THE FORGOTTEN ARMY – AZAADI KE LIYE (2020)

  • Release Date: 24/01/2020
  • Cast: M.K. Raina, Sunny Kaushal, Sharvari Wagh, Rohit Chaudhary
  • Created and Directed By: Kabir Khan

I have been waiting for “The Forgotten Army” ever since I saw its trailer. I loved what I say there and that, coupled with the fact that this was a passion project for Kabir Khan (Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Phantom, Kabul Express), made it that much more interesting for me. Kabir Khan is someone who started off making documentaries and his first was a documentary on Netaji’s “Azad Hind Fauj” titled The Forgotten Army. This series was supposed to be in the same lines as that documentary and that would have been the ideal case for someone like me. I hoped to see a story that I might not have seen before in terms of Azad Hind Fauj and I got excited when the first trailer showed glimpses of The Battle of Singapore in which 90,000 strong English Army surrendered to a paltry 30,000 Japanese army. What I was not expecting was that it would be the end of the novelty that this series had to offer. The rest of it is an arduous toil through sequence after sequence after sequence of forced albeit well-done romance and a track that shows the protagonist re-trace his past in Singapore amid the violent student protests of 1996.

Sodhi (Sunny Kaushal) is a lieutenant in the British Indian Army. He is captured by the Japanese and handed over along with 50000 other Indian Prisoners of War to the Japanese after the British surrender unconditionally to the Japanese after the Battle of Singapore. The Japanese then hand over the reins of the Indian soldiers to the newly formed Indian National Army aka Azad Hind Fauj led by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. After some initial dilemma, Sodhi wholeheartedly commits to the cause of the Army and starts doing his bits in the force. He meets a photographer Maya (Sharvari Wagh) who lives in Singapore and eventually joins the Rani Jhansi Brigade of The Azad Hind Fauj. The two develop a sweet camaraderie that blossoms into romance over the course of the series. As the story progresses, we see how Sodhi trains the Rani Jhansi Brigade and then leads a company into India. We also get a glimpse of the inhuman odds that the army faces as they try to invade and free their motherland.

In the alternate track, we see an aging Sodhi (M.K. Raina) arrives in Singapore to meet someone who has been important in his life and is terminally ill. His nephew, who is a student of Journalism, is hellbent on covering the student revolt in adjoining Myanmar as he believes that history is being written. His parents are against his decision but ultimately yield. Sodhi who is present in their household at that juncture volunteers to accompany him on his quest. His idea is to retrace his past and try to find out someone who he might have lost a very long time ago. His nephew, who by this time knows his maternal uncle’s illustrious background welcomes him with open arms on this quest. The rest of this track shows us how the two make it to Myanmar and then back from there with Sodhi re-living the tumultuous time that he had spent in Singapore before and coming to peace with his inner demons.

Let me first dwell on the positives. The action sequences of the film look terrific. There are portions where the CGI doesn’t work and you can practically see the deficiencies but that never gets in the way of the action being immersive and physical. The invasion of Japan in the very first episode sets the hopes high. This was for me the most innovative and well-done action bits in the whole series and I am livid with the fact that there wasn’t much more of the same. Even the final battle sequence where the INA makes a last stand against the British was well done especially because of the way it was edited with a heart touching background song and the John-Woo style aesthetics of the action. The romance between the protagonists, no matter how ill-placed, felt organic. The credit for that must be given to Sunny Kaushal for being the best version of himself in these portions and Sharvari Wagh for her electric screen presence and simplicity. M.K Raina is brilliant in a track that was unnecessary. He brings his A-game to the fore and it will not go unnoticed. Rohit Chaudhary plays Arshad, Sodhi’s compatriot and he is a revelation. I liked Everything about his act, and he made me roll with laughter in many scenes.  

With that out of the way, let me draw your attention to what I seriously disliked about the series. The love story between Sodhi and Maya take the center stage and that really accounts for 50 percent of the reason that brings down this series. This portion no matter how well-done isn’t what I wanted to see in a series called “The Forgotten Army”. What I was looking for was a crisp and reliable telling of the times and circumstances of the INA. Their inner dynamics and politics. Their challenges, defeats, and victories. And at the end of it all, the impact that they had on Indian Freedom Struggle and what happened to them in free India. All of that is there but in such minuscule doses that many of it isn’t enough to even merit a mention. What we get to see instead is the blossoming of Sodhi and Maya’s romance with the issues and exploits of the INA creating merely a background for their love story to move forward.  

The second track involving M.K Raina felt completely unnecessary to me and contributed the rest of the 50 percent of the reason that brings down this series. The idea of having a track on the older Sodhi needed enough reasons that would add to the effective telling of the story of The Forgotten Army but Kabir Khan just couldn’t think of any genuine reasons for the same. On the contrary, this track further liquidated the basic premise and added extra luggage that was not needed in the first place. This track also starts getting out of hand and starts going to places that make it caricature-ish in more ways than one. I was so disappointed by the way this track ended that I couldn’t even appreciate the thoughtful and subtle performance of M.K Raina. I don’t even want to write about the performance of the person who plays older Sodhi’s nephew and another girl who plays an activist who leads the way for the duo around Myanmar. These two are the most Bollywood-ish and annoying characters in the whole series. When you see them act, you feel as if you are watching a different series altogether. Also, there is practically no Netaji in the whole series. That is something that I cannot fathom. He needed to have a bigger role in the story.

This was Kabir Khan’s passion project and he has been trying to get it made for almost a decade now and yet it is curiously underwritten and shallow in terms of content and storytelling. It felt as if he didn’t know where to go and tried to incorporate too many things and yet never committed to any of those things. My reverence for Netaji and his INA is one of the major causes that made me dislike this series even more. Even the documentary that Kabir Khan made (now available on YouTube) was far better than this effort. I wish he had completely shunned the present track and the romance between Sodhi and Maya and brought us a story just about the INA with his deft touches and visual flair. What a series that would have been.

Rating: 2/5 (2 out of 5 Stars)

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