Movie Review: Red Alert - The War Within

July 15, 2010
Kaushik Chatterji

The Naxal issue isn't a recent one, but there has definitely been a recent upsurge. So, while there have been films based on it for about 40 years now, this being the first one that dealt explicitly with Naxalism v2.0 aroused considerable interest, the lead cast notwithstanding. In fact, one was hoping that Red Alert - The Fire Within could - in the vein of certain great films of yore - throw some hitherto unshed light on this delicate issue that's not given due coverage by the media. The story of Narasimha (Suneil Shetty) and his involvement with a group of Maoists deep in the jungles of Andhra Pradesh definitely had the potential to do so.

So when the viewer got treated to a mix of content straight out of the national pages of a daily broadsheet and typical Bolly action fare complete with glaring inaccuracies, the experience - needless to say - was not a particularly pleasant one. Several key turns in the plot merit a mention here but those would act as spoilers for the two or three of you who still intend to watch this, so here's another instance. Would a delegation of multi-national corporates and government officials move around on a narrow, winding road surrounded by cliffs with almost non-existent security? I think not.

So, journalist being led into their lair, blindfolded? Check. Power-hungry leader who had convinced himself more than others they were leading a revolution for people's rights? Check. Tribal girl molested by the tyrannical local police? Check. Unsympathetic politician looking to wipe out the rebels with help from high level police officers? Check.That's right, all stereotypes as created by our mainstream media were duly reinforced. But a much bigger problem was the one-sided perspective we were offered - other than a few stray dialogues, there seemed to be no genuine effort on the maker's part to dig deep and present us a PoV that could possibly arouse sympathy in the hearts of the urban audience.

The saving grace, then, surprisingly, was the acting. The leads - Suneil Shetty and Sameera Reddy (as the violated tribal Lakshmi) - were good as long as they were not required to mouth scripted lines. The supporting cast was, as expected, rock solid, although one couldn't help but feel how most of them were reprising an extra-judicial character from earlier in their careers, be it Bandit Queen Phoolan Devi (Seema Biswas here as Saralaka), Malli The Terrorist (Ayesha Dharker here as Radhaka) or Wazira from Maachis (Suneel Sinha). Ashish Vidyarthi played his part of the unsympathetic leader Velu to perfection while Vinod Khanna's cameo as "high command" Krishnaraj was good enough for such a poorly scripted character.

But the recent trend of exploiting the brand name that Naseeruddin Shah is in the world of meaningful cinema has just got to stop. We saw it at the start of this year with Bolo Raam; we saw it again recently during Raajneeti. While the latter was marketed on the basis of how Naseer liked the script so much he worked for free, the latter featured him prominently in all the trailers, posters as well as the website. In this, his appearance in one inconsequential scene is literally blink-and-miss. Clearly, the legendary actor needs to get more judicious before giving the nod.

Both sides of the coin are what we don't get to see, and while this film does touch upon the raw nerve that is the People's War (or whatever else it is that you want to call it), it only succeeds in bringing to life what we keep reading almost every single day on the big screen. The action sequences are unwarranted, while the ending is quite preposterous - the solution offered is simple and unreal; if it weren't, we wouldn't have had such a movement in our hinterland for over 4 decades now. But what absolutely kills this one - and what, sadly, is almost surely the reason for whatever accolades it garnered at foreign film festivals - is a quote that graces the frame immediately after the film ends, and which quite clearly tells us where the makers of this film stand.

Watch it, only if you don't read the papers at all, and are okay with a slow narrative injected at certain points with escapist action as well as with an over-simplistic solution to this complex problem that (given your age, location as well as your socio-economic background) doesn't affect you and hence don't really give a damn about.

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