What a ridiculous fun movie! Once you start watching it double time which really REALLY feels like regular time, like the funky old-fashioned filming put it at the wrong speed.
This is my first Fearless Nadia movie! And she is so much more awesome and Fearless than I realized from just reading about her. You should all watch one of her movies and go “whoa, I think I just fell in love a little bit with a 6 foot blonde force of nature”. Truly, she is so much more than her descriptions sound.
Rangoon was supposed to be our Fearless Nadia movie. Twinky little Kangana being sexy in leather and a whip, doing circus tricks, and being a fragile little woman controlled by her producer. That is SO not the Nadia in this movie! She doesn’t do “tricks”, she is a straight up strong woman. She picks men up and throws them off trains, she punches people, she is the strongest and toughest person in the film and everyone fears her. In my favorite sequence, we get a full 5 minutes of her gym workout. She does pushups, she punches a bag, she does hardcore strength training stuff. And she does it all in a basically see-through backless top that strains against her enormous breasts. It’s sexy and terrifying and empowering and also just plain realistic. She is a strong woman training her body, and part of a woman’s body are her breasts.
This whole movie has a pretty clear message. Modern technology, powerful women, passive men, GOOD. Destroying technology, lovesick women, dominating men, BAD. It’s a combo of optimism about the possibilities of technology, and empowering messages about strong women, and a wee bit of healthy fantasy on the part of our young small figured male director who happened to be in love with his super strong and imposing female star.
For our theme of “Bad Girls Week”, this movie is FASCINATING. Nadia fulfills pretty much every stereotype of a “bad” woman. She is white for one thing, obviously “foreign” looking. And she doesn’t listen to men, always punching them or riding off on a horse while they are still talking and whatever. And she wears skimpy clothes (see the photo above). She’s even a wee bit sexually aggressive with her tiny little love interest.
Meanwhile, Gulshan dresses only in saris, tenderly tends to the wounded, and is lead by her heart over her head. She obeys the men in her life, and she waits on them to take the lead in romance, and she is a tiny fragile looking little person. Oh, and she is clearly Indian by birth too.
But who is the bad girl and who is the good girl? Other way around! Nadia is our heroine, pure and good and right in all ways. And Gulshan is the villain, doing bad things with bad people. Nadia could have been a coincidence, this powerful onscreen presence that demanded to be made into the lead, but putting Gulshan opposite her makes it a little more. Just as technology is good (our heroes use the telegraph, trains, cars, and a moving picture camera!), so is the strong modern woman. Traditional good Indian woman in a sari? Booo! White woman in a onesie lifting weights? YAAAAY!
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There is not a super lot of plot in this movie. Nadia and her brother are enjoying life in their country home, her brother playing with his new camera and Nadia riding, driving cars, etc., when they get word from their father’s best friend Sayani Atish that their father has been ARRESTED! Oh no!!!! Nadia rushes to save him, beats up various jailers and so on, and fights her way into the room where he is being accused of helping train thieves. Meanwhile, in the evil planning room, Gulshan is yelling at her men for messing up the theft when she gets a radio call from the mysterious X who controls her and gives her orders.
Nadia links up with the train company owner’s son Sardar Mansur who is working as a telegraph operator (he spells out “I love you”, it’s super cute). And also makes friends with John Cawas who works for the railroad somehow. They learn that the Evil People are planning to blow up a train and rush to stop them. Nadia beats up everyone in an exciting fight scene, and her brother uses his Motion Picture Camera to record it all. They then rush the film to the police but, in a surprise interval twist, we finally see the mysterious X and it is Sayani Atish! Nadia’s father’s best friend, who is keeping Nadia and her brother in his house while their father is in jail!
John Cawas becomes more involved in a way that isn’t clearly motivated in the second half. And we learn the motivation for all of this, Sayani Atish wants to drive the railroad company out of business so his plane company can steal their business. Anyway, bad guys have a new plan! They are going to crash two trains into each other! In order to make this work, they drug Sardar who is left to take the blame. John Cawas is captured trying to stop it and Gulshan fell in love with him and put a cool cloth on his forehead. Then he escaped (flipping out a window to the ground, very cool). One big final fight scene and then it ends up with the two couples united, John Cawas and Gulshan and Nadia and her nice wimpy little Sayani Atish.
Before anything else, let’s talk about the film analysis concept of “spectacle”! This is the idea of stuff that has no narrative purpose, but it provides a reason to buy a ticket and enjoy. In most Hindi films, “spectacle” comes in song sequences. The costumes, the sets, the chorus dancers, it’s all extra. Yes, for narrative purposes, you need a song to indicate that a couple is in love and whatever. But traveling the world and filming at famous locations and all of that, that’s just “spectacle”.
This movie barely has songs, the bad guys sing a little about drinking and stuff but that’s it. However, it has SO MUCH spectacle! And all that spectacle is the stunts. Chase scenes, fight scenes, people climbing up and flying through windows, that’s the point of the movie. The narrative and characters and stuff are barely there to tie it all together, people bought the tickets and made it an all time hit for the fun stuff.
And for once, it is a woman that gets to be the center of that fun stuff! This movie is a love letter to Nadia Wadia. She gets to show off every special skill she has and make it all look fun. That’s the baddest thing a woman can do after all, just have fun.