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The Forgotten Army Review: It Is Unforgettable

The Forgotten Army: Azaadi Ke Liye(Amazon Prime  Video)

Starring Sunny Kaushal, M K Raina, Sharvari Wagh

Written  & Directed  by Kabir Singh

Rating: ****(4 stars)

 The sheer  volume  of  emotional  and physical distance that  Kabir Khan covers in the  5 episodes  of this homage to the soldierly  valour of Netaji Subhas Chandra  Bose’s  breakaway army, is  mindboggling. But then Kabir is no stranger to  impossible challenges. In  BajrangiBhaijaan he actually made Salman Khan ACT.Remember?

There is a gallery of  competent actors surrendering to the their characters, not unlike the Indian POW in this film who lay down their weapons  before the Japanese  in the hope that their country would be  freed  of British  rule through the new alliance.

 The politics of  The  Forgotten Army is complex. Kabir Khan doesn’t shy away from biting into those bitter politics  of  a time when Gandhi was God, and self-governance was a religion.  By  exploring the  most neglected  subsidiary  of  the Indian Freedom Movement—the  contribution  of Netaji Subhas Chandra  Bose and his Indian National Army(INA) — this  spellbinding series weaves a web of unforgettable images.

The  battle sequences are to die for, in a manner of speaking. I was specially awestruck by the  sequence where a young Indian girl Rasamma(T J Bhanu) is  chased down  by a Gora  soldier  and brutally  raped, when suddenly hundreds  of Japanese soldiers  descend on bicycles  peddling with a passion that indicates  determination .

A determined   vision  embraces  Kabir Khan’s  narrative. He  negotiates  his  plot through  two different time zones. In one,  young soldier Sodhi(Sunny Kausal,admirable) befriends and fall in love with a soldier colleague Maya(Sharvari Wagh) as  canons, bombs  guns and rhetorics boom in the background.In another  time-zone Sodhi now in his  70s, and played by the  commanding M K Raina . interacts with his young journalist-grandson amidst the turmoil  of   student  unrest  in  Burma.

Admittedly  the  going gets  overly dramatic towards the end  with  Sodhi and Maya’s love story  threatening to  over-run the  film’s combative fulcrum. However  the  editing and  performances ensure a safe landing for this soaring drama of  unadulterated  nationalism.  Miraculously Kabir’s  tone of narration  jumps over puddles of sentimentality and  mawkishness, maintaining a tightly reined-in mood throughout.Even  when portions of  the love story gets predictable Kabir infuses  the  familiar with a sense  of  wonderment.

Scores  of  actors  surrender to their characters in a way that  shows their commitment to  bringing alive  the  atmosphere  of impassioned  patriotism. Gender dynamics are brought in fluently in the way the  men in the  INA  respond the women’s wing. There is one specially stirring sub-plot about a leery South Indian flautist soldier who learns to respect  his female colleagues   through his  love for one  of them. I’d love to see a whole film devoted to these two  characters.

When  the soldiers  in this series salute to one another an electric current passes  from one to the other and then to  us in the audience.

While  M K Raina and  Rohit Chaudhary stand out as the older version of Sodhi and Sodhi’s  best friend in  the army, respectively,  it is Sunny Kaushal who  holds the  dilating strands   of the plot together with his credible and often incredible performance. After seeing what Sunny has done  in  this  film about  a forgotten chapter  of  the Indian freedom movement, I have to concede that Sunny is a better actor than his star-brother Vicky Kaushal.His commitment  to  the screenplay is singular.

The Forgotten Army  is an admirable work  of  cinema  with a canvas that  accommodates  generations of anguish for   the raw deal given to  Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose by those who wrote the history books. Kabir  Khan’s  superbly crafted series doesn’t rewrite history. It   throws forward a volley of passionate arguments and images  in support  of an unsung  hero. The canvas is as large as  the  filmmaker’s ambitions.This is  a  film to be watched  on the big screen, not on the phone.That’s more disservice to Netaji’s memory.

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