Review Raag Desh

Though more than a shade documentary-like in its narration, “Raag Desh” is a must-watch to know how India finally achieved Independence. (photo provided)

Rajya Sabha TV presents: “Raag Desh”

Produced by: Gurdeep Singh Sappal

Directed by: Tigmanshu Dhulia

Written by: Tigmanshu Dhulia, Pramod Singh

Music: Rana Mazumder, Siddharth Pandit & Revant

Starring: Kunal Kapoor, Amit Sadh, Mohit Marwah, Kenny Desai, Kenny Basumatary, Mrudula Murali, Kanwaljit Singh, Zakir Hussain, Ali Shah, Rajesh Khera, Anil Rastogi, Hikaru Ito, Jatin Singh Kindra, Vijay Varma, R. Bhakti Klein,

Edward Sonnenblick, Zachary Coffin, Alexx O'Nell, Jeffrey Goldberg, Olamilekan Akanbi Jason, Mark Hannant & others

The Red Fort trials form a significant chapter in India’s struggle for Freedom. Three revolutionaries – Shahnawaz Khan (played here by Kunal Kapoor), Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon (Amit Sadh) and Prem Sehgal (Mohit Marwah) – all belonging to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army were court-martialled for waging war against the King and murder and its abetment, and the wily late Bhoolabhai Desai got them acquitted through a shrewd technical device.

To quote Wikipedia, “The three had been officers in the British Indian Army and were taken as prisoners of war in Malaya, Singapore, and Burma. They had, like a large number of other troops and officers of the British Indian Army, joined the Indian National Army and later fought in Imphal and Burma alongside the Japanese forces in allegiance to Azad Hind. These three came to be the only defendants in the INA trials who were charged with “waging war against the King-Emperor” (the Indian Army Act, 1911, did not provide for a separate charge of treason) as well as murder and abetment of murder.”

It goes on, “Those charged later only faced trial for torture and murder or abetment of murder. The trials covered arguments based on Military Law, Constitutional Law, International Law, and Politics. These trials attracted much publicity and public sympathy for the defendants who …fought for the freedom of India from the clutches of the cruel British Empire. The outcry over the grounds of the trial, as well as a general emerging unease and unrest within the troops of the Raj, ultimately forced the then-Army Chief Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck to commute the sentences of the three defendants in the first trial.”

To add from the official documented the history of the INA: “Protests against the trials took place, and in February and March 1946, the Royal Indian Navy and Royal Indian Air Force mutinied. By then, the end of British India was apparent, and on 15 August 1947, India was free from colonial rule.”

Why we mention these long excerpts uniquely is to present the foundation of this well-researched film that is officially made by Rajya Sabha TV as their first big-screen feature. Dhulia sticks to the core, does not get into sidelines or adding needless material to spice up, and provides a decent drama of reality, where just the trials of three soldiers quickly spearheaded England’s decision to quit India.

Shot realistically with good action and VFX, we must applaud the work of the makeup and costumes teams, Rishi Punjabi’s grittily-shot frames as the DOP and Geeta Singh’s editing.

At this point, we must add that the first half is too jerkily shot like a documentary, but we soon realize that the material is too extensive and so Singh’s editing is perhaps explicable. The production design and art direction (Dhananjay Mondal,

Amrish Patange and Dayanidhi Patturajan) are of high standards, ditto the superb background score by Dharma Vish.

Dhulia’s direction and the scripting are impressive on the whole, and the former reflects in every aspect of the film. The music uses one INA anthem (“Qadam Qadam Badhaaye Jaa”) in two different versions, and an outstanding theme track composed by Rana Mazumder in Raag Des, from which the title is derived. What stands out in all the three songs are the clear sound and tonal qualities, which are amazing in their warmth and audio-friendliness.

The three youngsters, admittedly, lessen the draw the film might have had with big stars, but that would also never have been possible, given the budgets. Of the three, Mohit Marwah as Prem Sehgal comes across as the best, a perfect blend of suave gentleness and fiery love for the country. Kapoor and Sadh are good, and we also loved Mrudula Murali, the Malayalam actress, in her small but intense role.

Kenny Desai stuns as Bhoolabhai Desai, while Kenny Basumatary shines as Netaji. While Zakir Hussain as the witness and Kanwaljit Singh as Prem’s father impress, Rajesh Khera makes Nehru correctly ambiguous. The rest are fine, especially the foreigners like Mark Hannant as Army Chief Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck.

Though more than a shade documentary-like in its narration, “Raag Desh” is a must-watch to know how India finally achieved Independence. And for a change in a patriotic film based in pre-1947, it is nice to see the freedom fighters not become martyrs!

Rating: ***1/2

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