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"Tango Charlie"



"Tango Charlie" ... a visual treat with a daring theme.

TWO CHEERS to Bollywood. It dares to enter where the national media shies away. It talks of the Northeast. It talks of Manipur. It talks of the Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh - parts of the country where a grenade attack or a mine blast killing a dozen is dismissed in a single paragraph by the print media, and almost completely ignored by the electronic media. Director Mani Shankar dares to embrace themes we thought Bollywood was incapable of even touching. And he really delivers a knockout punch in the first few frames.

Faintly reminiscent of "16 December" in the grip and craft he displays, the film is a visual treat, and for a good part keeps you absolutely engrossed with the proceedings. And among the audiences hardly a soul moves when the `interval' sign arrives on the big screen.

It begins with the Bodo problem in Manipur, and the word cross-border terrorism acquires a new meaning for the audiences used to equating it with Pakistan overtures in Kashmir.

The deed done, Shankar and his cast - Ajay Devgan in quite a fetching portrayal of Hawaldar Mohammed and Bobby Deol quite likeable as his understudy - move to Andhra where Naxals and land blasts are routine.

Along the way, there are innovative tactics of skirmish and torture used by militants, by Naxals, and we as the audiences get a peek into the territory almost always kept under wraps.

It is also a rare occasion when a Hindi film makes bold to admit that even the soldiers might occasionally be guilty of human weakness - in this case a criminal assault on a woman foe.

That is unfortunately, also the time Shankar bites off more than he can chew. Realising that he has a good thing going, he adds Gujarat violence to his tally of must-clean. And Kargil too. And the same team goes everywhere. Every step the team takes to tackle the problem in Kashmir or Gujarat, every step the thread of credibility gets just a wee bit more slender.

That takes away some delight from a film that could have been an absolute winner at the box office, a film that could have been a really, really taut entertainer meant to please the young guys going to college if only the director had not added too many layers to his offering. Of course his cause would have been helped had he not made a long detour to pack in a dash of romance, and those silly, silly songs with so plastic Tanishaa and ill-equipped Nandana.

Be that as it may. Arriving at the sum total of pluses and minuses, here director Mani Shankar ends up with a few more positives than negatives. Still there is a feeling that maybe, just maybe, he has delivered a shade less than he promised or was capable of. As one said, he deserves two cheers. Nothing more. Or less.

ZIYA US SALAM

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