Mani Shankar’s “Tango Charlie” is not anti-war in the true sense of the word but it does convey the horror of war. The pleasing aspect of the film is that it does not preach (either for or against war) and does not glorify the senseless loss of lives that war inevitably brings while, at the same time, it manages to express the feeling of patriotism.
Tango Charlie is the code name for Sepoy Tarun Chauhan, enacted by Bobby Deol, who has been found lying injured and unconscious in the hills by two Indian Air Force helicopter pilots (Sunil Shetty and Sanjay Dutt in wasted cameos). They take him onto their helicopter in order to save him from dying. As they make their long journey to find the nearest treatment place for Bobby, they discover that the man has a diary. Unable to resist their own curiosity, they start reading the diary for a bit of amusement.
What was initially a source of amusement turns into an intriguing recollection of thoughts and events in the young man’s life. The diary takes us back to the time when Bobby began his vocation as a soldier for the Border Security Forces. We see him arriving at a camp where Havaldar Mohammed Ali (Ajay Devgan) is in charge. Initially labelling him as a “bewaqoof”, it takes Ali a while to warm to this new recruit. We are taken through passages of time where Tarun has to battle not only his enemies but also his conscience as he realises that war is ugly.
The film opens with Surendra Reddy’s scenic photography of the snow-capped mountains and the atmosphere is established of an epic about to unfold. What follows is not entirely a heartrending saga because the narrative is not watertight enough to secure our attention a hundred percent of the time. Sunil Shetty and Sanjay Dutt are the links between the various chapters of the episodic narrative. Their few scenes are clumsily managed and it would have been a better decision to not have stars in these cameo roles. For these star cameos distract us from the flashbacks and build up false expectations of a major intervention in the plot from the two characters.
The pace of the narrative drops because of the “love story in a war movie” syndrome. There is often an assumption on the part of all directors that they must add a love story dimension in what is essentially a story about war. Tanishaa Mukherjee and Nandana Sen play the love interests in the lives of the two male protagonists essayed by Bobby Deol and Ajay Devgan. Tanishaa’s scenes distract the film from its main focus. Their love story starts just after the film kicks off with riveting sequences in the jungle. Perhaps Mani Shankar should have taken a tip from the story of “Cold Mountain” (by Charles Frazier and Anthony Minghella) where the romance begins before the war and the heroine reveals her thoughts in her letters to her departed beloved. Adopting this technique would have stopped Bobby’s character from having to take unnecessary trips home just to give Tanishaa (who plays Lachchi) a bit of screen time. Nandana Sen’s scenes are actually better as they are absorbing and dramatic.
Talking of Nandana, she has very few scenes but she leaves quite a mark in her role of the tragic Bengali bride. In comparison, Lachchi comes across as a rather silly character and Tanishaa does not have much to do except run around in the fields. Ajay lives up to his screen image as the cool-talking but fearless action man. His fans will, no doubt, be thrilled to see him in the type of role that he does best. Bobby has the main character in the story and he is efficient. He impresses in the scene where he goes to ask for forgiveness after accidentally shooting the wrong man. Kelly Dorjee provides sufficient support as the antagonist in the first half.
For all its faults, “Tango Charlie” is an entertaining film. Gripping action scenes and effective dialogues are the main strengths. Mani Shankar also refrains from the overstated special effects and gobbledygook that blighted his directorial debut and last film, “Rudraksh”. His fondness for tacky special effects still manages to come to the fore at times. For example, when bullets are fired in action scenes, they create a visual rippling effect. Or how about the opening scene where the two pilots start fumbling around with the technology in their helicopter? It is interesting to note that the director himself has done the work for the special effects (without relying on a separate special effects crew). Still, he has evidently learned from the misfire that was “Rudraksh” and has concentrated more on telling the story this time round.