried when he walked the high wire between the Twin Towers.
I tried, really hard to feel for the star and the soldier and drown in their mooch-filled kisses. But couldn’t. Shakespeare must be sighing in his grave, ‘This time Vishal Bhardwaj’s story is out of joint indeed!'
(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)