Film Review: Rann

Directed by: Ram Gopal Varma

Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Paresh Rawal, Mohnish Behl, Sudeep, Ritesh Deshmukh, Rajpal Yadav, Neetu Chandra and Gul Panag

I remember watching a comedy sketch once where a man with an big hat on his head walks into a cinema and sits in front of two unsuspecting viewers, obscuring their view of the screen. As they move, he follows them and then takes off his hat – only to be wearing another hat underneath. I went through something similar for Rann as the packed cinema meant I was stuck right at the back and just as the film was about to start, the two empty seats in front of me were taken up by two men with very big heads and even more bigger curls on their head. So the first half was a contortion act on my part as I twisted and turned to catch a glimpse of the screen beyond their heads. And although moving seats at the interval earned me a glare from the girl sitting next to me (I think she had the same idea!) the neck ache from the first half mysteriously vanished in the second half…

Rann is the story of India News 24/7, a news channel that prides itself on presenting news without spin or hyperbole, which is  owned and run by Vijay Harshvardhan Malik (Bachchan), and his son Jai (Sudeep). As the channel struggles to keep its ratings up, its rival channel run by Amrish Kakkar (Behl) a former protege of India News 24/7,  is stealing content from under their nose which leads Jai to fall under the spell of Mohan Pandey (Rawal) a manipulative and ruthless politician who seeks to use the media to further his own career. Added to the mix is Purab Shastri (Deshmukh), a young reporter starting out who looks up to Malik’s ideals of honest reporting and the scene is set for a rann (battle) on a large scale…

Rann really is an accomplished film that bears all the trademarks of an RGV film but at the same time, has something relevant and interesting to say to its viewers. It did take some time to get into  (though I generally find that is the case with RGV films and then on repeat viewing, the first 20 minutes become more easier to navigate) but once it gets going, I was engrossed in the action and managed to forget my neck ache for a while. The cinematography is clinical and documentary style – I loved the way the camera flies all around the place, at one point making us dizzy as it spins around Amitabh to reflect his internal thoughts or the way the camera mimics a spectator swaying back forth as the characters speak. The extreme close ups may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I loved them as it really tests the actors and makes the audience feel closer to the characters. Also note the blurring, the over the shoulder shots and the camera that doesn’t stay still – all interesting and innovative.

Conceptually, the film also hits many high notes. The frank look at how the media has now become a commodity and no longer reports news but makes news instead is an interesting point and will certainly make an inquisitive viewer question existing news coverage and how it is generated. Rann also compares film making and television production and makes the observation that the two mediums are not that different, despite the snobbery held towards television. I also loved the metaphors which played on film names, used to sensationalise what would otherwise be mundane news stories. I wasn’t too sure what to make of the Hindu-Muslim tangent – whilst I agreed with the points being made and the underlying message of promoting harmony, I felt the topic deserved a film of its own and had a tenuous link with the story of the film. Having said that, the topic is dealt with in RGV style and makes the point quite succinctly.

Perhaps the only thing that did surprise me was how the female characters were written – none of the women, save Suchitra Krishnamoorti as Nandini, had any impact and even then, Nandini did not really have much substance. This is a real shame as RGV can write strong female characters and has done in the past and I think the film is very masculine in every sense and adding a powerful woman to the mind games would have pushed Rann further and added value to the film. Films like Satya, Rangeela, Company and Jungle show some good female characterisation holding their own in a male dominated environment. Also, having seem Up In The Air recently (yes, the Hollywood flick!) which had some wonderful female characters, this did feel a bit disappointing.

I did like the styling in the film which saw Amitabh wearing silk scarves as cravats and simple modern suits as well as a sherwani for one sequence. I also like Paresh’s look with the dhoti and kurta and red smeared on his forehead- also note the sunglasses which stay on throughout the film but do not ever detract from his performance- a really achievement seeing as the expression with the eyes is so important in any film. I thought Ritesh looked good in tank tops teamed with shirts, trousers and sandals teamed with a beard which made him look convincing in his part. As for the ladies, I liked Suchitra’s wardrobe best, with silk tunics with thin leather belts and kurta tops with trousers- always teamed with sunglasses on the head!

In terms of performances, everyone in the cast is very good. Amitabh Bachchan gives yet another amazing performance as Harshvardhan, playing every facet of the character flawlessly – whether it is the journalist doing the right thing, the father that allows paternal instincts to overpower his doubt or the professional realising his career is over, Amitabh is simply pitch perfect. Paresh Rawal delights in having a negative role after so long and plays the character with a wickedly dark outlook – Pandey is evil and does not apologise for it – manipulation, blackmail and determination are portrayed effortlessly and show Paresh as a very talented actor. Mohnish Behl also gives a superb turn as Amrish Kakkar, showing the vicious cut throat nature of the media and adding a nervous energy to the character that really helps make him more believable. Ritesh is good as the young Purab who has to battle with his ideals being compromised – it is not a difficult role to play but it is different from anything Ritesh has done recently and perhaps his best performance to date – though he does get lost in the crowd of good performances. Sudeep is excellent as Jai, the cocky young son who is galvanised into action to help his father and later realises his error – much like Abhishek’s role in Sarkar and Sarkar Raj, this is a role that needs to be underplayed and given controlled bursts of energy as well as good chemistry with Amitabh and Sudeep achieves this. Rajpal Yadav is also very good in his role, providing comic relief but in a very savage way that allows the film to make stinging critiques  of its subject and to his credit, Yadav plays it note perfect, not going overboard nor underplaying it. Out of the ladies, Suchitra Krishnamoorti scores as Nandini, the double crossing executive, playing the role straight. Unfortunately, I found Gul Panag and Neetu Chandra quite annoying and wished these roles had gone to unknown actresses who would have benefited from the exposure.

After a few weeks of unremarkable releases, Rann really does stand out as a breath of fresh air. This is not a film to go and watch whilst eating popcorn and be distracted for a few hours – instead, the film demands your concentration and makes the viewer work to appreciate the film -though there is some comic relief, it is more satire and black humour than slapstick comedy that audiences are getting used to. This film will not be to everyone’s taste and some may find it boring – I would recommend previous releases like Veer and Chance Pe Dance to viewers looking for a quick fix . However, if you like your cinema to be smart and have something interesting to say, Rann is a must watch and for those who have not had a chance to see Ishqiya (which released at the same time) Rann is the perfect film to fill in the wait for Ishqiya‘s release. The first film I recommend for 2010!

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