Rangoon: A gritty thriller with quite a bit to like

It appears that some Tamil films haven’t yet figured out a way to accommodate the heroine. And by accommodate, I mean depicting her as belonging naturally in the universe of the story, especially one that is as grittily realistic as Rangoon. Gautham Karthik plays the hero—or the anti-hero—Venkat after seemingly having sat through many gruelling hours of makeup. He is made to look tanned—dark almost—so he can fit the bill of a character who has had a rough childhood in the outdoors. Natasha (Sana Makbul), however, is at all times caked in make-up, and always dressed to go to a wedding. And in the grimy, admirably realistic backdrop of Rangoon, this is quite a problem. Thankfully though, despite the wholly under-utilised angle of her singing dreams, her character a la many Tamil films over the years, isn’t given a whole lot to do, except to be a prop to the hero.

But make no mistake, there’s a lot to like in Rangoon, and this is easily Gautham Karthik’s best film yet. It’s a racy story with the threads of many characters interwoven delicately in the backdrop of smuggling. This is a world in which people don’t have the time to–and can’t afford to–think of first-world issues like morality and ethics. Among the earliest lines Venkat says is, “Naan kettavana, nallavana nu laam theriyaadhu.” And this is a question you’re also encouraged to ponder over for the remainder of the story. Venkat, a trusted aide of smuggler and jewellery merchant, Siya (who could easily pass as an IIT Physics professor), is likeable and loyal. And yet, when, as the saying goes, life gives him lemons, he is the sort to even resort to kidnapping. Amid films that project their protagonists as poster boys of moral superiority, Rangoon is different.

Genre: Thriller
Director: Rajkumar Periasamy
Cast: Gautham Karthik

Much like Ayan (which was incidentally based on Burma Bazaar), Rangoon too details the minutiae of smuggling. You are shown how gold biscuits can be hidden in all sorts of things, from cylinders and statues to shoe soles and mysore paks. This minutiae extends to the portrayal of some of its minor characters, including Venkat’s friends, Siya’s jewellery association rival, and even Venkat’s childhood mate who grows up to be a policeman. The fact that it’s established early on that he’s been bullied by his friends makes for a nice, juicy red herring.

I wasn’t at all, however, sure about the voice-over, which is fast becoming a troublesome trend. It’s a lot like the redundant onscreen captions sometimes. In one shot, for instance, you’re shown the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence office, and the signboard makes it plenty obvious. Yet, you have text flashing on the screen that reads “DRI office”. But these are minor missteps in an otherwise gritty film that exists somewhere in the universe inhabited by films like Subramaniapuram and Renigunta. Rangoon, like those films, is about crime, friendships gone awry, loss, betrayal, and at its heart, plenty of ambition. It’s perhaps why among the last few words of the narrator are ‘natpu, izhappu, dhrogam’. And as Venkat says, every man is all the wiser for such experiences.

This review was written for The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.

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