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Anu Malik, Anand Raaj Anand
Javed Akhtar, Anand Raaj Anand
Ajay Devgan, Bobby Deol, Nandana Sen, Tanishaa, Kelly Dorjy, Suniel Shetty
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
This film is a must-see. 2005 seems to be a decisive year for Hindi cinema. Frontiers are being opened up constantly, almost by the week.
A new dimension to the war epic emerges from "Tango Charlie" - Mani Shankar's fascinating study of terrorism, violence and valour that is incredible in scope.
In the film, Mani Shankar holds on to key pockets of terrorist activities in the country and creates a fascinating collage of geo-political aggression whereby characters are thrown from one level of separatist violence to another until the audience is virtually shell-shocked.
"Tango Charlie" looks at 'war' as a state of the mind as seen through the mind of the state. There are no politicians in the film. But politics populates the plot abundantly. It's indeed remarkable how the director fuses the main characters from the Border Security Force (BSF) into a spiralling demonstration of battle lines drawn between war and terrorism.
Caught between protecting the country and making spot-decisions distinguishing crime and nationalism, the two protagonists spin dizzyingly from one episodic depiction to another - Bodo insurgency in Assam, Maoists in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat riots, and finally the India-Pakistan conflict at Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir. That is where, in a tribute to David Lean's "A Bridge Too Far", Mani Shankar ekes out a stunning climactic scene for his two protagonists Mohammad Ali (Devgan) and Tarun Chauhan (Deol).
We journey across a frenzied hinterland of strife and bloodshed with the two heroes -- one a seasoned cynic, the other a reluctant rookie -- but both joined by a narrative that moves sure footedly through a harsh and rugged territory.
For a film that's predominantly macho (like Mani Shankar's earlier film, the interestingly paced "16 December" and the failed "Rudraksh", "Tango Charlie" too precludes woman audiences) the two female leads are memorably etched, though not played with the charm and gusto that the roles deserved.
The light romantic portions with Tanishaa cast as a village-based livewire, who asks the naïve Tarun if he has brushed his teeth before kissing her "Hollywood style", are illustrations of brilliant screenwriting. Nandana Sen's extended cameo as a zamindar's daughter in a Maoist-infested area in West Bengal, who turns from bride to widow to fugitive, is again proof of how expertly women can be fitted into a predominantly male domain.
For sure, Mani Shankar is better at writing his energetic high-octane adventure than in putting it on screen. Like Mani Rathnam's "Yuva", the execution of the episodic incidents is a definite departure from the orthodox format of storytelling in Hindi films. But audiences are bound to wonder why there're so many plots-within-plots.The director constantly courts the unconventional. "Tango Charlie" never gets dull and the protagonists seem to exude an authoritative and credible energy.
Wisely the film unfolds in a diary format with two air force pilots (Sanjay Dutt and Suniel Shetty in endearing cameos) reading through the unconscious BSF personnel Bobby Deol's jottings. Using the diary device Mani Shankar provokes us to look at the socio-political forces in different parts of the Indian map.
The Devgan-Deol relationship reminds us of Devgan and Abhishek Bachchan in that other counter-terrorism adventure story "Zameen". Both the actors are far more agile spirited and in-character here than they have been in their other recent films. Bobby Deol's vulnerable personality lends itself specially well to his character of the reluctant soldier who must convince himself that the killings in the name of country are justifiable.
Parts of the film showing the killing of civilians during the 2002 Gujarat riots or the brutal torture and killing of a BSF soldier in the jungles are unbearably violent. The overall mood of the film is relentlessly rigorous and rugged. The director's crew is markedly equipped in making the material look convincing.
"Tango Charlie" isn't exactly the prescription box office pundits prescribe for filmmakers who want to create a sensation. It tries, and succeeds to a large extent, in taking mass entertainment into unexpected areas of pyrotechnical patriotism.